Fighting for our Istanbul Apartment Deposit

Among our last orders of business before leaving Istanbul was collecting the deposit on our apartment. After a month exploring the city, the deposit was the only tie keeping us there. After that, we had a bus to catch — to Trabzon, where we finished cycling in late June and would pick up the bike touring again into the Republic of Georgia.

“Whatever happens, let’s agree not to hand over the keys without the full deposit,” Morgan pointed out. I nodded in agreement, not really thinking there would be a problem, but still — you never know.

We arrived at the apartment to make the exchange, and we found the door to our flat wide open. The property owner was already there, inspecting the kitchen to make sure no dishes were missing in the cabinets. He is deaf, so we made hand gestures to show him that everything was in proper order. He seemed satisfied — we had cleaned the place top to bottom that morning. I thought it looked better than when we first moved in.

Then the owner mimed the dangling of keys – intimating that we should hand them over. I looked over to Morgan uneasily; we hadn’t received our deposit back yet. Should we give him the keys, with no money in our hands? A moment’s hesitation, and then we handed them over. We didn’t want to start a confrontation. Besides, the owner’s English-speaking assistant –Gaye — was to arrive in a few short minutes. She would handle the money transaction.

“This place is a complete mess!” Gaye exclaimed after a cursory look through the flat. “I’m sorry, but I need to deduct 100 liras of the deposit for a cleaning crew.”

I couldn’t believe it. Angrily, I challenged her to show us how, exactly, the apartment was dirty. She scoured the floor we had cleaned for some evidence, and finally came upon a single sesame seed. “There!” she exclaimed. “There, look at this!”

A sesame seed.

I told her how ridiculous she sounded, although I knew that we were stuck in an underhanded position. “Why – why did we give him the keys?” I thought. In doing so, we handed over our only real bargaining chip. Forget about any legally-binding lease agreement to back us up. This was Turkey.

At this point, the situation could have gone many different ways. I do know, however, how things would have progressed had the situation arisen just a few months ago. We would’ve taken the hit. We would’ve hung our heads, absorbed the losses (around 75 dollars), and meekly resolved not to let it happen again.

Instead, we left with our money – all of it. We became ruthless, to the point of being downright nasty. We staged a living room sit-in, and after we learned that the apartment was to be shown to some potential tenants in an hour, we threatened to tell them about the deposit scam. We told our landlord nobody was moving in tonight until we got our full deposit. Gaye was stunned. I don’t think that she was used to this kind of outright confrontation.

The standoff lasted about 45 minutes during which time we calmly occupied the living room armchairs. Finally, they offered us 950 lira. We laughed. Finally, they handed over the last 100 lira note, and we smiled, said thanks and calmly took our affairs down the stairs.

I wouldn’t venture to call the ordeal fun, or even gratifying, but what did surprise me was how calm and confident I felt during the stand-off.

Since beginning this trip, I have learned to become more comfortable within conflict – of holding my own during tense situations. This isn’t a practice in recklessness, or a seeking out of fruitless confrontations, but rather knowing when not to be the push-over tourist and reporter. It’s about knowing when to ask the uncomfortable questions, and how to think clearly when things don’t appear to be going our way. That is what allowed Morgan and me to get our full deposit back.

I think I’ll tip my hat to the stressful environments of Romania for that one.

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2 Responses to Fighting for our Istanbul Apartment Deposit

  1. JMW says:

    A powerful vindication and great life lesson, even if it was only over about $55! Early age experiences in asserting your position, best without rage, are invaluable. Surely you’ll be honing negotiating skills further as you close in on India and beyond.

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