Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Something is wrong with our wall, and a bit of landlord wisdom...

ETA: Apparently I have no idea how Flickr works and photos don't just stay in there forever, so now the photos for this post are unavailable. I wish I was a more photo-y person and properly maintained a functioning Flickr account, but I don't have time to add one more thing to my already too full plate, so this post is now photoless. Sorry!

I know it seems like I've been whining and complaining about various Taiwan-related things lately, so sorry to continue in that rather negative and annoying thread. But once again, I find myself wondering why the apartments are made of pure concrete, essentially making it a concrete block. Actually, I'm not really complaining, because maybe that's just the best way to build something in Taiwan's humid climate. Really, I don't know! Would wood or some other material get moldy? Anyway, not only do the very walls of your home soak up and retain the relentless summer heat, but they also hold on to the winter cold. And now, we're experiencing another problem with these annoying concrete walls - the inaccessibility of damaged pipes!

I'm not sure how it works in American homes because I never really lived life as a "grown-up" in America (Ian and I graduated from college, a month later got married, and a month after that moved to Taipei), so I never paid much attention to home maintenance. But here, the pipes that lead to the kitchen and bathroom(s) are encased in the concrete walls of your apartment. This has never been a problem in our previous residences, but here the pipes make a loud clanking sound when we take a hot shower (making it rather difficult to do when the baby is sleeping, which every mom knows is the only time you actually have to take a shower). Also, the parts of the wall that have a pipe behind it get warm. Is this normal?

In addition, and definitely worst of all, whole patches of the paint on many places of our walls (the problem is currently affecting four walls and part of the ceiling) are bubbling, peeling, and crumbling from moisture. This is what it looks like:

At first I was concerned that there was mold too, but thankfully, that darker color appears to just be a combination of the concrete showing through and something called efflorescence. Still, not only is this unsightly, it can lead to wall deterioration, mold could develop in the future since we obviously have a moisture problem, and I don't want my baby eating flecks of nasty toxic paint. However, getting things fixed in Taiwan is often not simple.

I'm not complaining about my landlord, because she's actually very nice and in fact, I've never had a bad landlord in Taiwan (more on that a bit later). I just get frustrated with the way things are done sometimes! It seems that whenever something needs fixing, it's the norm to call in someone who owes you a favor and have them do a half-ass job as a first resort. For every apartment I've ever lived in, the landlord has had some sort of general handyman that they somehow have a connection with through family or friends, and they'll always call that person in first and only call a real professional when things get really bad. I actually don't really care, who am I to complain as long as the job gets done? But in this situation, it started to get a little ridiculous.

I understand a person's reluctance to tear apart an entire wall (actually, several walls) in order to get to a leaky pipe, but really, you might as well get it over with. It was very obvious to me that this would have to be done, but I think our landlord was in denial at first. So Mr. Handyman comes over with some old lady, they sand the affected areas and repaint them. Done. Of course the problem came right back, so they came back and did the same thing. This cycle repeated itself three times.

Our landlord now realizes that some real professionals need to be called in, and apparently she's coming by with some wall/pipe people sometime next week. I'm not sure what will happen. She will have to put us in a hotel or something, right? I have a baby who takes two naps a day and goes to bed at 7, and two of the walls are in the room he sleeps in! I can't have a bunch of construction and big gaping holes around him. I guess this has had to be fixed before and it's still under warranty, so the same people that didn't really fix it before are coming back. If it's under warranty, why didn't she just have these people come back at the first sign of a problem? I can't really figure that one out.

This is all rather irritating, but it could be a lot worse if I had a horrible landlord who refused to take care of the problem. Yes, this all could have been handled much more efficiently in my opinion, but trust me, it could be worse. I've always had pretty good landlords, and this one is the best of all for many reasons (this one situation isn't really representative of our entire relationship with her). Now here's the part where I impart my landlord wisdom on to you -- make sure you meet all potential landlords in person, and then trust your gut.

When Ian and I went apartment hunting in the past, there were times when an apartment was shown to us by a real estate agent that the owner had hired. We always passed these places up, because meeting the owner is so important. Whenever we met a potential landlord, I could always tell within a few minutes of conversation if they were an all-around good person. Of course it's important to ask them questions about the apartment and the contract, but also just have a good chat with them - about their work, family, life, whatever. Then listen to your gut. It hasn't failed me yet!


  1. I have the same problems! First -- the nasty paint peeling/bubbling. Our apartment already had that in different spots when we moved in. Fortunately it's not because of faulty plumbing. It's just the result of moisture and negligence. Our landlords used to live in our apartment before they moved to the ground floor of our building. One of our landlords is elderly and has limited mobility, but I also wonder if it's just because the family was like "Oops, we did a crappy job of maintaining our apartment! You know what? Instead of remodeling it, let's just MOVE TO THE GROUND FLOOR! Hahaha!"
    We also have the same problem with an incompetent handyman that my landlords always call in. I don't know if it's because he is inexpensive or a family friend or what, but they certainly don't retain him for his quality of service. When he came to fix our air conditioner, he literally dumped the dirty water from it on our hardwood floor (instead of asking for a towel or bucket like a normal human being). When he reinstalled it, he scrapped off a giant patch of paint from the wall. And after all that (and then some), he managed to leave his tool box in our apartment. It would have been funny if I hadn't been too busy going insane to laugh.

  2. Oi oi oi! That looks pretty drastic. Hope it gets sorted soon. We don't have any bubbling paint but we have discolored wood paneling from the damp seeping. Fun.

    That said - Happy New Year!! Hope you're having a good one. It seems my neighbours are exploding 3 tonnes of gunpowder in various formats in the park next to my apartment. Only, I can't see it. I can only hear it. Gah!

  3. @Catherine: Those sneaky landlords! I bet you your theory is right. It's much more lucrative to just rent out your apartment rather than maintain it. That's so annoying about the guy dumping the dirty water on the floor. Why???

    @Kathmeista: I guess no apartment can escape some sort of damage from the wet climate here (at least in Northern Taiwan). I'm glad yours is minimal. And happy new year to you too! =)

  4. It's called "wall cancer" (that is its actual Chinese name - "bi ai") and we've all got it. Unfortunately, nothing gets rid of it permanently, though a home store like the one above Carrefour in Dapinglin sell anti-wall-cancer epoxy that helps for quite some time.

  5. The peeling paint looks to be a result not so much of moisture, though probably exacerbated by the humidity. Usually that sort of peeling comes from painting over concrete (or plaster for that matter) before it has had time to cure properly. The curing takes months and no contractor is going to wait that long. It is just it is covered with paneling in the US, which yes would mold in Taiwan.

  6. When I lived in Taichung fifteen years ago, we had a leaky pipe behind the wall and came home to find a glistening, buckling wall and water pooling on the floor. Unfortunately, this took place during Chinese New Year, and the landlord explained that it was bad luck to "dig a hole" (even into a wall) during the New Year. So, he brought over a bunch of plumbers putty, and preceded to create a canal system to guide water to a drain in the bathroom floor for about ten days until it was safe to "dig" and fix the pipe.

    Truly a "cultural experience" for me and my wife.


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