There is no unpleasantness quite like a bad landlord. All anyone really wants from an apartment is that it do what it is supposed to do—that the stove gets hot without bursting into flames, that the doors and windows stay closed when closed and open as required, that the pipes remain intact and that whatever species of vermin predated your arrival in the place at least stays deferential. The landlord gets a decent amount of your money every month regardless of whether or not that happens. When a squirrel ate through the roof of my then-girlfriend’s apartment and the landlord sent some chainsmoking cousin to fix it two days later, the landlord still got paid. I used a bathroom that was uninsulated—you could sometimes see your breath in there on cold mornings—for an entire winter and was never late with rent. There is nothing you can really do about a bad landlord except pay them. This, fundamentally, is what sucks most about having a bad landlord—the relationship is so inherently unbalanced, the opportunities for landlord fuckery so bottomless and the avenues for recourse so limited that all you can really do is hope that your landlord is Rickey Henderson.
It would be nice, of course, if everyone was at least a little bit more like Rickey Henderson. But while that’s sadly not the world we live in, some lucky Oakland residents do get to have the Rickey Henderson Is My Landlord Experience. One such person, who lived in one of several properties that Henderson owns in North Oakland, reached out to me with his story living in a Rickey Property from 2003 to 2006. The house itself is unremarkable, per both Evan’s recollection and Google’s street photography, beyond its proximity to Bushrod Park, where Henderson played his varsity games as a high school student at Oakland Tech. But the place did have one notable attribute. That was the basement.
“It was one of those ‘oh, yeah, hell yeah’ moments when you walk through a prospective rental and immediately start high-fiving,” Evan recalls. Here is his recollection of what he and his roommates saw:
“Someone had converted it into essentially a personal bar: it had a full bar-top counter with a drink well and space for at least six barstools, a checkerboard floor, the works. It looked like a card den for a bunch of bootleggers, and it absolutely ruled.”
Judging by the fixtures and general vibe, Evan and his former roommates estimated that the bar predated Henderson’s purchase of the home. “The basement ceiling had sparkles on it,” he remembers, “and the bar had a plush, bright-red armrest you could easily see yourself passing out on.” Evan and his roommates were in their early- to mid-twenties at the time, and knew what they needed to do.
“We used it to throw a bunch of parties, concerts, art shows, pretty much whatever we wanted,” he said. “We put in a disco ball at some point. We were kings.”
This went on for some time, in large part because Henderson and his cousin, who managed the property, were not the most hands-on managers. While Henderson “wasn’t exactly involved in the day to day grind of property management,” though, he was around the neighborhood. “He would come by the block a few times each year, typically in summer, and hold court for a couple of hours with the old-timers who knew him as a kid,” Evan recalled. “Everybody in Oakland loves him, and these visits were a blast.”
Another roommate remembered Henderson busting into his band’s practice session in the basement—“literally broke down the back door, [but was] a sweetheart the whole damn time.”
The good times, sadly, could not last. Here is how Evan tells that story.
“One day, Rickey came by with his cousin the landlord. I think they had gotten word of our ‘events’ and wanted to put a stop to them. They told us they needed to take a look at the basement. It was a little unkempt that day, and I remember Rickey grabbing a broom from our closet and literally sweeping the dirty floor, saying ‘Rickey needs Rickey’s houses to be clean!’ over and over (he really does talk like that). He was nice about it, but you could tell he was genuinely pissed that the place was kinda dirty. A little while later they told us they were going to lock us out of the basement, because our rental contract only called for us to rent the top floor of the house (which was a lie) and that they wanted to convert the basement into another unit (which was also a lie). We asked them not to, but they said they’d made up their mind, the locksmith was coming tomorrow. I asked [Rickey] to sign a baseball for me at least, and he did. Like I said, nice guy!”
“I remember Rickey saying the basement wasn’t part of the house, like it was another dimension,” recalls Ben, another housemate. “Which it was—a parallel universe where the glittering ’70s never ended.”
This could have been the end of the story, but for the fact that 1) we are dealing with early-20s dirtbags here, and 2) Rickey took a comparatively hands-off approach to property management. And so it went another way. Here’s Evan again:
“I love Rickey, and we all know he had a penchant to steal bases as a player, but there was no way we were letting him steal (dun dun dun) that basement from us. I was home when the locksmith came, and while they were doing their work, I went down to the basement with a couple glasses of water for them, all friendly-like, really laying on the charm. While they weren’t looking, I surreptitiously unlocked one of the basement windows and closed the shade so they wouldn’t notice. Job complete, the workers departed, and we were indeed locked out of our incredible party basement—for exactly two minutes. As soon as the coast was clear, I went into the backyard, pushed open the window I’d unlocked, climbed in and undid the deadbolt.
We threw a ‘Rickey, You Stole My Heart, But You Can’t Steal My Base(ment)’ party a few weeks later. I still miss that place.”
If you or someone you know is living in a Rickey Property, please cherish that experience and please also do your best to respect the original fixtures. Rickey needs his properties to be clean.