Don Fried — Playwright & Author

Which train do you want to stand in front of?

Posted on: December 26, 2008

When I was still in the business world, there was an expression I used frequently when I was counseling people who worked for me.  “You’ve got to choose which train you want to stand in front of.”  In other words, it’s a big tough world, and there are lots of things in it that you may not like, or are patently unfair, or just plain stink.  But you can’t spend all your time tilting at windmills, so choose your battle.  It also implies that, like Don picasso_don_quixoteQuixote, when you do choose your battle, there’s a good chance you’re going to get knocked silly.

My wife, Rhonda, is moving this weekend, and for the last several months she’s been looking for a new apartment here in Austin.

(A short digression here:  Rhonda has big problems making decisions and agonizes over everything endlessly.  Once she does makes a decision, she second-guesses it — forever.    These days I kid her that one of the benefits of her going through menopause is that she’s getting a little scatty and has finally stopped agonizing over which color towels she chose for the bathroom 30 years ago.  She really appreciates that.  By the way, I’m just the opposite; once I’ve made a decision it becomes the correct decision and stays that way — forever — often in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.)

Getting back to choosing an apartment in Austin.  We’ve discovered that most apartment complexes in Austin refuse to let you see a copy of the lease agreement until the day you come in to sign it.  And in most cases, they won’t let you sign it until the day you are moving  in.  I’ve objected to this strenuously, but have gotten little sympathy.

“How am I supposed to know what I’m committing to?” I ask.

“You can read the lease when you sign it,” they respond.

“And if I want to have a lawyer look at it?”

“Bring the lawyer with you.”

Right!  Picture it.  You’ve got the moving van and 4 moving men double parked outside the leasing office at $150 an hour.  And the lawyer is sitting next to you charging $250 an hour.  And you decide you don’t like something in the lease.  Something like, say, the fact that the lease explicitly denies any obligation on the part of the lessor to provide a habitable dwelling, but that you have to keep paying rent in perpetuity.  (By the way, words to that effect were actually in one of the leases that I did manage to get an advance copy of.)  So you decide not to sign the lease, and there you are with your goods in the moving van at $150 an hour, making the rounds of Austin apartment complexes.  Which, of course, you’re not going to do, so you sign the frigging lease.

Do you get the impression that this is exactly what the apartment complexes want?  You bet your sweet ass it is.

Fortunately, most of the complexes will tell you in advance that they use the standard Texas Apartment Association lease.  (Which they also refuse to let you see in advance, but is available in 100 places on the internet.)  Unfortunately, the members of the Texas Apartment Association are the apartment owners, so the lease is strongly one-sided in their favor.

For many years, I tried to read (and, if possible, mark up) every contract I signed.  Every car rental agreement, every hotel check-in form, every software download form.  Sometimes, I even managed to get away with it.  But eventually, I started agreeing to whatever moronic things the  contracts wanted me to commit to.  I guess, like everybody else in the world, I’m relying on the fact that 90% of what is in those documents is  illegal and wouldn’t stand up if it ever came to court.

You’ll have to excuse me now, I’m going to go sign an apartment lease.  This isn’t the train I’ve chosen to stand in front of.

5 Responses to "Which train do you want to stand in front of?"

Just go to the apartment complex, look at an apartment, tell them you want to move in the next day. Go back the next day and when they hand you a copy of the lease tell them you left your lucky pen in your car then just leave with the lease. :)

1. Invisible man.

2. Erecto man (able to erect things at will). ;)

I got your comment too late to use your suggestion at the lease signing. Next time!

Dang… lol Good thing you guys have moving down to a fine science! How many apartments is this since Rhonda has lived in Texas? Is this.. 4? LOL it kills me!

Yes, this is her fourth apartment in 3 years. As I said, she tends to second guess every decision she makes.

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