A note slipped under the door to Apartment 6D, April 2, 1999, 6:37 a.m.

Please spackle over any holes you have made in the walls before exiting your apartment.

Dear Ms. Beverlee Linsky or Current Resident,

Please note that as of 6:27 a.m. this morning, your apartment building (1420 N. Riverdale Drive) is on fire.

It is the policy of the Sleepy Hollow Residency Committee that when the building is found to be on fire, residents should evacuate the building within fifteen (15) minutes. Please see the attached evacuation plan, which indicates what steps you should take to do so. If you have not evacuated the building within fifteen (15) minutes, we will have no choice but to pursue other alternatives, such as forcibly removing you from the apartment.

Please sign and date this notice to confirm that you are aware that your building is on fire, and return it to our offices during normal business hours. Please retain a copy for your records as you may need it for insurance purposes.

We would like to thank you for your courtesy in not catching fire and/or falling from your fire escape to a grisly death, thus saving our apartment building from a reputation for fiery doom. Don’t forget to tip your fireman!

With increasingly warm regards,

Kevin Sernel

Committee Chair, Sleepy Hollow Residency Committee

Analysis:

It’s hard not to feel bad for landlords. Throughout history, their powers have been diminished as it has become increasingly easy for normal people (or “rentscum,” as they’re known in landlord parlance) to own property. This letter is merely one in a long line of letters from landlords to tenants, and one can see the evolution. For example, in 773 AD, a Feudal Baron sent a letter to a tenant ordering the young man to “allow thy lord a night with thy wife, lest I should cleave thee in twain with thine own ax.” Cleaving in twain was, of course, legal punishment for any offense, from failure to deliver crops on time to mispronouncing a knight’s name during the Feast of St. Gertrude.

It was not until after the Civil War in America that tenants began to obtain some measure of rights. Although his administration was riddled with corruption, Ulysses S. Grant was able to make it illegal to evict someone for “looking like an Italian.” By the end of Teddy Roosevelt’s first term, the plight of landlords had been completely rewritten. No longer was a roof  “optional for worthy tenants.” Cockroaches and rats were no longer defined as “non-paying roommates.” And so, landlords turned to passive resistance. Sure, they would paint once a year, but you had to call during normal business hours (12 PM to 12 PM) to schedule. One area where landlords made these adjustments was in safety. Instead of “working fire alarms,” they would install a “messenger boy with a pretty good sense of smell.” That way, they could legally be covered if there was a fire, but wouldn’t have to pay extra for a fancy alarm system. Instead, they would install an alarm that would be loud and go off periodically to annoy everyone in the building, without actually warning anyone of anything. In a little known New York City provision, tenants leaping to their death to escape a fire are legally responsible for sidewalk cleanup, so be sure to aim towards the street!

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “A note slipped under the door to Apartment 6D, April 2, 1999, 6:37 a.m.

  1. Rebecca

    Wow, landlords are really responsible in Sleepy Hollow. In New York you’d never get a courtesy letter about your apartment being on fire!

  2. Pingback: A Farmer to his Rooster, 1609 | The History of the Letter

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