Apartment Guru: Obsessive Safety Concerns

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fire detector apartment guruDear Apartment Guru,

A friend of mine died several years ago from carbon monoxide poisoning in a home equipped with a faulty detector. When I was little, two of my cousins were in a terrifying house fire that started because of faulty electrical wiring -- one cousin was badly burned. I know that these things have helped to make up my pathology. But I always end up in a contentious relationship with every landlord I have ever had, because I am constantly asking that he or she come over and check and recheck things -- like I think I smell smoke and I need drywall taken out so that wires can be triple-checked.

When they tell me no, I do it myself or else I freak out until I can move.

I just moved into a new place and so far the landlord has been really nice and accommodating. All my neighbors say how great he is. But I know myself and I am really worried I could seriously damage this relationship as well.

Can you give me some advice on how I can feel safe in my home without driving my landlord nuts?

-- Kinda Compulsive and Scared

Dear Kinda,

I am genuinely sorry to hear about the scary fire your cousins went through as well as the loss of your friend. Fear has quite a way of getting into our bones and wreaking havoc on our day-to-day behaviors.

But there are encouraging signs in your situation, says Abby, a therapist specializing in trauma recovery in New York City: "The fact that she has such clarity about her actions, and their connection to actual life trauma, indicates that she is definitely ready to move on from them."

If you are not already seeking counseling, you might just find that a trained professional could really help you to think less about anything that could happen and help you to feel better about your life as it is -- how you are lucky to be a woman who is so vigilant about her own safety that she certainly must be safe. But at some point you have to step back and accept that because of your vigilance, you are, in fact, safe!

But first, it might ease your mind to hire your own electrician to come over and check your apartment for faulty wiring. If you live in a building with several units, ask your neighbors if they would mind if he checked theirs as well. You do the coordinating and you pay for the service, and your landlord never even has to know you did it. Another thing you can do is periodically check that the batteries are working in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors (experts suggest you change them annually, but I support you if you want to change them more often to be sure -- perhaps with the daylight saving changes of the clock). If you're worried that the alert systems currently installed in your home need to be replaced, do it yourself.

"Anything she can do to make her home safer, she probably needs to do herself, anyway," says Abby, "so that she cannot convince herself that maybe the `new' detector from her landlord is actually 'used.' Plus, by taking the responsibility for catering to those fears she has an idea that they are unfounded, and she might be able to start saying no to them sometimes."

If you get right down to it, there is a lot to be scared of in our homes -- lead in the paint, candles left burning, stumbling across "The View" on weekday afternoons on the television -- but life is less satisfying when we are afraid to live it.

So to answer your question: Feeling safe in your home will have to come from you and not from your landlord. But I think with just a little bit of work, and perhaps a little bit of deep breathing, you'll figure it out!

Here's to fearlessness!

Have a question for the Apartment Guru? Email her at: apartmentguruquestions@gmail.com
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