This week was a one of learning about the perspectives of landlords (mülkədar) in Azerbaijan. Early in the week, Eli and Mason’s landlord showed up, unannounced, to stay in the house for a few days (along with his brother). In the middle of the week, I had a faucet burst in my bathroom that created a mini flood in my apartment, leaking water through the ceiling of my downstairs-neighbors and requiring a call to my own landlord. It’s been quite a week.
One of the nice features of living in America is that when you rent an apartment or house, it’s fairly well understood that the renter has the power. Essentially, the renter ‘owns’ the home, decides who comes in and out the door, and is in charge of arrangements, cleaning, and whatever else. The landlord comes in when something needs fixing or there is some other problem. Now adjust your settings for Azerbaijan.
The main lesson here is that, in Azerbaijan, even though you are the renter and you are paying to be the person living in the home, the landlord/homeowner still “owns” the home. A renter in America would expect to be notified in advance if the landlord was coming by. No such thing exists here. Eli’s landlord showed up without any notice. A renter in America would also expect to be left alone. That’s not the case here, either: Eli’s landlord and his brother arrived and assumed that they would stay at the house. They lived in the house for 3-4 nights without making any appeals to common courtesy. Luckily, my landlord actually lives in Lənkəran, so he has a house to live in here with his family (Eli’s landlord lives in Baku).
This last part, however, is probably the most irksome. In both cases of these landlord visits, both Eli and I were gently scolded about maintaining a clean home. My landlord barely even looked at the rotten faucet. Instead, he was focused on some dust that had settled near the window. And about the cleaning of the top of the stove. And the dustiness of the balcony (seriously: Azerbaijan is a dusty place. The balcony will be dusty no matter what you do). This was all conveyed in a sort of negative fathering role, condescending tone and all, like I’m 10 years old. Though my mother may disagree, I can keep my apartment at least reasonably clean (though, we all have our days). And everything was put into a context of “I’m just saying this to help you out; you know, for you!” My landlord is a great guy, easy to work with and a great personality; yet, this was not welcome. Incredibly, Eli and Mason suffered the exact same fate. And their place is cleaner than mine. But not only did they get that bit, but they were also informed that their tea supply wasn’t good; Eli shouldn’t wear his hat inside the house (he’ll go bald!); and, Mason can’t drink coffee in the morning. This among other ridiculous decrees made by the landlord and his brother.
To be sure, I know this sounds like quite a bit of complaining and a pretty negative slant. The reality, though, is that when you come from a renting culture in America, this is a fairly negative experience. And there really isn’t much that is more unsettling than having someone come into your living space, your comfortable space, and rile things up. I can get over it, but I’ve also talked with some other Azeris about it. My discussions with colleagues at work say that in Azerbaijan, this is how all landlords will act, and they don’t like it at all, either. While renters in other countries (these colleagues have also lived in Liberia and Tanzania) essentially ‘own’ their home, and the owner has to ask for permission to come to the home, in Azerbaijan it is the opposite. The Azerbaijani landlord still owns the whole thing, and is entitled to it. In addition to this, my colleagues say that even if we had the cleanest homes on the block, the landlord would still find fault, making recommendations like “you should have your computer there, instead” or other such silliness.
So Eli and Mason and I have now made it through this week of landlord assaults on our living quarters. Eli and Mason’s situation is maybe a little better because the landlord lives in Baku. For me, hopefully the landlord doesn’t make his presence in my apartment a regular occurrence.