Flaming Generators and 5-Minute Showers: Adventures in Short-Term Subletting

Rio de Janeiro sublet apartment
Our Rio de Janeiro sublet apartment.

The smoke didn’t billow out of the electrical generator in our Rio de Janeiro apartment immediately.

Rather, I sniffed the unmistakable scent of electrical fire about 5 minutes after turning on our latest apartment’s air conditioning unit — just enough time to revel in chilled-air bliss, then realize my joy was about to be shattered.

Two words sprang to mind as I saw the thin curl of black smoke: “Oh” and “shit.”

After spending 2 weeks in Florianopolis in a home with no A/C, poor ventilation and a distinct lack of ceiling fans, having an A/C unit in our Rio apartment was perhaps the thing I was most looking forward to during our time in the city.

Copacabana? Nice. Ipanema? Ok. Christ the Redeemer? Sure. But OMG sleeping in an ice-cold, humidity-free climate? Yes! Yes! Yes!

We quickly turned off the smoking generator — and thus, our air conditioning, and waited. For what, I don’t know. But wait we did.

A few minutes later, I tentatively flipped the generator switch “on.” Ayaz started the air conditioning.

Blue sparks and small flames started shooting out of the box, and it began making popping noises.

We screamed like children, turned all switches off and called our Airbnb host, who, to his credit was super responsive. Rafael came to the apartment immediately. His final verdict: It appeared electricians would have to be brought in to survey the situation.

In the midst of the fiery excitement, Rafael was very apologetic, and offered to compensate us for our steamy woe.

He was also apologetic when he then explained that the building’s electrical system was quite old, and that our shower had an electric heater. I wasn’t putting 2 and 2 together, and so he spelled it out: showers could last no longer than 5 minutes or the entire apartment’s electricity would go kaput.

Were such a calamity to occur, we’d have to go downstairs, find the doorman and ask him to flip the fuse for us.

The thought of wandering naked and vulnerable from the shower, in the dark, to find towels or clothes, then make my way 6 floors down to the front desk to ask for help in a language (Portuguese) that I don’t speak — was decidedly unappealing.

And so, my iPhone timer came into good play as I made sure my showers were no longer than 5 minutes.

This may sound like ample time, but when your hair is long and curly, and your Italian heritage means shaving is a task that can occur multiple times a day, a 5-minute shower suddenly seems … brief.

Rio de Janeiro sublet apartment
The sitting area in our Rio de Janeiro sublet apartment.

How much of a pain in the patootie was the whole situation?

Not much, to be honest. Turns out the electricians were a hoot — when they couldn’t immediately fix the generator, we got into a very Brazilian charade of me flailing about in distress, and them weeping profusely into their hands.

I’d like to think we bonded. And yes, the unit did get fixed the following day.

As for the shower? Two 5-minute showers a day worked out just fine in the end.

But the question remains:

What do you do when your short-term sublet fails you?

I’d definitely note that aside from the flaming generator (which was fixed quickly) and the shower (which couldn’t be helped), our Rio sublet was fantastic. I felt immediately at home there and loved spending time in the well-decorated space.

That said, depending on where you rented from, there are a few courses of action to take, most obviously, to contact your apartment host.

In the case of our Florianopolis apartment, which had the wifi go out for an extended amount of time (a problem when we both work online), I contacted Airbnb directly, and their customer service was STELLAR. I was even given a site credit for my trouble.

How to Find a Trustworthy Short-Term Sublet

Thankfully, we’ve had mostly good luck thus far with our short-term sublets, most of which we’ve gotten through Airbnb and Homeaway.

I’d like to think our strategy for finding good spaces is pretty straightforward, and helps dictate part of our success.

In short, look for highly rated properties. Then, look to see how many reviews said property has gotten. If it’s clear that a decent number of people have stayed in the space and loved it, and that the host is responsive (occasionally commenting on reviews), then you can feel mostly protected knowing the space will live up to its pictures and description, and the landlord won’t leave you in a major lurch if there’s a problem.

Have you had any adventures (or mis-adventures) in subletting? What are your techniques for finding a smart place to live? Or — if you’d like more deets about finding sublets, feel free to contact me directly.


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