Need CPR after CPI rent hike

   It was Monday morning and I was sorting through the papers on my desk approving the usual assortment of invoices Ė utility bills, insurance premiums, installment payments and finally, the dreaded rent statement.
   Giving it only a cursory glance. I scrawled a reluctant OK and sent it on its ugly way.
   As it settled into the out box, I noticed there was another line on the statement that I had missed during my initial painful glance. The statement hadnít changed for years. What could be different?
   I looked closer, hoping for a recession discount, but I was sorely disappointed. Under the regular rent amount was the simple: "CPI INCREASE -- $3,168.00"
   That was it. No letter of condolence, no explanation, just pay up and shut up.
   Glassy-eyed, I fumbled for the phone to intercom Ms. Ferguson, My loyal office manager. ""Please bring me the lease for our main store," I said, trying hard to remain calm. "I think the landlord has made a mistake."
   I secretly knew, deep down inside, that this particular landlord does not make mistakes. But I was comforted in those first few critical moments by telling myself that I could not be so careless as to forget a $3,168 increase in our monthly rent. I find blaming others before ultimately blaming myself is much healthier for my ego.
   As I read the lease that had been signed nine years ago, I slowly remembered the discussion of the complicated Consumer Price Index (CPI) formula that would kick in after six years. It certainly seemed fair at the time.
   Things change. This particular increase was based on the cost of living for the last three years, and sales for this particular store hadnít increased at all during that time. So what, says the landlord. Gasoline prices did, so pay up.
   I know, I know. I should have been aware of this change long before it occurred. I should have forecast for the eventuality of an increase and then monitored the Consumer Price Index religiously to determine the approximate amount.
   I also should have purchased downtown Tokyo when I had the chance. Besides, if I had forecast for the increase in the CPI and then watched as sales failed to increase accordingly, I would have had three years of frustration. Since there was nothing I could do, I suppose I preferred the ignorance.
   I thought back to when the lease was signed. The concept of a cost of living increase in your lease is that, theoretically, it should not affect your bottom line. Thatís why we tenants always find it so agreeable, in one form or another.
   And any landlord will be quick to point out that if the cost of living goes down, the rent will (in most cases) be reduced. And the fairies will bring you your refund.
   I finally found the appropriate section of the lease and read it through, my ego now prepared for the admission of guilt. Ms. Ferguson had remained in my office. She always enjoys watching my head hit the table.
   "We hadnít pulled that lease out for years," she said, with some sympathy. "You canít be expected to remember everything."
   "I want to be a landlord," I said. "I want to be on the receiving end of the Consumer Price Index. I want to go into a grocery store and shout with glee when I see the price of bread was raised a nickel because Iíll know my income will increase by a thousand or two per month as a result."
   Ms. Ferguson started to leave. "Youíre babbling," she said, all sympathy gone. "I canít stand it when you babble."
   "Our landlord is a multi-millionaire," I said, ignoring her. "He can afford that nickel increase in the price of bread a heck of a lot better than me. Why should I support him?"
   Ms. Ferguson had enough. She took the lease back and left. She might have stayed and suffered longer had she known I was also thinking (hypothetically, of course) that the CPI increase could be covered by eliminating her salary.
    Left alone, I tried to find some comfort in my situation. In other words, since I was not about to be a landlord in the foreseeable future, I tried to look at the bright side.
   How boring it must be for them. By using the CPI, theyíve taken all the risk out of their lives. While we tenants ride the roller coaster of life, the landlords can only watch it, knowing their income is tied inexorably to dull, faceless statistics.
   Lucky buggers.
 

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