Our Apartment Caught on Fire

Well, there’s no turning back now. Our old apartment in Houston, which we technically still have leased until the end of July, has burned.

That’s right. After many a sleepless night spent waiting outside for the Houston Fire Department to clear false alarms at The Susanne “Luxury” Apartments, this time it was real. And, ironically, it came just 2 nights after yet another false alarm, where a large truck trying to drive into a small garage hit a sprinkler head at the entrance and sent everybody scurrying for the stairwells. (This has happened more than once – and still no barrier has been installed to protect the garage sprinkler-heads from giant urban trucks.)

There have been conflicting reports about how the fire started. According to Houston fire chief Herman Gonzalez in the Houston Chronicle, a pipe fitting on a gas line on the roof came loose and was somehow ignited, causing the fire, and firemen were able to put it out by turning off the gas. The apartment complex says that two residents released a paper lantern from the top of the parking garage that “burned long enough to cause a fire on the (steel) roof itself.” Apartments on the 8th floor have smoke damage as a result, and one has water damage as well.

And as Janna and I sit here and receive messages from our former neighbors that nobody was hurt, but that the 8th floor has been declared uninhabitable and residents have been moved to other housing with Red Cross assistance, we can’t help but roll our eyes with an overwhelming lack of surprise.

First, here’s an update from a KHOU Producer who lives in the building:

The Susanne Apartments had a nice veneer. They looked well-decorated, nice hardwood floors, fancy backsplash. But, that hid lots of structural problems that you don’t notice on your tours. Our first week there, it rained, and water leaked into the apartment. An email from management (who to their credit, were very nice in dealing with the pile of rubbish they were given to manage) indicated that it wasn’t an isolated incident. The fix was simply to replace the trim – making one wonder what the inside of that wall looks like now two years on.

The apartments were marred by constant other problems. The gym lacked the 3-pronged ‘grounded’ outlets required by the treadmill equipment. So the solution was to take off the grounding. If you plugged your headphones in to the headphone outlets, you could expect a nice current running from ear to ear through your brain.

The floors looked nice, but if you dropped a pen on them, you’d be left with a nice gouge.

The water was shut down, often with only an hour’s notice, frequently for “boiler maintenance.” No more specifics were given when pressed.

By all accounts, everything on a scary Sunday night was handled well, by the Houston Fire Department, by management, and by the Red Cross. The fire department as apparently knocking on peoples’ doors before the alarms even went off. But, we’re not surprised that eventually something catastrophic happened.

We tried to move into a building built and managed by the same company, The Finger Companies, once before, c. 2013. This company is one of the biggest and oldest apartment companies in Houston, and its owner, Marvy Fingers, is something of an icon in his industry. But, this isn’t our first bad experience. The last one we tried to move into was almost done with construction, we put down a deposit, but our move-in-date kept getting delayed. Eventually, we were told that it would be now several months, because “vandals” had set off the sprinkler system and ruined all of the work. Except – the other apartment management in town said that they had already heard that there was a several month delay a few weeks before this alleged ‘incident.’

This is also the same company that had its scaffolding infamously collapse on a building in downtown Houston in 2015 after failures of OSHA safety requirements.

So, I won’t venture into any conclusions on the quality of the company that might verge on slander, but the above statements are all true retellings. I’ll just say that we expected better from a company that charged the rents that were charged at The Susanne.

So, anyway, we’re fine, our neighbors our fine, our apartment was almost empty anyway, save for a mattress that our friends were helping us get rid of after it didn’t fit in our storage container. But, there goes our safety net of “we could drive back to Houston, crash on the mattress for a few weeks, and figure out our next plan.

It just adds to the list of wild things that have happened that are begging for a blog like Pull Over Here to exist (car wreck 3 days before we left Houston, Janna breaking her foot the day after our wedding). Guess we had to assume that going on a 14-month road trip wasn’t going to be entirely peaceful, but that’s part of what makes it an adventure.

Guess we’re doing this!

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