Airbnb and Discrimination

You can hardly have missed the news — read nearly any story about Airbnb today and it is likely to contain a statement about how Airbnb is dealing with allegations of racism and discrimination.  There have indeed been a few notable cases of overt discrimination on the Airbnb platform — but, particularly given how very many guests are staying with hosts every day of the year, (hundreds of thousands) there have been phenomenally few publicized cases of overt discrimination.  Of those we know of, not all of these have not had to do with race.  A couple incidents had to do with sexual orientation — This story  and this one .And one incident involved a transgender guest, here .  There has also been  one instance of overt racial discrimination on the Airbnb site in the US, and apparently another in Scotland (where a host stated he would not accept an Indian guest) which I heard about but couldnt’ find in the news.  Then, in addition to these cases of overt discrimination, there are a handful of allegations guests have made, generally black guests, saying they felt discriminated against, because they were declined several times without explanation. discrimination In at least one case, a black guest asked to stay with a host using a picture of himself, and then when declined, reapplied using a “fake profile” with a photo of a white man, and was accepted.  This black guest (Greg Selden)  then filed a federal class action lawsuit against Airbnb alleging discrimination.

As well, there was a  research study done by Harvard University researchers in January of 2016, which studied the relative success of those with “black sounding names” and “white sounding names” in obtaining Airbnb rentals.  Please note that though this study did NOT actually study the effect of race on obtaining rentals, only the effect of user name, it is widely being quoted as a study about race and Airbnb rentals.  It should be obvious that studying the effect of “black sounding names” is not the same as studying race — any more than we would consider a study using “white sounding names”  like “Billy Bob” and “Peggy Sue” to be ipso facto a study about whites.  (Read more about this study and some of my observations on it, at the end of this blog in the “Addendum”, below) And yet this significant difference is not being mentioned in the media quoting the study, and here we have one of the first pieces of evidence that, for many people in this nation so very obsessed with race and discrimination, it isn’t actually the facts that matter, it’s their sense of outrage which makes them right.  research with guaranteed conclusions

At this point there have doubtless been hundreds of articles pointing a finger at Airbnb, (see the list below at the end of this blog  )  casting blame and allegations of racism.  Even though it has never been Airbnb itself, the company, which has been doing the alleged discriminating (since it isn’t Airbnb which accepts or declines guests) , but rather the hosts,  some have even gone so far as to suggest that “Airbnb is known to be unfriendly to black people”.

A couple individuals even seized the opportunity created by the many allegations of racism thrown at Airbnb, to start up their own alternative short term rental platforms, which ostensibly will be more “inclusive” (presumably more inclusive of guests…one anticipates they will be more exclusionary towards many hosts.…) One of these sports the correct name…Innclusive.  The other is called Noirbnb .  These sites seem to have great interest in pressuring hosts to accept all guests, while simultaneously treating hosts with distrust, by refusing to give the host the name or photo of the guest until after the guest books. (as stated in this article)  Innclusive also stated in   one interview that they would not allow a host to accept any guest for dates they declined another guest for.  Hence the sites are highly punitive towards hosts for declining anyone, even when there are legitimate reasons for having to decline — eg the guest states that they intend not to follow your house rules.  I imagine bad guests in particular — the rude, the disrespectful, those who have damaged others’ property — will love Innclusive since it will pressure hosts to accept them.

And hence we end up with the irony typical of the American game of race politics,  that in straining to be more “inclusive” and fair towards some individuals, you end up being less “inclusive” of and less fair towards others.

Not wishing to miss out on the dogpile and yet another opportunity to scapegoat the archvillian Airbnb, legislators have also seized the opportunity to throw their punches at Airbnb.  In this article , two black members of Congress are “pressuring” Airbnb over alleged racism. Civil Rights Attorney Kristen Clarke makes suggestions to Airbnb about how they can combat racism in this New York Times op-ed .

Dogpile

Attaway to Dogpile on ’em

 

Airbnb has responded to this intense pressure by hiring Laura Murphy from the ACLU  (see also this NYT article ) and by  hiring Eric Holder to help them craft a “world-class anti-discrimination statement”.  They had already hired David King, the “Director of Diversity”, to promote diversity in their company.  Fired up with their new mission,  Airbnb issued a a blog about the discrimination issue and their commitment to ” doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination.”

So– many of you are asking….”Isn’t this all a good thing? Isn’t it good to be against racism and discrimination? I don’t discriminate in my hosting….at least not on the basis of race, or sexual orientation….I may discriminate against the liars, and the disrespectful…those with bad reviews or who indicate they wont’ be able to follow my house rules, or who are “waving red flags” when they inquire…but not on the basis of race or any category.  So what’s all this got to do with me?”

It’s got a lot to do with you, because Airbnb doesn’t seem content, as it should be, to simply address instances of overt discrimination on its platform.  When Airbnb states in its blog that “I sincerely believe that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company”, you would do well to ask why it is a challenge to take action on very easily reported instances of overtly discriminatory statements, and realize, that it’s not.  Taking action on such cases is no challenge at all — guest reports the incident, Airbnb investigates, and if there are overtly discriminatory comments in the message thread (which Airbnb can easily review) then the company can easily act.  So why is this “the greatest challenge”?  That question gives me  concern and it should also give you concern.  The concern is, that Airbnb apparently intends to do more than simply address overtly discriminatory statements which, at least in the USA, are already illegal to make.  Just what Airbnb may or may not intend to do, and how it may take action that encroaches upon or threatens the freedoms hosts have to decide for ourselves whom we wish to invite into our own homes, is where our concern should be.

One of the things that is most important to understand about the discrimination issues at hand, is that by making claims that they were “declined because of their race”, or declined based on their sexual orientation, or for any other such reason, guests are in essence implying that they are entitled to access to someone else’s private home.  Indeed, in her New York Times op-ed on the issue, Civil Rights Attorney Kristen Clarke well illustrated the saying that  If all you have is a hammerif all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail — and made her access to other’s private homes into a Civil Rights issue, which it is not.    The law clearly recognizes as much, and the nation’s Fair Housing Act, as well as Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, exempt owner-occupants of typical single family homes from discrimination laws.  This means that US law states that it permits those who live in the same home where they rent out space, to discriminate on any basis.  The exact exemptions vary from state to state, as indicated here , but in general the law is clear — and sensible — those seeking to rent to someone in the same home where they themselves live, are permitted to chose the kind of person they want to live with.  And really, we should all be asking — as should Kristen and others who seem to be demanding access to other’s private homes — how else could it be?  How well would it work to insist that a homeowner must take into their home, someone whom they dont’ want there?  Would this work for either party, the host or guest?  How  will the guest feel, to be insisting on staying with someone who had indicated they would rather not have them there?  Or with a host who,  if silent on the matter, still radiates discomfort in the guests’ presence?  I want to suggest that anyone who insists that they have a right to someone else’s home, is not a “victim” of discrimination, but rather is a bully, a bully who is seeking support from the legal system and/or our national public obsession with discrimination, to perpetrate their bullying.

bullying silhouettes

Kristen Clarke there’s a name for what you’re doing — it’s good old fashioned bullying

 

Such awkward scenarios and such bullying is no idle fantasy, since among the suggestions this Civil Rights Attorney makes for how Airbnb can “eliminate racism from its platform”, are the suggestions that it can withhold the guest’s identifying information (name and photo) from the host, so that the host can’t see who they are communicating with , and has to decide whether or not to accept the individual without seeing them!  Another of the Civil Rights activist’s suggestions, is to make instant book mandatory  — in other words, to completely remove the hosts’ ability to screen prospective guests.

the blind date
What Airbnb renting looks like when Airbnb won’t let you choose your date…ahem, guest…

There are signs that Airbnb is actually moving to test out mandatory instant book, potentially to force upon all hosts — many new hosts have had their accounts set up with mandatory instant book and they are unable to remove this feature.  See  forum post about this issue.

 

Kristen also urges Airbnb to investigate hosts who are “suspected” of discrimination, and presents an idea for a “gotcha” trap that Airbnb could set up to try to catch hosts in:  “Airbnb should actively audit hosts who are suspected of discrimination.By having users whose only perceived difference is their race attempt to make reservations with the same hosts (much like in the Harvard study), the company can identify those who discriminate. ”

I hope it is clear that each one of these suggestions for how to “fix” an alleged problem which is alleged to be widespread, but for which we have seen very  little evidence — involves some measure of curtailment of host’s freedoms to engage in their business — and would impose Big Brotherish levels of inappropriate investigation, combined with (in the case of mandatory instant book) what amounts to a corporate expropriation of private property…and yet another means of bullying.  Our homes belong to us — not to Airbnb.  One thing that Kristen Clarke has very wrong in her op-ed, is the idea that Airbnb is one big hotel chain and we the hosts are simply subsidiary hotels.   To view things this way is certainly convenient for those demanding access to our homes, but again, simply the fact that your only tool is a hammer doesn’t make me a nail, and the fact that you are a Civil Rights Attorney doesn’t make my private home a place where you can pry my door off its hinges with Federal Civil Rights laws and a liberal dose of bullying.   hammer and nail Our homes are not hotels, we are not owned by Airbnb, and we are not subsidiaries thereof, or even independent contractors.  Under the IRS tax law used by Airbnb , we are third party retailers, and our posting of our advertisements on Airbnb website is very similar, if not identical, to the way property owners post ads on Craigslist.

Quite apart from the legal issues involved in viewing host’s homes as part of a theoretical big Airbnb hotel chain, this perspective is nauseating to hosts who, quite naturally, find it appalling or chilling that anyone would insist on having access to their own home…where they live, where they have their possessions and valuables stored, their sentimental items, their personal and family history, their pets, their follies, their foibles and their whole personal life.  If there is any place in the world where a human being feels that they have the right to be free, it is in their own home.   This suggestion led one NYT commenter to make the following remark:

 

This article scares the bejesus out of me. To seriously suggest that the Federal government should be dictating to us whom we are required to have as guests in our own homes… Chilling…

and another:

 

Instant booking would make me leave Airbnb. This is my personal home where my husband and three children live. My paintings are on the wall. My grandmother’s china is in the cupboard. Our clothes are in the drawers. I need to know that I’m renting to a family that will be respectful of my home and my neighbors. This just isn’t the same as a hotel.
I am deeply sympathetic to the issue of racial profiling. But Airbnb is much more nuanced than renting an anonymous hotel room and, in the end, the hosts have to feel safe and comfortable with their guests.

 

So what should be done about the problem of discrimination in Airbnb?

To begin with, let’s return to the things I stated in the first paragraph of this article.  We the general public have not seen many instances of outright discrimination on Airbnb.  In fact, as mentioned, given the size of Airbnb and the number of bookings on a daily basis we have seen phenomenally, remarkably few instances of overt discrimination come to public attention.   It’s reasonable to expect that there are more cases than we have heard about, but given the appetite of the media to seize on tales of discrimination, and the desire of those so “victimized” to be heard, one would think we would hear of more than half a dozen incidents, if there were really hundreds, or thousands.

We can probably expect that the amount of discrimination and racism/heterosexism etc in Airbnb renting, is the same as it is in the world at large — and the same amount as occurs on Craigslist, VRBO, or any other property rental website.

A number of “anecdotal” stories of alleged discrimination have arisen, where guests are saying things like, “I can never get an Airbnb rental for the life of me” or “I get rejected by hosts most of the time”. Well even if we consider that the Harvard Study did actually measure the degree of race discrimination on the site, (which it could not have, because, again, it was a study about the effect of user names, not about the effect of race ) the difference between those with black sounding names and those with white sounding names, was no more than 16%.  It was not 50% or 100%.  Which means, that for those who are claiming “I can’t get an Airbnb for the life of me”, there is very likely something other than race which is keeping them from getting accepted.

Probably not the best choice
 

Probably a better profile photo can be found

 

If one looks at the photos that these guests are choosing to use to present themselves, one may see, in some instances, that the photos could be better.  Just as hosts have to learn to present themselves professionally, to make a good impression on guests, guests also need to learn how to present themselves….and they are at the disadvantage that unlike hosts who have a community to learn hosting skills, they have no community to learn these things.

What if guests have done all they can to improve their presentation, and are still getting declined without explanation?

Well another skill guests need to learn, is similar to what hosts have to learn when they learn to screen guests.  Just like hosts are looking at guests with the goal of selecting those who would fit in their home and with what they offer, guests need to learn how to appropriately select hosts and listings whom they think would be a good match for them. If someone wanted to set out to “prove” that Airbnb was racist, or that there were “racist” hosts out there, or that as a black person one faced a horrible world of hateful home sharers, there would probably be no easier way to “prove” this than to intentionally select the hosts and listings one felt were the most inappropriate matches for oneself, and then ask (or better yet, demand!) to stay there.

I bring this up because, given the absolutely enormous investment that some individuals have in identifying as victims and in “proving” that there is “a lot of racism out there” , it stands to reason that at least some such individuals would seek to create or provoke situations, which they can then use to support their own agenda.  In fact, there was  something bearing some resemblance to this recently happening in Chicago, when a number of Airbnb hosts began to recieve “inquiries” from several black individuals, who presented in a truly unacceptable and threatening way, somewhat as if they were collectively playing a practical joke on hosts.  The problem being, that when white or non-black people are being intentionally set up to look like racists, and particularly if they feel that their actions are being overseen by a corporation which condemns racism and perceives it as its “greatest challenge” to root this out…this joke isn’t funny.

Particularly given the heavy social opprobrium that is connected with the allegation “racist”, and the very serious consequences that individuals can face for racist/discriminatory behavior, such as loss of status, community respect, loss of job, even loss of career, I think it is very important not to make accusations about “racism” without solid evidence.  The press will call it racistSince we can never know why a particular host declined someone, unless they say so explicitly, no one should be accusing an Airbnb host of “racism” or any other type of discrimination, merely because they were declined — or even if they were declined with a black photo and accepted with a white one.  ( for instance: the black photo may have presented an image of an unsmiling person, who looked angry, while the white profile may have shown a smiling person who looked happy. )

As well,  it bears pointing out that we have two cultural trends in this nation which influence this issue:  first, we have Identity Politics, which is heavily oriented towards valuing victimhood. Bruce Bawer explores this in his book  The Victim’s Revolution.  Second, we have in this nation, an absolute obsession with discrimination and racism in particular  — it’s worth noting that although there were slightly more  instances of overt discrimination in Airbnb against gays and transgender individuals than against black individuals, we are seeing an overwhelming amount of articles in the media about “racism on Airbnb” and very very little about homophobia or transphobia in Airbnb.  Due to this fixation on race, we are overly prone to take every allegation of racism more seriously than perhaps it really merits, in individual cases.

There are also people very highly oriented to using the term “racist”, and dismissing people as “racist”, and in our culture, this dismissal tends to be rather effective.  Once maligned as “racist”,  (when immersed in a culture which in many cases has more empathy for robbers and murderers than racists),  I challenge anyone to find a means to dig their way out from under this accusation.  This is the “Cry Racism” phenomenon, which has many disturbing consequences….among which, is that old “Cry Wolf” phenomenon, which is that after a while people get so tired of all the cry wolf screams and shrieks, that they start to ignore the situations when the wolf really is there.  Too much “crying” racism thus detracts from the truly concerning situations.  Identity politics refuted

 

And so, what about those truly concerning situations? What of the situations, both real and potential, where an Airbnb guest is declined solely because of their race?  In a situation of covert (as opposed to overt ) discrimination where the host simply declines the guest, but gives no reason for the decline.

I want to present an idea about this that will seem remarkable to many, because they have never heard this before.  Particularly, as I say, in the context we have in this nation, where race and racism and discrimination are such very hot topics and we see articles about these topics in the media almost daily, and we see new efforts by corporations to do sensitivity training, we read about the value of diversity, we see cities and corporations encouraging diversity, and trying to uproot discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head.

new idea light bulbSo here is my revolutionary idea about what we can do about covert discrimination on Airbnb:  absolutely nothing.  We can, and in fact, we should, do absolutely nothing about covert discrimination on the Airbnb platform — meaning, situations where hosts are declining guests for discriminatory reasons, but not stating this overtly.

The overriding principle I am employing in this statement is that you, as a random person in this world, have no right to access my private home.  You have no Civil Rights to access my home, and you have no Airbnb guest rights to access my home, and in fact, you have no rights at all in my home — except in the instance when I take the active step of actively welcoming you into my private home by accepting your request to stay here.  Thus, you have only the rights which I, in my position as sole owner of my private home (which is not owed by Airbnb, contrary to the view of many) , my home which is in fact a home and not a hotel (simply using a home for short term rentals does not render it, ipso facto, into a hotel), choose to bestow you with.  If I allow you to smoke in my home, you can smoke — if I dont’ allow this you may not. If I allow you to bring friends into my home, you may do so — if I say you may not bring others into my home, you may not.  I would like to welcome many guests into my home — I enjoy being a host and having people stay here, but when they come, they notice, that my house doesn’t look like the Hilton down the street, or the Marriott downtown, or the Motel 6 off the freeway.  My home is unlike a hotel, because it isn’t a hotel — I live in it and it has my things in it.  My belongings are in my home — my elementary school finger paintings, my comic book collection, my antique furniture, and my pet bird.  I dont’ want just anyone here — but I do invite most who ask to come.

But what if many hosts are discriminatory, and black guests or gay guests really do have a hard time finding a place to stay?  Is it fair that they should be kept out of what is coming to be quite a large segment of public accomodations?

These questions lead to another question — “If someone is declined by a particular host, would it be right to force that host to accept that person?” because in essence this is what we are saying when we express concern about the “fairness” of someone experiencing numerous declines.  We are saying that someone, or perhaps everyone, who didn’t want that guest in their home, should have to accept that person in their home.  And what is this but a form of bullying?bullying

As well, we should realize that when a person is declined a stay in someone’s home, in a situation where there is no chance of that person really being accepted, then we have to ask…what is the damage done? The damage is not that they didn’t get a place to stay — because it would not work out for them to stay in a home where they weren’t wanted.  That is not an option.  So the only “damage” if we can call it that, is that their feelings are hurt. And if we are so very concerned about people feeling hurt when they aren’t invited into a person’s private home, then God forbid that person actually has to face some serious challenges in their life…how will they cope?  I am concerned that our laws and policies are making incredibly weak people who can’t cope with everyday experience.   As one commenter put it on the “American Conservative” website:

 If I can’t say “I don’t like the look of this person, I don’t want him in my house with me, my wife, and my kids” then I have basically no freedom of association. If I can’t say “I’m looking to rent out a room, if anyone’s interested” on the internet, then I have basically no freedom of speech. And if anti-discrimination laws are designed to prevent hurt feelings, then we live in an absurd, emotionally immature, and unsustainable society.

I want to volunteer myself as a person who is part of a minority group, who does not take offense at being “discriminated against” in private housing.  I am a gay person, and I want to offer, as an example for other gay people, another way to respond when someone declines my request to stay in their private home.  Instead of calling up the media and filing a complaint with Airbnb about being declined, instead of going on talk shows and radio programs to talk about how it felt to be declined, or starting a twitter post for #AirbnbWhileLesbian, here is what I would do if I were declined: I would look for another place to stay.  Sound simple?  I thought so too.  As a gay person I completely support the right of any individual to refuse to accept me as an Airbnb guest on the basis that I am gay and they don’t want gay people in their home.  I would find this disappointing, and consider them small minded and probably not very creative or whimsical, but I would realize two important things: their limitation was their problem, not mine.  And their home is theirs, not mine.

The first gay person

You probably know a gay person without knowing this.

 

Private homes are not public accomodations — see  this forum post on  this issue — this is something that seems to be misunderstood, sometimes intentionally so, by many of those who are demanding access to other’s houses.  While a case can be made for ensuring that blacks and any other category of people are not discriminated against in seeking long term permanent housing for themselves, private stand-alone apartments, it’s my view that anti-discrimination laws are totally inappropriate for private homes, and should never be applied to private homes, since property owners must have the ability and the right to live comfortably in their own homes.

It would not only be extraordinarily disrespectful, but also ludicrous, to propose that people should be forced to live with someone they dont’ like, or are uncomfortable with, in their own homes.  Rather, their own home is their last refuge of freedom, in a world where they may be uncomfortable most anywhere else.  I know this as a woman, since women often dont’ feel quite so safe out there in the world at large.  For women, I contend, it is particularly important that we feel safe in our own homes.  And that we are free there.  If we are not free in our own homes, where are we free?

Freedom is to a great extent correlated to a minimally intrusive government, which is why Libertarians like myself believe in small governments rather than large ones.  It is also typical of Libertarians to oppose anti-discrimination laws of all kinds, as is discussed in this article by David Bernstein.  One of the concerns that many Libertarians have about discrimination policies, is how they can proliferate, as he explained here:

The proliferation of antidiscrimination laws explains why libertarians are loath to concede the principle that the government may ban private sector discrimination.  There is no natural limit to the scope of antidiscrimination laws, because the concept of antidiscrimination is almost infinitely malleable. Almost any economic behavior, and much other behavior, can be defined as discrimination. Is a school admitting students based on SAT scores? That is discrimination against individuals (or groups) who don’t do well on standardized tests! Is a store charging more for an item than some people can afford? That is discrimination against the poor! Is an employer hiring only the best qualified candidates? That is discrimination against everyone else!

This idea of the malleability and proliferation of anti-discrimination laws is exemplified by the new category that the government has decided we may not “discriminate” upon: transgender status.  Some are even now arguing that to hold a philosophical viewpoint in which you dont’ accept that someone can literally “change gender”, is ipso facto discriminatory on its face — failing to use the right pronoun or gender term for a given person (and thus refusing to allow them to impose their own self-defintion and world views upon you) could in some instances cost you your job.  I bring this up because like David Bernstein I see a slippery slope from anti-discrimination policies to a totalitarian forcing of philosophical and political views upon others.

fat activist
 

Fat Activist Virgie Tovar, who fights fat discrimination

 

Perhaps salivating when perceiving all the power and potential to bully others and preach to them from the Identity Politics Pulpit that several minority groups have obtained through anti-discrimination laws, other groups are lining up to get their share.  There are now, for instance, people who generously tip the scales, who are pining for “fat discrimination” to be added to the long list of prohibited actions…as well as prohibited thoughts.  See  this recent article  about such a fat activist.   I think it suffices to say that many Airbnb hosts would have a care for their furniture if discovering that, through an Airbnb tech experiment or new policy to prohibit discrimination, they were not permitted to know until their guest rang their doorbell that she weighed 450 pounds.

The forcing of any kind of anti-discrimination policy upon a private home or a private homeowner, is in essence an expression of contempt for the freedom of that private property owner, and an expression of contempt for their need to be able to be comfortable in perhaps the only place that they have for this in the world, and it is a form of bullying.

But, you may argue — “even if I agree that people should be free, in their own homes, to make their own choices about whom to invite there, can’t something be done by Airbnb merely to convey its own values, values which it expects hosts to uphold, values of not discriminating…and, geez, do we really want racists on the Airbnb platform???  Are you saying that’s okay??!”

I would respond to that by saying that anyone who has missed noticing that the mainstream cultural values in the US are highly opposed to racism and discrimination against minority groups, must be living on an island somewhere, out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean perhaps, or perhaps for the last 20 years they have never come out of their house and read a newspaper.  no discrimination in the workplaceSimply put I think that values of “anti-discrimination” have been quite thoroughly spread across our fair land, and beyond — these are important values in other First World nations too.  For that reason, and because most every corporation has “anti-discrimination” policies that it applies to its own company and employees, I think most people have gotten the message that “discriminating” isn’t something that is socially acceptable.  (By the way, hosts are not Airbnb employees, we are simply running a private business and posting ads on a particular website).

People have mostly decided how they are oriented to these mainstream values, “politically correct” values, and so my argument is that at this point, there is a point of diminishing returns in simply making more and more anti-discrimination statements.  Moreover I think that at this point, a goodly number of people have “discrimination fatigue”, which is something like the “compassion fatigue” that sets in when the population of homeless tent cities or panhandlers in your area swells and their nuisance increases, and you find that you are no longer feeling quite as compassionate.  aggressive panhandlingLikewise, when people are too often lectured to about racism and discrimination, (or, in my area, “white privilege” and discrimination, or the “original sin” of white people) then they are going to start resenting being lectured to — particularly if they notice that “discrimination” has turned into a whole industry, and that many people are profiting by filing discrimination lawsuits.    I contend that “anti-discrimination” laws may now be causing more problems than they solve, but that’s a subject for a whole other article.

As well, though one could try, with very intrusive and liberty-curtailing techniques to “root out discrimination” in a particular activity, it is not possible to keep “racists” off Airbnb, or off a plane, or out of your neighborhood or the local bar.  Because, whatever being a racist is (I really dont’ know what it is…some say that being a white person is sufficient), it has to do with the contents of one’s mind and heart…and Airbnb with all its tech expertise, lacks a way to do thought screening to vet hosts.  They haven’t yet figured out a tech geek way to peer into the most private thoughts one thinks when alone.  Perhaps they could hire the NSA to do more spying on prospective hosts.  Someone who is a “racist” could be completely non-discriminatory in action, and take all guests who request to stay…and yet, they might look down on certain of those guests..with condescension, a sense of superiority, dislike, unease…or whatever it is racists are supposed to feel that real human beings don’t.  A guest might stay with a “racist” host without even knowing it…and someone might live next door to a little old lady for 30 years without knowing all the things she thought.  It happens.  People with “racist” thoughts dont’ have a neon sign on their face when they go out the house.

little old lady wink
 

Do you know what I’m thinking? Guess.

 

Then too, we should collectively stop pretending that we have a level of racism and discrimination in this nation which is the same or worse than we had 60 years ago in 1950. The fact is that most people find the idea of discrimination on the basis of race to be distasteful, and I contend that this is not a huge problem in this nation.   By pretending this is an enormous problem, we simply fuel what in my view has become a race industry that is dependent upon manufacturing allegations of racism.  What would all the Kristen Clarkes and Eric Holders, David Kings and Laura Murphys of the world do, (not to mention the Al Sharptons and Ellis Coses) if we citizens of the US were all mostly kind and generous to each other, open-minded and open-hearted? They’d have no job.  Their continued employment is dependent upon finding ever more instances of racism and discrimination in the world — and perhaps helping create these if they don’t exist.

When it comes to changing people’s hearts and minds, and opening them up –if that is our goal (and I think always a worthy one) —

enlightenment

It’s always a worthy goal for us to deepen in love and grow spiritually

 

I don’t feel that more and more policies and rules are what is needed.  More hammering of political correctness onto those who aren’t disposed to hear that, will have little use…except perhaps chase them into the waiting arms of a mouthy man with orange hair who is going to make America something again.   So when I say Airbnb should do nothing about covert discrimination among hosts, I don’t mean to condone racism or racists, but to say…people gonna do what they gonna do in their private space (not to mention they will think and feel whatever they will privately think and feel) and there’s some value in just accepting that.  It’s not quite as simple as putting everyone into two sorting bins, one labelled “non-racist” and the other “racist” and then forcing those in the racist bin to wear a scarlet “R” on their shirt collar and report daily to authorities about their whereabouts.   I dont’ think we heal racism or any other social problem, through blame or vilification.

I think that a large part of why we collectively in this nation are so zealous about discrimination issues and anti-discrimination policies, and so poised to eliminate people’s freedoms in order to impose such policies upon others, is that we (and when I say “we” I don’t mean myself, but refer to the proponents of Identity Politics) have so effectively vilified the person who has any degree of either prejudice, or distrust or unease, with some “type” of person, be they black, gay, transgender, or other minority group.  We (again, not me — but the Identity Politics culture) have in fact made the individual who is uncomfortable (perhaps for some of the time, even only one instance) with someone who happens to be a member of a minority group, into a sin, and particularly in the case of blacks and whites, we have cast blacks into the role of those innocents sinned against, and whites in the role being white some call it racistof those guilty of an “original sin” .

In  this opinion piece in my local newspaper, a white man expresses his lamentation over what he views as the “original sin” of all white people:  slavery in the US.  Thus I think that the relations between blacks and whites in the US tends to be overlaid with this  mythology, of sinner and sinned against, perpetrator and victim, colonizer and colonized, oppressor and oppressed.  The need to blame someone  for this “original sin” of American Slavery is so deep, that this author would blame all whites, even those who, like my parents, only arrived as European immigrants to this nation nearly a century after slavery ended, –and even though the very word “slavery” comes from the name of my own people, my ancestors, the Slavs, because of the huge number of them who were enslaved by “people of color” , the Arabs.

In any case, the result of the Identity Politics philosophies that are increasingly informing mainstream views, is that the person who would “discriminate” in any way against a minority individual, is greatly vilified. This person, particularly in their more unapologetic form,  is in some sense our new “Satan”.

new satan

the person who feels unease with any minority others is the new Satan

 

The fervor that we see in Airbnb to “root out” discrimination in private homes, is a result of this.  If the “discriminatory” person is easily dismissed, it becomes easy to deprive them of rights and freedoms — the right to be comfortable in their own home, the right to have renters in their home, the right to obtain rental income, and at a more basic level, the right to do business and earn any income at all.   It isn’t a far leap from denying people the right to earn an income with their property or assets, to passing laws that they can’t live in your neighborhood, or that they can’t ride the bus, or attend your place of worship.    For the truly devout in the fight against racists, why not just throw them bodily in a lake and insist, as did the Witchhunters of old, that if they floated they were racists, and should be put to death, and if they sank, they were innocent, and God would have mercy upon their souls.
I dont’ mean to imply that I condone discrimination on the basis of race or any other category — I’m not arguing that people who would discriminate (crudely, as I would view it) on the basis of race, or sexual orientation, are fine upstanding people with great values whom  we should be proud of.   I dont’ have to agree with people’s values, to be able to support their freedom and their rights, and property rights.  But it’s my view that we are collectively starting to lose the value of freedom upon which the US was founded — we are more concerned with being “politically correct” and avoiding any suggestion or hint of racism, than with preserving our freedoms.  We are too willing to sacrifice our freedoms for the sake either of “correctness”, or perhaps for the cheap purchase of some degree of redemption from the burden of “white guilt”.

On that note…I think white people in particular would be able to see things a heck of a lot more clearly if they  just threw off that heavy leaden mantle of white guilt that Identity Politics is continually trying to shove on white individuals…just dump  it off and refuse to carry it…some things might become a lot clearer.  Whites wouldn’t have to apologize in advance for expressing their views quite so often, among other things. This is me not having any white guilt

So again, I’m going to argue — that when faced with covert discrimination by Airbnb hosts, Airbnb’s course of action should be….to do nothing. Absolutely nothing. I’m not naive enough to believe that this is the course of action Airbnb will take …being a millennial-founded, no doubt white-guilt motivated group of individuals…and a corporation seeking to “grow”.  No, they will no doubt succomb to mainstream political forces.  But I would like to scold them for doing so and encourage other hosts to do likewise, and zealously protest any loss of hosts’ freedoms to do business or have our private decisions policed in any way.

Airbnb should act on instances of overt discrimination only.  As for the rest — Airbnb and all of us should respect that a person’s home is their sanctuary, and that is perhaps the only place in the world where they are totally free to be themselves, and live with their values — which may not be values that we support or can condone.  But that fact is pointless, because it is not our home, it is theirs, and we have no right to dictate to them who they shall invite into their own home.   They should not be obligated to accept any particular guest or type of guest.  Many women, for instance, feel safer in accepting only female guests, and that is their perogative.  Some hosts are busy and accept most all comers, others do hosting quite part-time and are very selective in who they take in.   Since people who sign up as hosts and take any guests at all can only be advantageous for Airbnb and for guests, and since the guests picky hosts take would only have fewer options if they didn’t offer theirs,  I don’t see any practical need to push hosts to accept more people or different people than they want in their home.

Many have argued that yes, people have a right to freedom in their own home, but not when they open it to renters.  This is not what the exemptions for owner occupants in the Fair Housing Act are saying.  Such laws state that owner occupants have a right to discriminate when doing business — in essence they , lke the rest of us, have a right to make a living with their property.  They are not denied this right to run a business and earn an income to support themselves because of their values, including any discriminatory values.

Some would point out that as a private corporation, Airbnb can if it wishes go beyond the law and require more of its hosts than the law itself would require.  And that Airbnb wishes hosts to be welcoming — “belonging” is its trademark, its brand.

Even so, one doesn’t convey a welcome to guests by forcing hosts to accept guests they dont want in their homes, and one doesn’t convey “belonging” to hosts by investigating and spying on them  to see if one can “root out”  the hosts who dont have the right “values” or attitudes.  A welcome doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t freely offered, if it isn’t genuine.  Airbnb should seek to allow hosts to offer a genuine welcome to guests, rather than feel forced to welcome guests.  Since the Airbnb discrimination/racism issues began to make the news, I have heard hosts express fear that they now will have to worry about declining a black or gay guest, out of fear that if they dont’ accept the person they might be perceived as discriminating. No one should have to have this fear hanging over their head — worried about being spied on by Big Brother as they run their private business.

 

 

In conclusion:

First, it helps to understand the context in which these issues arise.  They are mostly arising in the US, in Airbnb rentals in the US.  Our nation is obsessed with racism and discrimination, and in particular, blacks and whites in our nation have a mythology of oppressed/oppressor and even “original sin” being overlaid upon our relationships in all areas. Identity politicsWe also have a culture increasingly informed by Identity Politics, a worldview which is completely centered on experiences of victimization and oppression, (wherein those who claim some sort of victimization are accorded more power to preach to others) and on defining ourselves based on superficial characteristics like race, gender,  or sexual orientation, as opposed to deeper characteristics such as our values, worldviews, chosen mythologies and soul qualities.

Without denying that there remain instances of racism, discrimination or inequality which still exist and do need addressing, I would like to categorically reject all claims of Identity Politics upon me, and reclaim my freedom and right to my own self-definition. I owe nothing to anyone because of their experience of racism or their people’s history of slavery or anything else (and by the way, I’m not still holding the Arabs responsible for enslaving my Slavic ancestors several hundred years ago) — and freed from the burden to owe something to someone, I find that I experience more of a genuine compassion for people.

As well, freed from the burden of having to view myself as racially responsible  for someone else being declined as a potential Airbnb guest, and free from responsibility for all of their other claims as victims by dint of race, I simultaneously empower myself  to be free in my own home, (and likewise insist on other’s freedom in their homes) and to claim rights to choose whom I want to have in my own home, and at the same time, in my freedom, find an increased level of genuine generosity and a spirit of welcoming extended to many different types of  people.

Or, to put it in other words, if you dont’ seek to apply over-controlling laws, rules and policies to myself and my property,  you’ll find that I’m a much happier and thus more generous and compassionate person.  Freedom tends to do that.  freedom child

 

 

 

 

 

Addendum:

 

Taking a look at some of the complaints that have arisen in the media lately, that there is racism on the Airbnb platform.  Here are some of the articles that have been published on this issue — one need not read all of these (the first link is to the Harvard study that many other articles refer to) but I want to list them here to show how very much attention this issue has been getting in the media.

Harvard Study on Racism in Airbnb

Airbnb criticized over “racist” hosts

Airbnb’s burden to end any racial bias

Black Twitter user proves Airbnb is kinda racist

Airbnb hosts are racist, study finds

Tool that lets Airbnb hosts stop being racist

Black people get screwed on Airbnb

Airbnb racism not surprising

Airbnb has a racism problem

The racism that is found on Airbnb

African Americans less likely to get rooms

Airbnb and old fashioned racism

How Civil Rights Laws allow discrimination on Airbnb

A hashtag says racism on Airbnb is real

New York TImes: discrimination on Airbnb is real

Airbnb hosts are racist and reject users based on name

Airbnb hosts discriminate against black people

Airbnb users complaining of racism

Airbnb — less likely to rent to black sounding names

Racism alive and well on Airbnb

Twitter calls out racism on Airbnb

Is Airbnb racist

Airbnb users slam racist property owners

Sharing economy has a race problem

Black guest rejected by white host

Sharing economy gets accused of racism

Racism faced by black renters

#Airbnbwhileblack fights racism

#AirbnbWhileBlack

When personalization leads to discrimination

NY Advocate says Airbnb racism pervasive

Black travelers highlight experience of racism on Airbnb

Fusion story on racism and Airbnb

Airbnb plans to address racist homeowners

American Conservative on Racism on Airbnb

Can civil rights law stop Airbnb racism?

Huffington Post article

Airbnb & race

News United Article

Guest only accepted when appearing as white

Race and AIrbnb

Housing discrimination and Airbnb

 

Interracial couples on Airbnb

Black users of Airbnb

 

Comments on the Harvard Study:

 

The first link takes us to a Harvard University study that intended to research the effect of race on obtaining accomodations on Airbnb.  I say “intended” because, quite surprisingly, the Harvard study did not actually study the results for black guests vs white guests in obtaining accomodations, but rather, they studied the difference in results for those with “black sounding names” versus those with “white sounding names.” (For the purposes of the study, no photos were used for these “fake” guests). I was shocked that a university as prestigious as Harvard, would produce such a flawed study.  Because to study the results obtained for those with black sounding names, is not to find results for black individuals in general!!  Individuals with “black sounding names” are a subset of black individuals, and “black sounding names” may produce connotations and reactions that are not identical to the reactions had towards black individuals in general.

There are two significant problems in equating “black sounding names” with black people as a whole.  One is that stereotypical “black” names tend to be perceived as an indicator of someone from a lower socioeconomic class than those with “standard” names (I would not call them “white” names).  Secondly, those with “black sounding names” may be perceived as being black individuals who are either more militant or more political about their black identity — so that in addition to being an indicator of race, their name is now potentially also an indicator of a political stance.   Thus, the use of “black sounding names” introduces 3 variables, at least, into the study — not only race, but now also lower socioeconomic class, and perceived militancy/political stance on one’s racial identity.  A very basic tenet of scientific studies is the need to reduce the number of variables in a study, in order for the outcome to be meaningful.  WHen you are studying 3 different variables you cannot find a result which gives you results about only one of those variables.  So the Harvard study in my opinion is seriously flawed.

Hence, the study that was purportedly about black individuals, may actually have produced results which provided more information about the effect of one’s perceived socioeconomic status on Airbnb renting.  One could well ask, if the “fake” white renters had been given such “white sounding names” that also suggested a lower socioeconomic class, such as Bubba,  Billy Bob, Betty JoLean, Peggy Sue or Mary Sue, would they  have faced similar levels of discrimination?

Even with these 3 variables involved, the fake renters with “black sounding names” were accepted  42% of the time by hosts, compared to those with “white sounding names” being accepted 50% of the time.  So the difference in acceptance, relative to the base acceptance rate, was 16% less acceptance for the “black sounding named” guests.  When we consider that 3 variables were involved, and that hosts could have been reacting to any of these, it is reasonable to think that the percentage rate would have been lower if the study had in fact measured acceptance rate relative to black individuals only. It is not surprising to find somewhat of a  lower acceptance rate for black individuals compared to white ones given that racism does exist in our society.

There were some interesting results in the study — surprisingly, both black and white hosts were found to “discriminate” against black guests.  In fact the most “discriminatory” hosts were black males, and those they most discriminated against were other black males.  These hosts accepted white males (fake renters with “White sounding names”)  24% more often (64% of the time) than they accepted black males (fake male renters with black sounding names )(40% of the time) .  (See Table 4 on page 30 of the Harvard STudy ) By contrast, black females were the “least” discriminatory, and actually declined other perceived black females less often than any other type of guest.  Males with black sounding names were more often declined than any other type of guest, and females with “white sounding names”  were most often accepted.  Intriguingly, the study showed that the type of host who was most discriminatory was also most discriminated against…and that black males having less trust of other black males was a highlight of the study.

In addition to the Harvard Study (which both created “fake” profiles and sent out “fake” inquiries — something which users are actually not permitted to do on the Airbnb system), other Airbnb users have given anecdotal reports of their experiences as black guests trying to get a reservation on Airbnb. Several black users report being declined many times.  One woman named Quirtina Crittenden started a Twitter account called  #AirbnbWhileBlack to write about this.  One man named Greg Selden did his own “experiment”  and sent out an inquiry to a white male host, was declined, and then created two other “fake” profiles using photos of white men, sent those, and was accepted for both of those cases.  He concluded that the host was a cowardly bigot and that “racism happened.”

The problem with the individual anecdotal reports, is that one can never know exactly why one was declined by a host.  When I looked at the photo of Quirtina Crittenden, I immediately saw a reason I would tend to decline her, and it was not her race.  She looked like a “glamorous” type of individual, a fashion-conscious type of woman, and my experience as a host has been negative with such women, who I have realized do not fit well into what I offer.  The most negative and even viscious reviews/ratings  I have ever received, have been from such women.  I have learned not to make that mistake again.  I prefer dowdily dressed middle aged men and women, or serious and scholarly young people, or those more interested in what is inside a person than the clothes on the outside.  I tend to be wary of fashion.  I doubt this is something Quirtina would think about when she received a decline from me.

As well, It does not “prove” anything if Greg was declined with his own photo, and then found that the two white male profiles were accepted — there are potentially any number of reasons why this could have happened.  Looking at the photos that Greg used on the 3 profiles, the one on his own profile is a photo taken from a closer distance than the other two.  Hosts may respond viscerally to the perceived proximity of a guest in the photo — one that appears very close may appear more confident, more interested in engagement with the viewer/host, but also perhaps more threatening or more “in one’s space.”  A guest who takes a position further away may appear less confident or less interested in engagement with the host, but also suggests someone who may be more interested in their own space and privacy and more of an introvert.  Then too, in  the photo of Greg, he is not smiling, and hosts tend to react more positively to a guest who is smiling, as this can help build trust.

There are any number of personal reasons why a host may react more negatively to one photo than another — perhaps one reminds him of a colleague that he was in conflict with recently, or a relative or neighbor who he doesn’t like, or someone who was rude to him at the grocery store or in the parking lot, or his “ex” who he is not fond to see again.  PErhaps a host responds positively to another photo because the individual looks like his father, brother or son, or like a friend, or represents a favored self-image.

The least “scientific” and most inconclusive of reports, are those from black guests who state things such as , ” I get declined all the time” or “I can’t rent an Airbnb for the life of me….I gave up and got a hotel room.” As frustrating as this sounds, it’s really hard to tell what was going on there that caused these declines.  What kind of listings were these guests inquiring at?  Do the guests present themselves well? Do they use professional photos? Do they say enough about themselves when they inquire, or are they presenting so little information that the host doesn’t feel comfortable renting to them?  Were they inquiring at listings with hosts with whom they shared any interests?  WEre they inquiring at listings with hosts of a similar age or lifestyle? Were they inquiring with hosts who had full-time offerings, or who only rented part-time?  I have heard of some hosts who are not interested in renting very often, maybe only two weekends a month, and they take very few comers.  One host wrote that he declined 90% of those who inquired to stay with him.  Some hosts are very picky about who they take, and may even cater to a relatively narrow group of guests, such as families with young children.  (Some hosts worry about guests having parties, and reason that a family with young children is much less likely to have wild loud parties).

I think it’s important that people not accuse hosts of being racist for declining them, when they simply cannot know other’s motivations.  It is irreponsible, and unethical, to hurl such accusations at people without any solid evidence.  Even if it could be proved that a host declined a guest based solely on race in one instance,that does not mean that they will make a similar decision every time — because people are complex.

I think it’s also important that guests not view any potential race-based discrimination that occurs with Airbnb hosts, as a responsibility of Airbnb.  Airbnb is simply the bulletin board where millions of entrepreneurs list their offerings.  The rules about discrimination which apply to these advertisements, are the very same laws on discrimination which apply to all advertisements for housing, and are summarized here:

What is Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy?

In essence, as on Craigslist and elsewhere, for the most part, those who are renting out space in the same home where they themselves live, can discriminate on ANY basis, including on the basis of protected categories such as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc — but cannot make discriminatory statements, in states which prohibit those.  AIrbnb adds a policy to this and prohibits discriminatory statements in ads even in states and nations where laws may allow those.

Airbnb cannot be responsible for the choices that these individuals make, and for the existence of sociological circumstances — such as racism, sexism, heterosexism and other issues — -which have existed for many years before AIrbnb ever came to be.

 

 

 

 

 

Lessons at Three Years

This month I celebrate three years as an Airbnb host. It’s something of a milestone: many hosts don’t last three months. I’ve been steadily booked since I started hosting, and I have dozens of great reviews. Three years ago, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey — and I have succeeded at it.

Whether the benchmark we reach is one year at a job or five years in a marriage; whether we graduate from high school or retire from work; it’s human nature to want to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to assess what we’ve learned. Mark the occasion! Tradition even tells you the appropriate gift for each year’s wedding anniversary. I’ve been hitched to Airbnb for three years, and the traditional three-year gift is….

Leather.

Does this mean I should celebrate by outfitting my Airbnb studio with new leather club chairs?

My guests would love them, but even if I raise my rates, it would take another three years to offset a pair of leather club chairs.

But they would look beautiful! Think what they’d add to my guests’ experience!

My immediate thoughts on “Leather” show exactly the priorities I have as an Airbnb host. First, what would my guests love? Second — in a split second:  WHAT WILL IT DO TO MY PROFIT MARGIN?? And then I’m right back to the leather club chairs.

I can’t stop thinking about them. I would love a pair of chairs in a comfortable faux leather, perhaps a deep red shade to match the curtains in my studio. Something sturdy yet inviting, where guests could take naps between sight-seeing adventures. I’d have to get a special cleaning solution for them — or do chairs like that have Scotchgard? The legs should be a dark wood…but I don’t want anything that looks too stiff or traditional. I have some throw pillows that would match my fantasy chairs, but I’ll need more…

I realize that, somewhere along this three-year road, I’ve figured out exactly the best lesson for me.

Pay attention to detail.

What a cliche! Can’t I come up with something more profound? Don’t I have any brilliant, original lesson to pass on to new hosts?

So many important points come to mind, and they’re common knowledge among veteran hosts.

***Write clear, comprehensive house rules, and stick to them.

***Make sure guests communicate clearly regarding their arrival. Have a self check-in system in place, so you’re not left waiting around for guests who don’t respect the agreed upon time frame.

***Have backups of sheets, towels, and bath rugs.

***BUY IN BULK!

***Talk to your neighbors! Make sure that they know you only accept quiet, considerate guests. Let the neighbors know that they can talk to you with any concerns.

***Update your listing and photos from time to time.

And of course,

***PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL.

That’s it. That phrase that every job seeker includes on a resume, that truth behind each item on your hosting to-do list: that says it all. Every good host knows the importance of attention to detail. I’ve obsessed over the little things since I first decided to list my space. I frantically dusted the tops of doors, usually twice. I straightened the bedspread and topped off the already-full shampoo bottles. Then, at some point, I realized that I had calmed down; I didn’t need to worry. It’s not because I stopped paying attention to the little things. It’s precisely because I DID continue this attention that I became calmer and more confident. I began to enjoy hosting more, and I noticed that the guests seemed friendlier.

Of course,  the guests didn’t magically become friendlier over the last three years. If anything, I’ve had more not-so-friendly guests as time passed. What changed was my attitude. I was PART of their trip. No, I didn’t go sightseeing with them, and I only occasionally joined them for a cup of coffee. Yet, something about that attention to detail brought me into their world a little more. My small efforts became part of the fabric of their trip.

I’ve noticed that there’s one moment, as I prepare to greet new guests, when I feel completely relaxed. That moment occurs when I’m seeing to details. I always do a final check after the I’ve cleaned the studio and stocked the supplies. As I polish up the already polished stainless steel sink, I feel content, and I’m proud of the gleaming little sink. Sometimes I’m almost glad to notice that the bathroom curtain is looking a little dusty. I take it down, hand wash and iron it, and hang it up again. I get a such a sense of satisfaction you’d think I had tatted the lace myself. All this calm satisfaction came to me unawares. And I feel involved in the process.

What’s most interesting, though, is that it doesn’t even matter whether the guests notice the neatly folded towels and shiny flatware. I guess that’s because I know that some guests, at some point, will notice. And, more important, I feel that my attention to detail creates a positive overall impression. The whole studio is greater than the sum of its tiny shiny parts.

I’m really surprised that I don’t care if guests notice! I thought I was the type to worry about what others think. I thought I had those normal human responses. You know, when you feel that no one notices how hard you work or how great you are? I’ve suffered that at times, in other areas of life. But when it’s my home and my guests, I just don’t care if no one notices my efforts. That’s because my obsession with detail is already doing a lot for me, and at least a little for my guests.

Also, there’s that increased pride in one’s own home. I’ve become more connected to my home, even though my Airbnb studio is a separate unit. I think this satisfaction holds true whether you rent or own. When I had an apartment, I loved preparing the place for visitors. Now, I own a modest triplex on the edge of a great neighborhood, and I even have a big back yard. That yard isn’t left out of my little detail-oriented attention. Overall, my yard is overgrown and unkempt. But there’s such joy to be had in arranging little river rocks just right, or finding the perfect spot for a potted plant.

It’s gratifying, as a host, to hear guests exclaim how lovely my studio is and how inviting the yard looks. I take this feedback as a reflection of the little things I’ve done well. But, I know I’m providing a great experience whether I hear compliments or not. I’m on the trip too.

Maybe this positive feeling will change. I’m three years in, and I can pat myself on the back and keep shining the flatware in my Airbnb. But, how will I feel about all this detail work at, say, the five-year mark?  Will I still have pride in the little things and feel part of my guests’ journey?

I hope so. I’ve met lots of wonderful guests, and I’ve really gotten to know someone — myself.

 

 

 

My House, My Rules

You’ve probably seen the slogan, maybe even on a billboard somewhere:

214czm8

In this blog we will explore the importance of your house rules for your short term rental hosting, and by the end I hope you will understand why it’s very important that you have a set of comprehensive house rules which are crystal clear, and which address all areas of guest behavior and guest use of your house, which are important to you.

The mistake that is too often made by those who are new to hosting, often those who are new to renting out property, is that they start out with a very erroneous presumption.  That presumption is that everyone else in the world has the same psychology, values and view on life that you do.  So new hosts will not have house rules, but will simply say, “Be respectful” or “Be cool”, as if such statements meant anything at all.  These are useless statements, for the simple reason that not everyone in the world has the same viewpoint, values, or ideas of what is respectful or cool, that you do.  And even if they did, how would they know if “being respectful” means they can bring their pet or bring visitors over?  So please don’t have a one sentence list of house rules which invites your guests to treat your house the same way they treat their home.  I guarantee you that some people treat their home quite badly, and you wont’ want them to treat your home the way they treat theirs!

j81e74

Some people leave their sink like this– is that what you want in your house?

Some hosts figure that they can simply have a few primary house rules such as “no smoking in the house” ,”no pets”, and “please clean up after yourself” and then address other issues as they arise.  Such hosts may not realize that when a guest books a stay at your home, they are entering into a business contract.  A great many hosts are, unfortunately, individuals who either have no previous experience renting out property, or no experience running their own business, and therefore lack an understanding of the nature of a business contract.

When you have someone book a reservation at your home, the terms of that reservation are those which are written in your Airbnb listing combined with your house rules.  Those are the terms the guest is required to abide by, and you are not permitted to add terms to that later on.  You can’t change the business contract that both parties have agreed to, after the contract is “signed”, which is in effect what happens when the guest books.  This means that if you don’t want the guest to have overnight visitors, this is something you have to state ahead of time, and have in your house rules — you can’t just change the rules in the middle of the guests’ reservation.  As well, it makes things awkward if the guest arrives to your home expecting to be able to do something (such as have a party with 10 of their friends over) and then you tell them they can’t.  You really want the guest to be able to fully understand what he or she can do at your home, and what is not permitted, and the only way to make this crystal clear before the guest books, is to have adequate house rules.

However, having a robust set of house rules doesn’t do much good if you aren’t prepared to enforce them.  A very sizeable number of people who begin doing short term rental hosting, are not prepared for the unpleasant task of having to confront someone who is in their home abusing their hospitality or violating their house rules — sometimes with a broad smile on their face, dismissing the host who takes issue with the violation, and saying, “It’s not a problem, really.”  If you let your guest violate your house rules with impunity, because you are afraid to confront them or put down your foot, or find that too unpleasant, dont’ think that this is only your problem.  No, by not confronting your guest’s disrespectful behavior, you may unwittingly be creating a problem for other hosts who accept this guest in the future.  Teach your children or guests respectYou are teaching this individual that you don’t really mean what you say in your rules, and so the guest is free to ignore them or blow them off, and if they get away with this at your place, why wouldn’t they continue this behavior at the next place they stay, and the one after that, until someone finally lays down the law?

So in consideration of other hosts and the host community you are a part of, it is valuable for you to be able to put a stop to any rule violations that occur with guests.  By standing up to guests who violate house rules, you will also feel better and be less likely to burn out as a host or feel like a depleted doormat.

Some of the primary areas you may want to  cover in house rules:

  • Smoking in house: allowed or not
  • Pets: allowed or not
  • Parties: permitted or not? Define what a party is — eg max # of guests permitted.
  • Additional guests — do guests have to let you know if additional guests will be staying, beyond those they paid for?  I suggest you only allow in your home those guests who have been named and paid for in advance.
  • Guest visitors: permitted or not, any limit on number of visitors or number of visits, day time only visits or overnight visits allowed
  • Cleaning up after using kitchen or bathroom: may need to specify what “cleaning up” means — eg, has guest cleaned up if they have washed their dishes but left food crumbs all over counters and grease splattered all over stove?
  • Quiet hours — do you have any ?
  • Shoes — on or off in house?
  • Amount of belongings guests may bring — do you have any limits? Beware that a few of us as hosts have had the experience of guests moving to our area and trying to bring all their worldly belongings into our home.  I suggest limiting guests to 2 or 3 suitcases, and not permitting guests to bring furniture or appliances into your home.
  • Showers and laundry — any hours when these aren’t permitted? Can guests do laundry at 2am? Take showers at 3am?
  • Areas off limits — do you have any areas of your house off limits to guests?
  • Mail — guests often ask about receiving mail at hosts’ home.  Will you allow this? I suggest you make this very simple and state that guests may not receive any mail at your home, to avoid problems such as guest getting on numerous mailing lists and ending up having mail for them come to your home long after they have left.  One package from Amazon is generally okay, but problems can arise when guest asks for “one package from Amazon” and then takes the liberty to order more packages from companies that will put them on a mailing list.
  • Guest doing business at your home, having clients over — will you allow this?
  • Guest storing their items in your common areas — will you allow guest to leave their things randomly around your house?  Do you have designated storage areas?
  • Guest borrowing your belongings — can they borrow your things?
  • Guest use of your kitchen and your food.

House rules sign

Having a good set of house rules is a difficult project, and an ongoing project.  It is a constant learning process and we are always seeking a balance between having too few house rules so that we forget to cover something essential, versus having too many so that we are off-putting to prospective guests.  Sometimes hosts ask me “what is the most important house rule?” The most important house rule is the one that you forgot to include! So make sure you are thorough.

 

A surprisingly common house-rules related problem that arises, occurs when hosts have as a guest, an individual who is also a host.  Unfortunately, too many hosts make the assumption (which I state above to try to be aware of and avoid!) that everyone else either DOES think the way they do, or SHOULD think the way they do.  Hence we have hosts who go to stay at another hosts’ home, who say they agree to this host’s house rules, but inwardly, they really don’t.  Honestly, they believe that all hosts should have the same house rules that they do, and that they are doing something wrong if they dont’.  This dishonest and arrogant attitude can cause awkwardness, for instance, when the guest who is also a host, fails to depart by check out time, and then presumes to lecture the host who is prompting them to go, that “When I have guests over at my house, I always let them have a leisurely day — I don’t push them out.”  I may be young but I know vastly more than you about hostingIt is particularly galling when the host doing such arrogant lecturing is a twenty-two year old student, who rents out a room in her apartment, and yet has the nerve to be scolding a 5o or 60 year old host who owns their own home and has over a dozen years experience with renters.  But unfortunately one will find this in the world of short term rentals — individuals who are “hosting” with someone else’s property, are now lecturing long time property owners about the property rental business.

Finally — it may not hurt to state in your house rules, that you will not make any exceptions to your house rules. I have fairly strict house rules, but I literally cannot count the number of times that I have been asked if I would permit a guest to have an “exception” to the rules, or do something which is not only not allowed, but which I state quite forcefully, “will not be allowed under any circumstances.”  I have a house rule in which I make it abundantly clear that I do not allow guests to have visitors/friends over at any time, for any amount of time.  I also am very clear that my rooms are single occupancy only.   I recently had a guest book a stay at my house, and before she arrived, she asked for an exception to the house rules, wanting to have a friend come over not just as a day visitor, but to stay overnight with her for two weeks! I was flabbergasted that she would even ask for such a huge exception which would be so totally contrary to my rules.  After I said no and told her to please not ask me for any exceptions to my house rules, she then wrote back a week later, asking if she could have mail delivered to my house — she wanted to get a driver’s license and give my address to the DMV !! I was quite appalled not only that she was asking for another exception, but that she would have such poor judgement as to think it would be permissible that someone who doesn’t want to be bothered with receiving guest mail, would think that putting in my address as her official address with the DMV would be remotely possible.  This all just goes to show, that sometimes even strict house rules aren’t quite enough, for some guests who are incredibly lacking in good judgement.  I got on the phone with this young woman and gave her a piece of my mind and I think she understood after hearing my annoyance in my voice, how out of line she was.  But I shrink at the thought of what would have happened with her, had I not had these rules at all. line at DMV Likely she would have gone ahead and signed herself up with the DMV with my address and it would be hell to get out of that….visualize the host standing in the long line at the DMV trying to wipe someone else’s name off her address….

 

 

 

The Misnomer Called the Sharing Economy

I’m not sure who came up with the term “Sharing Economy” , but I have found it to be more of a misnomer than an accurate description of many microentrepreneurial businesses.  As well, in the minefield that is the landscape of modern day short term rental politics in many cities, it is a term that is actually often used against short term rental hosts.

As defined on Wikipedia , the term Sharing Economy is clearly linked with “peer to peer economy”, which would have been a better word to use.  In this Wikipedia article, it’s stated that this economy,

 ” refers to peer-to-peer-based sharing of access to goods and services (coordinated through community-based online services).  “

The term that is problematic here, and which I think boomerangs against us, is “sharing.”  I think most of us have realized that when we have riders in our car, or guests in a room in our house, we are not “sharing”, we are “renting” or “selling.”  The term “sharing economy” has confused not only our riders and guests, on Lyft/Uber and Airbnb,   but also our local governments, and those neighbors or community members observing our “sharing” businesses  — some of them quite clearly experiencing contempt for us, that we should make any income at all,

k33q1i

If we were caring, we would be sharing!

 

since in their view, we should be “sharing.”  !!  Indeed, it’s the view of many, that if we were really decent people, and if we really sincerely wanted to just meet a lot of different people from around the world like we say we do, then we wouldn’t be charging money for folks to stay at our house.  We would let them in for free.  Isn’t that what sharing is all about?  So these people, dismissive of  our need to actually generate income for our work, say that if we were really caring, we should be sharing!

Airbnb should be all Puppy dogs and ice cream!

There are other consquences of this unfortunate misnomer, which is that the hosting business is perversely seen,( not only by many who oppose it but also by many hosts!), as just about the only kind of business in the world, where the less money you make from your business,  the more virtuous you are. Really, name me one other type of business where the prevailing attitude is that you shouldn’t be earning much money at it!

If we had simply termed our business, “peer to peer economy”, rather than “home sharing”, we might not get those strident individuals who stand up at City Council meetings and insist that people who rent out a room in their house shouldn’t be allowed to do so all year long, but should be limited to a certain number of nights per year, like, say, 60 nights a year. “After all, dont’ they say they are ‘sharing’?” I heard one bitter woman argue in a local City government meeting.   No,  I didn’t say I was sharing, Ma’am!

City government leaders and community members alike often have the perspective, that there is something slightly gross or just wrong, about a person who rents out a room in their home on a full time basis.  Notwithstanding the fact that people have rented out rooms in their home for decades — for centuries even, including to those staying on a short term basis.  To hear the view of many civic leaders, it’s fine to run such a business part time or occasionally, but certainly not full time, because, by gosh, “then they would be running a business!!”  As if renting out a room for any amount of time wasn’t running a business?

15d5mvr

If you’re not a cute little sharing critter then I just dont’ know about you

 

This view about the virtue of not making very much money at your business, also affects the Airbnb host community itself.  Of course there are those super-coach type hosts, the shiny motivational speaker types, who write the Get Rich Quick guides like ,  “Turn that dark, dingy unused hallway closet into a guest room and make a million dollars this year!” — so of course there is that segment of hosts who believe in making money, and lots of it, even if their idea of how much you can make is somewhat exaggerated.

But there are also a good number of hosts, often those who signed up in the early days of Airbnb when it was less glitzy and ritzy and more clearly focused on room rentals, who think there is something shameful about those hosts with — gasp — “multiple listings.”   As if having more than one room in your home that you rent, or more than one apartment that you rent, made a person into some type of demon.  It’s true that in some places in the world, hosts aren’t allowed to do short term rentals of entire apartments that they dont’ themselves live in.  Notably, New York, San Francisco, and a few other cities where housing is tight.  But politics are not the same everywhere, and in places like Bali or Singapore, Russia or Namibia, I doubt that there are the same regulations as in New York City.  So, one can’t make broad generalizations about those listing multiple apartments.

I’ve read laments on the host groups, where hosts decry the direction that Airbnb is going, now that people are using it to list entire apartments, when apparently they “should” be listing only a room in their own home.  Others self-righteously lecture other hosts (see for instance one such lecture in this post ) who have many listings, insisting that they “have contravened the spirit of Airbnb” and “Airbnb was not set up for people like you.”  In fact there are no statements one can find anywhere on the Airbnb site that state that one cannot list several different properties, or that Airbnb was “not set up for” people who happen to own or manage such properties and want to use this website to rent them out.  It’s true that in early days the “atmosphere” or culture of Airbnb was palpably felt as a place for those renting out rooms, opening up their homes to guests, and much of the language in the Airbnb ads and website promote that culture.  But this culture is not policy, and not mandated for hosts, and I think it’s presumptuous for hosts to insist that  Airbnb is more than a short term rental listing service, which struggles to wade the treacherous waters of regional regulations which often either  outdated, or evolving in response to political pressures.

The sharing-economy term having led to the concept that we are really all supposed to be “sharing” I think in this way influences hosts who offer rooms in their home, or “just one separate unit, but it’s on my own property”, to look askance at those whose offerings are not as homey, and spite them as being not as altruistic — they aren’t really hosting, as some would have it, they are just “doing a business” or “listing many properties.” Well what the heck is wrong with that?  People who own or manage many properties naturally are going to rent them, right? What else are they going to do with them, put them in frozen storage?

viisxu1

And please mind your own business while you’re at it…

 

So I am suggesting that one of the consequences and end results of the term “sharing economy”, has been that we have this insidious moralizing and judgementalism infiltrating this business of doing short term rentals.  The moralizing stems in part from the use of “sharing economy”, but also stems from the fact that this business (which is really a very OLD business) is new to the present time, and those engaging in this business often feel put upon to defend it to the critics, particularly critics in local government.  So there are many efforts afoot to show that we as hosts are doing something virtuous, doing something generous, doing something hospitable…not just making money! God forbid we should be making money when we rent out our property, that many of us have obtained not only thru investing our life savings, but blood sweat and tears to boot.

So my point in this blog, is to take note of the moralizing that surrounds our business, the inappropriate expectations that we should be sharing, rather than making an income, and the various kinds of judgmentalism which arise from the host community itself, regarding other hosts.  Particularly in an environment where hosts are seeing an oversaturation of hosts in almost all areas, and growing competition, I think we need to recognize that part of this moralizing is self-serving: we’d like to eliminate much of the competition so that we could get more business ourselves, and one of the ways that people naturally seem to do that is by judging other hosts and self-righteously deciding who should and who shouldn’t really be an Airbnb host.

Yes, it’s true that some hosts are violating local laws with the listings they are offering — but as far as that goes, people by the millions have violated federal laws when they ran across a national border at night, when no one was looking.

rtj6lx

Sir: Are your listings illegal or are they just undocumented ?

 

Many of us heavily criticize the former but look kindly and compassionately at the latter group of law-breakers.   Apple Corporation right now is violating federal law and defying court orders by refusing to hack into an iphone for the FBI.  Yet I think you and I and most of us who aren’t Donald Trump or the other Three Stooges running for Republican nominee for president, would applaud the “scofflaw” attitude of Apple, because it is so important a position for our collective rights to privacy. Not all laws are created equal and  particularly when you have cities that haven’t developed short term rental laws that suit the modern times, not all laws are up to date and fair.  So I suggest that we hold back on our impulse to judge others, and temper our stridency or any obsessive qualities of our love of the letter of the law, and focus on how we as short term rental hosts can work collectively to promote our collective interests.

 

The SUPERHOSTAGE versus the NEWBIES

Ah, the Superhost.

Airbnb calls its Superhosts “extraordinary” and “outstanding.” Travel websites refer to Superhost status as a badge of honor, as the crown jewel of Airbnb. Yet, as many hosts know, the Superhost badge doesn’t actually mean much. That’s partly because it’s just too easy for new hosts to get.

Why should I worry so much about keeping my Superhost status when so many new hosts can get that badge in their sleep?

I call myself an Airbnb Superhostage. I’ve hosted successfully since June of 2013, and I’ve held Superhost status since the company re-instated the program beginning in September of 2014. As a Superhostage, I’ve been proud, indignant, confused, desperate, silly, and boastful. Whenever my next “evaluation” approaches, I check my Airbnb Inbox every five minutes, I pore over my Superhost statistics, and I overreact. For example, I was puzzled by the recent “Overall” ratings for my studio:

Great work! Your last 2 ratings were each 5 stars! 

Only the last 2 ratings?? Strange. Great work?? I think not…I have 144 reviews for that listing. Some recent guest has given me just 4 stars for “Overall Experience.” Who were these guests, and what had I done wrong with them? However, that kind of thinking wastes my energy.  I’ve never polled my guests, but I’ve heard other hosts say that their guests don’t even realize the Superhost program exists.

Yet, the Superhost advantages remain. We come up higher in search results. Guests can filter their searches to show only Superhost listings (I suspect that filter isn’t used much, but it’s there.) AND, the greatest advantage, in my view, is that, as a Superhost, you can call Airbnb Customer Service and be connected almost immediately with a staffer. This is huge. I remember painfully long wait times, before the program was re-introduced. Yes, Airbnb Customer Service has flaws, but I can usually get help with basic questions on specific reservations. 

To gain Superhost status, a host needs to maintain at least an 80% average on overall ratings and a 90% or better response rate. You must have no cancellations. AND – you must have hosted ten “completed trips” in the past year.  ONLY TENI see a problem with that. After ten sets of guests, you’re still a newbie, and you don’t have a proven track record.

I don’t want to diminish the efforts of those great new hosts who have put in the time, research, and money to develop a beautiful space and a well-written listing. Yet there are SO MANY “Superhosts” who have only a handful of reviews, or have only been on Airbnb for a few months. With such limited experience, how competent can a host be? Have these hosts gotten lucky with easy-to-please guests?  Perhaps. But, for most, I think their Superhost status will disappear at the next evaluation.

The majority of newbie Superhosts need to pay their dues. It’s evident in their listings.

I examined 30 Superhost listings with twenty or fewer reviews, mostly in my home town of Los Angeles, but also from other major American markets. 24 of the 30 listings – that’s 80% — had serious problems in their descriptions, photos, and House Rules. Surely some prospective guests would worry: Is this host flaky? Will s/he clarify these unclear statements? The reviews look good, but can I trust them? And, does that Superhost badge really mean that I’m staying at a decent, clean, well-appointed place?

These new Superhosts themselves will likely face problems down the line, if their information is unclear or the House Rules inadequate.

So what’s wrong with the listings I’ve looked at? First, so many are poorly written! These days, we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of good English writing. In the listings, I found so many grammar errors that I lost count. I saw complete lack of punctuation, weirdly placed capital letters, and clumsy, confusing phrases. Some excerpts:

Under “About This Listing,” one Superhost only wrote:

      “its 2 min walking from Hollywood blvd bunk bed 1      level”

That’s it. A prospective guest might wonder what else is unclear at this place, such as the WiFi password or parking instructions. 

Generally, this Superhost has good reviews, but there is one which reads:

     “did not like at all”

Okay then!

Another Superhost repeated an entire paragraph fully three times, at different points in her listing:

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2        bath apartment… [Etc.]”

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2  bath apartment… [Etc.]”

“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2  bath apartment… [Etc.]”

Wouldn’t a guest question that host’s attention to detail?

Here’s what another Newbie Superhost wrote, in describing his neighborhood:

” “Culture” (URL HIDDEN), (URL HIDDEN), “Nightlife” (URL    HIDDEN), “Guide to Bars”   (URL HIDDEN), “Shop” (URL    HIDDEN)….”

Note to Newbies: Airbnb blocks out links. READ YOUR LISTING AFTER YOU POST IT.

What about “House Rules?” Here’s an entry:

      “Be kind to the house.”

That’s ALL.

Most people will understand that they’re expected to take care of the property, but what about the guest who takes it to mean “Paint rainbows on the walls!?” I hope this Superhost rewrites his House Rules before some guest destroys the place.

Another host has “House Rules” almost as brief:

        “I don’t like rules…just be respectful.

         smoking outside only…”

That host really sets himself up for problems.

Here’s a House Rule from a Superhost whose landlord just might not be in the loop:

 “Do not talk to neighbors”

What happens if a guest does break that house rule? How would the host know?

Some of my Newbie Superhosts have pretty good photos, but others have shots that are blurry or even sideways. It’s hard for a guest to know what they’re in for. And, among these Superhost photos, I saw some really dirty floors and cluttered rooms. Outstanding??  Jewels in the crown?? I think not.

Shouldn’t the Superhost title mean something?

No. For all that Airbnb gushes with pride about Superhosts, the company does not endorse them. Airbnb claims to personalize encounters for travelers, but Superhost status is automated. A host meets certain measurable, mathematically calculated criteria, and the Superhost badge automatically appears on his or her profile photo. Or, a host meets the criteria, and the Superhost badge shows up three weeks later. Either way, no one from Airbnb is looking at actual reviews, listings, or photos. No Airbnb staffer will see that Superhost with the four-word review: “didn’t like at all.” Nor will any Airbnb employee notice the Superhost with three listings, active only since August of 2015, who has only three stars for cleanliness on one of those listings.

I find it ridiculous that Airbnb hands out Superhost status but doesn’t endorse the Superhosts. I mean, THEY PLACE A BADGE ON YOUR PHOTO. How is that NOT an endorsement?

If Airbnb doesn’t have the manpower to confirm whether these Newbie Superhosts really deserve that badge, the company needs to alter the criteria. At minimum, hosts should have to go through twenty sets of guests, not just ten, to qualify for Superhost status.

Think of the hard-working veteran hosts who have hundreds of positive reviews but may fall just short of that Superhost mark. Not only have they earned lots of money for Airbnb, they have also stuck with the company through its years of sudden growth, bad press, and failed ad campaigns.

Those veterans get to stay on hold for forty minutes while Airbnb Customer Service helps Newbie Superhosts.

Lots of improvements could help the Airbnb Superhost program. Certainly Airbnb should increase its minimum completed trips criterion. Airbnb will better serve its guests AND show more respect to its talented veteran hosts.

Should I call Airbnb Customer Service with my idea? Maybe. It probably won’t do any good, but at least I’ll get through right away.

 

c. 2016 by author

 

The Costs of Success

Here’s how the story goes….

I am not getting as many bookings as I had this time last year…I’m getting a lot of views but no bookings…I have had to drop my prices to get bookings….I’ve noticed there are a lot of new hosts in my area…what to do?

Indeed, what to do.  I first noticed this problem being mentioned about a year ago, among hosts in London.  Later, I read about it happening in Seoul, South Korea.  Hosts were finding that they were getting fewer and fewer bookings, at the same time that they noticed the number of hosts in their area or their city, rapidly increasing.  The number of hosts in many cities has doubled in the last couple years.  For instance, within 1.5 years, the number of listings in London has increased by about 300%, and is now around 29,000.  And Airbnb has been eagerly trying to sign up new hosts — lately I can’t write a review for a guest without getting a popup box on the screen when I’m done, telling me I will get a bonus if I sign up one of my friends sign up as a host.  At the Airbnb Open in November 2015, in Paris, Brian Chesky spoke excitedly of how in the future there will be an Airbnb listing on every block in every city.

2ih54y0

Airbnb Hosts — Too Many Everyhwere?

 

But wait — don’t you see — Brian — there are already 3 Airbnb hosts on my block.  And there are 2 on the block around the corner….Brian, wait…don’t you think…it’s possible to have too many hosts?  Brian, wait a minute….Briiiiannnn!

Yes, it is true that Airbnb is signing up more guests as well as more hosts.  Most of the guests who stay with me are first time Airbnb users, for instance. So there are new guests all the time.  But for each new host who signs up, you’ll need multiple new guests.  For instance, say you have a host who rents out a room that is booked half the time, or 180 days a year, and who depends on that income to pay their mortgage.   A typical guest probably only stays in an Airbnb listing 3 to 10 days a year, lets’ say 7 days on average.  So for each new host who needs 180 days a year to be booked,  there would be a need for 180/7 = 25 new guests.

So if the number of hosts doubles over a given period of time, has the number of people using Airbnb as guests , increased by 25 times?

A whole slew of people, eager for the easy cash they expected, signed up as hosts and listed their places on Airbnb for the Superbowl in the SF Bay Area.  The result demonstrated clearly that when too many people are hosting because their eyes are lit up by dollar signs, this will ensure less income for all:  Many Superbowl Listings are Sitting Empty.    As this article states,

There are simply too many rooms and not enough guests. “You get a flood of people listing their places and nobody looks at it,” says Ian McHenry, a co-founder of research firm Beyond Pricing, which sells rental hosts a service to help calculate how much they should charge. “There’s way too much supply in the market.” Of the nearly 10,000 currently active Airbnb listings in the Bay Area this weekend, around 60 percent are still available, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

When I first started as an Airbnb host 3 years ago, I saw a lot of hosts bragging about how much money they were making, and I also saw some hosts start to write books about how to make a bundle on Airbnb.  I read articles in which property owners said others were suckers for not using their properties to do short term rentals, since they would make so much more money.  I could easily see where this was going.  Which is where we are getting to now.

2dkg45z
Residences — now all ATM Machines?

People were going gaga over the prospect of making huge amounts of money — so much so, that an increasing number of folks who had space, somewhere, anywhere, were looking to cash in on it by stuffing guests into it.

Though property rental has generally been a business for those who own property, one could see that the lure of easy cash was blurring the understanding of rental agreements.   A perusal of listings available in major cities on the US Coasts will reveal a rather large number of offerings by twenty-somethings.  When one considers that people in this age range typically do not yet own property, and landlords who own apartment buildings typically do not allow subletting, one can see how the stories of easy money could lead tenants to forget that the space wherein they live, doesn’t actually belong to them and hence is not theirs to rent out.

Those blessed tenants who did have permission to sublet were quick to sign on as hosts, and many of those folks, renter or homeowner alike, who had never considered having roommates, and didn’t need to, were now all agog at the prospect of having guests.

An attitude of entitlement prevailed in some quarters.  I recall overhearing a conversation,  where one host was complaining that his landlord had stopped his hosting career, and was looking for a new apartment to rent out so he could be a host again.  Another host, a homeowner, said that in her view hosting was primarily for homeowners.  The first host snapped back that he couldnt’ afford to buy a house,  but he didn’t feel that should mean he couldn’t be a host.   There seemed to be a sense of a right to be a host. In my imagination I envisioned someone borrowing a car from his next door neighbor and then, without getting permission from his neighbor to do so,  insisting on his right to rent out his neighbors’ car for profit, since “it’s too expensive to buy my own car, and I have a natural call to be a car rental agent.”

But I think that it’s Airbnb that has contributed to this sense that many have, that people sort of have this right to be hosts, quite apart from legitimately having any property that they have legal authority to rent to others.  As Airbnb presents it, hosting is something quite different from being in the property rental business — and that misrepresentation is the cause of innumerable problems, (as I describe in this blog –  Dont’ Be An Airbnb Baby  ) because hosting most definitely is part of the property rental business.

I realized things were getting all gaga, last July, when I went hiking in a local park. and had this experience for the third time:    As hikers passed me on the trail, I heard their excited conversation, “….well we can just Airbnb it…..Susan does that and she…..” I realized that if I had heard hikers on these trails talking about Airbnb-ing their places out, three times already in a year, that meant that things were getting crazier.  Nuttier and crazier and more and more Airbnb everywhere.

This last winter business got really slow.  I saw some 20 to 30 posts in various host community groups lamenting how “slow” business had been.  Hosts were asking others if they were slow as well.  Hosts were asking for tips in getting more business.  I was thinking to myself that eventually many of these hosts were going to give up.  16hoz0lThe amount of available business was insufficient to support the number of hosts in certain areas, and so that available business was being stretched too thin.

I had predicted this would happen, not long after getting started in hosting, when I started seeing people blabbing about how much money they were making.  I couldn’t believe that people didn’t realize that blabbing about how much money they were making, would ultimately lead to them making a lot less money.  As for me I kept my mouth shut, but I also wasn’t interested in maximizing profits.    I was interested in being comfortable in my own home — something I had never been able to achieve with standard roommates.

It was easy for me to predict, 3 years ago, what would happen with Airbnb hosting — as more and more people got wind of making “easy money” as Airbnb hosts, more and more would sign up to be hosts.  This would have numerous consequences that would ensure that hosts would from then on make less and less money.  First that there would be less business available for everyone since areas would become saturated with hosts.  Secondly, people would sign up as hosts, do well during the first month during which all hosts get artificial promotion over existing more tenured hosts, and then some would start to flop as time went on,  when they had to start competing with other hosts.  Many of these hosts would then quit hosting.

Third, prices would drop overall, as competition increased, and eventually this would bring things to the point where short term renting was no longer more profitable than long term renting — in fact in many cases (particuarly in cities where rents are already high due to other market forces)  it would be much less profitable than standard long term renting.

Fourth, affordable housing advocates and Airbnb foes would be sure to rail against Airbnb and hosts alike, the more they heard about hosts making easy money or lots of money.  I don’t know about you, but it’s been my experience as a human being on this planet, that if someone is making good money in any endeavor which has the slightest element of controversy about it, those who aren’t making that money or who can’t, are going to get envious and resentful and will go what they can to put a halt to others’ success.  It seems to be in human nature, that people don’t like to see others doing much better than they are, and that those who are miserable, tend to like to try to make others miserable.  Then too, it is predictable that those who are finding their lives made more difficult by increasing rents and housing scarcity, are going to be pretty resentful of those who they perceive as profiting from their hardship, or who they perceive as profiting in ways that cause their hardship — particularly if these Airbnb hosts are flaunting their success. And when enough renters are upset and experiencing housing hardship, city governments listen, and Airbnb hosts may find their opportunities correspondingly curtailed.

Moral of the story:  If you are successful as an Airbnb host, don’t brag about how much money you are making.  Because, if you have some foresight (or long sight, as the case may be) you will realize that the more you flap your jaws about how much money you are making as an Airbnb host, the less money you will eventually be making as an Airbnb host.

Which ultimately I think is fine.  Since in my ideal world, people aren’t buying up or renting out numerous investment properties just so they can make more and more money —   they are hosting guests because it’s something that they like to do,  they like meeting people, it is stimulating and brings good energy to their home or property — and besides, for many of us — it is so many times better than having permanent tenants or roommates!

 

 

Goodbye to Roommates!! Chapter Seven:My House is Finally Mine

If you have followed along so far, dear reader, in the six chapters preceding this one, you will understand me when I say, that I had had quite enough of problems with roommates.  I had tried being friendly and generous, I had tried being kind by offering low rents, I had been polite, still too polite, when my rental agreements and rules were violated again and again and again, by tenants whose real point of view was that I should just stay hidden away in my room and leave them alone.  Failing in all this, I had tried being more clear.  I had tried being crystal clear, in my rules and expectations.  In exchange for all these efforts, I had been bullied, disrespected, dismissed, yelled at, lied to, insulted, and sued, and sued again.  And during all this time, keep in mind, reader, that I was offering some of the lowest rents available in my area, for my tenants.

Hence, there was something I wanted to say, and say it loud.  It was this:

 

dxcn89

I need more money and power and less shit from you people 

 

In short, I needed to raise my rents, to take back my power in my own house, and to get rid of the godawful horrible atrocious roommates I had had for far too long, as well as all their toxic bullshit, lies and nonsense!!  But before I could finalize these radical changes, and totally reclaim my own house, I had to get my  last roommate, Bridget, out of my house.

 

Bridget: A Great Tenant — Except when She Told me To Fuck Off

In many ways, Bridget was the best tenant or roommate I ever had.  She was extremely polite and sweet, and followed my house rules to the letter, completely without complaint.  It was her nature to be very detail oriented and diligent, responsible and kind.  She also became my friend, something that had never happened with any other of my tenants.

Bridget had been in my house for two years, and had seen the problems I’d had with Jon, and had not only empathized with me during those struggles, but had also offered support.  During the time of the lawsuit with Jon, Bridget was there for me, and expressed her contempt for Jon’s lies and scams. This quite differentiated her from all my other tenants, who invariably had felt pulled to side with other tenants (not the landlord) when there was any kind of problem between myself and one of my roommates.  I was impressed, I was grateful, and I found this quite unusual, and realized, it seemed to be  the very first time, in all the years I’d had tenants, that a tenant actually saw me more as a human being with needs and feelings, rather than an authority figure they felt ambivalent about, who they experienced as getting in their way of having what they wanted, or who was too much older than they and different, to be seen as other than a parent figure.

10ididdAt the same time as I had appreciated this so much about Bridget, there was a reason why I did not want to keep her on as a roommate, and it was a significant reason.  As sweet and polite as Bridget was, as helpful and supportive, and really as very sharp and intelligent and wise — all of these wonderful qualities about her went right down the toilet when we had a little problem arise — namely a manic episode.  Because unfortunately, though I didn’t know it when I rented to her, Bridget, like Linda, years before her, had a bipolar disorder.

I first became aware of this, about four months after Bridget moved in, when I was tending to chores in my house, and noticed that many things had been moved around.  Shortly I also saw the cause of this, namely Bridget, whizzing around the house, with a new and giddy expression on her face.   She was cleaning up, “just doing a little tidying up” she said, with a broad smile.  Bless her soul, when Bridget became manic, she did not destroy things or break windows, throw dishes in the trash or sit on the sidewalk and scream. She just flitted frenetically about my house, cleaning up.

As nice as it was to have extra cleaning help, there were other not so nice aspects to her mania.  One of these, could be readily discovered by trying to talk to her about her mania.  Because, as anyone knows who has a friend or relative with bipolar disorder, they cannot easily recognize when they are in a manic state.  Often they deny it completely.  you can fuck offSo, when I would try to talk to Bridget about what was going on with her, she would become combatative and insulting, sometimes extremely combatative and very insulting and abusive.  This was very hard to take, from someone who normally was exceptionally sweet and polite, as well as a supportive friend — to suddenly find that very same person in your house, now telling you to fuck off.  In fact, Bridget’s own sister Andrea would later tell me, that she could not stand to be physically around Bridget, during her manic episodes, because of how insulting she became.  Andrea would not allow Bridget to come over to her house, when Bridget was manic.

Then too, there was the grandiosity and delusion.  In her normal life, Bridget was a student at a local college — and in fact she wasn’t even an undergraduate yet.  When I rented to her, I assumed she was an undergrad at the major university in my area, but only found out later that she had been in community college, taking preparatory courses for a 4 year university, for many years. She struggled quite a bit with these classes, various science courses.  But when in her mania, Bridget was now leaps ahead, planning her PhD dissertation, winking at me that she knew all the details of the most advanced theories in her field of study.  She would also talk about plans she had that were completely delusional — such as how she was going to go skateboarding with a previous tenant of mine, who had moved out long ago and whom she had never kept in touch with.  All of this delusion and mania was disturbing to me, and others in my house had been disturbed by it as well.

Bridget’s First and Second Manic Episode

So when I first discovered Bridget in a state of mania in my home, and found that it was impossible to talk her about what she was doing or how she was upsetting others, but instead would be told off and insulted, all I knew was that I wanted her out of my house right away.  I phoned up Bridget’s sister Andrea, and Bridget’s mother Lisa, and found out to my dismay that neither of them wanted to take Bridget.  They just didn’t like being around her when she was that way.  I was frustrated and angry — it seemed to me that when someone has a mental illness, this is more the family’s responsibility to take care of, than the landlord’s.  bipolar facesWhen I insisted that something had to be done, that I could not have Bridget in my house moving things about, insulting me and my other tenants, and refusing to listen to me, Lisa did come over and take Bridget to the hospital, where they stablized her.

When Bridget returned to my house 10 days later, she meekly asked permission to come back, inquiring softly “is it okay if I come back now?”  I saw the old Bridget back again and was delighted about that.  But I also told her we needed to sit down and talk and figure something out.  It was challenging to talk to Bridget about her bipolar condition, in large part, because she didn’t fully believe she had a bipolar condition.  Some degree of the grandiosity I had seen in her in mania, remained during her “normal” state, and she felt that she knew more than most any expert about her condition. She did not apologize for the disruption she had caused in my house, but she was willing to start in a group for those with bipolar disorder, to try to get more support.  I explained that my main concern was that I could not have her in my house when she was in a manic state — that if she wanted to remain a tenant at my house, she would need to find another place to go during those times.  She agreed to this, saying, “I will leave right away — I will find someplace to stay, I’ll go to a hotel if I have to”, but she never did sign the agreement I wrote up for her, in which I asked her to put this in writing.

It was about 6 months later  ( and at a time when I was already renting one of my rooms only to short term Airbnb guests) when Bridget had her next manic episode.   Tomasso had moved out by now, and I had a new  roommate, Lydia, another student, who reported that Bridget was “saying strange things”

bipolar pink face

Bridget was unrecognizable when in mania

 

and had been sitting on the floor in the hallway, right outside Lydia’s bedroom,talking loudly on her cellphone.  I knew right away what the problem was, and was quite concerned about how this could impact my Airbnb hosting, since I already knew that guests can write reviews of their experience, which cannot be removed or changed.  So, I immediately went to talk to Bridget, telling her that she was having a manic episode, and that, as we had agreed, she needed to leave my house until she was back to normal.  “I’m not manic, you’re manic!!  Leave me alone!,” Bridget yelled at me, and turned on her heels and went into her room.  Irate, I knocked on her room door, and she opened it, and stood there and gave me a lecture on how I was not to invade her privacy.  When I kept insisting about her agreement to leave and stay elsewhere, she hooted, “I never said such a thing!” and closed the door in my face.

Livid, I immediately dialed up Bridget’s sister Andrea, who was the family member who Bridget trusted most and who I had been told would work  with her most closely on this issue.  I told Andrea that Bridget was manic again, and that I really could not have her in my house.  I explained how Bridget was insulting me, refusing to listen to me, bothering my other housemates, and how this was totally unacceptable.  In addition, I had also found that Bridget had turned on the hose in my backyard, and simply left the hose running full blast, all day long apparently.  She was also moving appliances around, and destroyed a rice cooker by leaving it on with rice in it for over a week.  She left the door to my chicken coop open, potentially endangering the hens, to where I had to put a padlock on it.  There were many potential problems with Bridget present in my home.

I asked if Andrea could take Bridget to her house, and though Andrea was emphatic, she would not be around Bridget when Bridget was manic!!  She did call Bridget and speak with her, and then phoned me back, saying that she had been able to get through to Bridget to convince her that she was manic, but that Bridget said she had nowhere else to go and could not afford a hotel.  I was incensed.  If she didn’t have anywhere else to go and couldn’t afford a hotel, why had she ever agreed to that and promised me she would definitely leave my house, “even if I have to stay in a hotel!”  Sadly, I realized that when it came to agreements and rules that I absolutely needed to have followed, sweet, gentle and polite Bridget ended up being the same as all the other tenants I had had very serious problems with  — she signed onto some agreements and responsibilities that she was unable or unwiling to carry out.

Ultimately, Andrea was able to convince Bridget to go and stay with one of her friends for a few days, but, she noted, Bridget fully expected me to refund her rent for the days that I had asked her to go elsewhere.

Sadly, though Bridget had actually become a friend of mine at this point, and we had gone hiking and to movies and dinner together several times, I realized that I was going to have to ask Bridget to move out.  Through the thick and thin, the long and short, the big and tall of it, I had realized — I can’t have roommates who are not my friends, and I can’t have roommates who are my friends — I can’t have roommates at all!!

A change is necessary: no more roommates

I realized a radical change was necessary, in how I ran my house. In fact, I realized that I wanted to do without roommates — but I could not do without renters, since I needed the rental income to pay my mortgage.  So my solution was to have renters, who were not roommates.  This is where Airbnb came in, and fit very nicely.

guest home visit but not stay

You are welcome to visit but not to stay

 

After Jon left, I still had two renters — Bridget and Tomasso, although since Tomasso was only in my area for two semesters, while he finished a graduate program, I did not think of him as an actual roommate. Here is how I began to distinguish between a roommate and a renter (or “guest” as Airbnb calls them):  a roommate was someone who was moving in for an indefinite period of time, who did not know when they would be leaving.  (Who knows they might never want to leave!) A renter or guest, on the other hand, was someone who was only intending to stay for the duration of a specific project or course of study or research, or internship or such.  This latter type of renter, because they would eventually be moving on, was much less likely to “stake claims” on my property, or have needs that I was not interested in helping them satisfy in my house.

I realized it was this particular issue which made all the difference in the world.  I was now totally uninterested in people who wanted to bring their whole lives to my house, and all their belongings.  I was convinced that this was where all the problems originated, since when someone felt that my house was their “home”, there would invariably be a battle brewing either overtly or covertly, over whose home it really was.  In the past, I had let tenants become too comfortable feeling that my house was their home.  They needed to know much more clearly, that my house was not their home, but rather, it was my home.  I realized that in fact, I didn’t want my home to be anyone’s home, except my home.  I got my first taste of such renters, with Tomasso and some Airbnb guests, when I began listing on Airbnb, after doing many months of work to clean up and prepare my home for short term guests.  And I was enthralled and in bliss with the enormous difference that I experienced, between those who came marching arrogantly into my home expecting and demanding that it was theirs, versus those who came into my home gratefully and politely, respecting it and being very considerate and respectful, because it was mine.

Once I had my first taste of having guests rather than roommates, by listing one of my rooms on Airbnb, I felt like I was in heaven.  This was exceptionally blissful — I saw that now, instead of having nightmares and horrors with roommates, I could run a guest house, and have delightful and grateful people over to stay.  Really the difference was phenomenal.

I give notice to my last roommate

Once Lydia moved on, who had been in my house only a few months to complete her university program, I then turned that room into an Airbnb rental as well, and now only Bridget remained as my last roommate.  I talked to Bridget and explained that I needed her to move, and why, and she sadly accepted this.  I didn’t want to give her written notice to leave (the “termination of tenancy” form) because that legal form is so cold and off-putting, and Bridget had been, and still was, my friend.  I also wanted to give her plenty of time to find another place to live.  Though legally I only needed to give her 60 days’ notice, I chose to give her 90 days to find a new place.

2jg6yih

Would I need a crowbar to extract my last roommate from my house?

 

Though Bridget was my friend, was a very honest and responsible person, and she felt obligated to me and actually put a lot of work and diligence into finding a new place, she did not move out in 90 days. In  fact she did not move out in 120 days, or even 150 days.    Here came another sad consequence of my generosity to my roommates:  by the time Bridget was looking for a place to move to, rents had gone up considerably in my area since the 2.5 years prior when she had moved in.  In fact, median rents had nearly doubled in my city during this period of time.  So, given that she was living on disability income (not on a student loan, as I had first thought), Bridget’s income level was actually no longer adequate to enable her to afford even

24o90mx

…and a large can of WD 40?

 

a room in a house in my city, at median rent.  Hence she was having a heck of a time finding a room she could afford.  I felt angry — now it was becoming obvious that I was suffering the consequences of my generosity.  I wondered if I would ever get my last roommate out of my house!  In all the years I had had roommates, I had never once increased anyone’s rent.  I had kept my rents low, wanting to be kind to those who, like me, had lifestyles and values not oriented to the almighty dollar.  What I finally realized, was that by offering such low rents, I was causing myself a multitude of problems, such as, that when it was really past time for them to go — that my roomates might say they could not afford to move out, because I had the cheapest rents in the whole city and they could not find another place that they could afford to live.

Finally, after nearly half a year, actually about 170 days after I had asked her to move in no more than 90 days, I was elated to hear Bridget call me with the good news that she had found a new place to live.  I was so happy about this, that I immediately volunteered to help her do the schlepping.  When moving day came, I was hauling her boxes out, and I was the one driving the big U-Haul truck she had rented.  However, Bridget said that over half the things she owned, would not fit into her new space, so we stopped at a storage facility on the way to offload them.

2eo89qt

Bridget’s new home: not a happy one

 

When we got to her new home, I was heartbroken for her.  Bridget was happy and upbeat, declaring in an excited voice that her new home had a kitty cat.  But I was downcast and dejected when I saw the miserable shack of a house she was moving into, out in the margins of ghettoland in my city — the only place she could now afford.  Out right in front of her wretched new home, was an illegally dumped TV and mattress, and weeds choked the decrepit looking block.  Opening an institutional looking chain link fence, bowing under viney overgrowth, we entered the property.  The cold, miniscule living room smelled like cat pee, and was gloomy and dark.  The size of her bedroom was pathetic — it was about 60% smaller than the space she had had in my home, and there was no way she could squeeze even 1/3 of her belongings into the tiny room, which featured a window, covered with a shoddy, stained rag of a curtain,  that looked directly onto the neighbor’s ghetto blight.

Altogether, I was so saddened for Bridget, as I continue to be for many renters, who are finding themselves pushed out farther away into the margins, the dilapidated ghettos and suburban hinterlands, because they can no longer afford the rents in my ever more popular urban center.  However, I also realize what a bad idea it is for any property owner to try to provide charity care for their tenant, through generously low rents, particularly in a setting where landlords have so few rights compared to tenants, and can be so obscenely victimized by the legal system. As well, I have spoken to many landlords and homeowners with roomies over the years, and they seem to be unanimous in declaring, that when they raised their rents, they got better renters.  It was in fact the low rents that I offered that had far more to do with the bad renters I obtained, than I had ever realized!!  So, again, my advice to all of you out there who need renters — -please do yourself a favor and run a business, not a charity organization.  You’ll thus be more likely to avoid getting the disabled, the mentally ill, the entitled, the disgruntled, the formerly evicted, the slackers, the anti-authoritarian activists and anarchists, and the bottom of the barrel renters of all kinds.

Bridget and I are still good friends, and I expect to remain friends with her, the sweet soul that she is.  Life has treated her well, and she has actually been able to move on now from the dilapidated and tiny house, into something much nicer.

2ir80lw

Part of Bridget lives in a Glorious Fantasyland

 

There is one odd aspect to Bridget’s life, even when she is in quite a normal state of mind — which is, that she has now been taking “preparatory” science coursework at the very same community college for well on 7 years.  In fact, she appears to be taking some of the very same classes, over and over again.  I  continue to be puzzled as to how long Bridget will be able to believe, and/or convince others, that her real calling in life is to be a Doctorate in Biochemistry, a leading world expert in her field, coming up with new theories on Bipolar disorder and new medications as well, when for the life of her, she cannot seem to get out of community college.  But I leave that folly aside, as one of life’s odd unexplained mysteries, and know only that Bridget is one of the sweetest people I have ever known.

My life without roommates

After Bridget moved out, I was clear — there would be no more roommates for me, ever again!!. I had had enough serious problems with roommates to last ten lifetimes.

se63jl

My happy little guest house

 

I call my house a “guest house”, and although I dont’ do only short term rentals, I only rent to individuals who are here for a short to medium length of time, and who I am clear, are not seeking permanent housing.  I choose renters who are here for a vacation, a family visit, a short project or course of study, research, a workshop, one semester to finish school, and the like.  I make it clear to anyone who rents in my home, that this is my home, and not theirs.  I do this by intentionally creating an environment oriented to be a tranquil, retreat-like setting.  I have a very clear set of very solid house rules, which are intended not only to maintain the type of environment I am trying to create here, but also to clarify to renters that this is not your house, this is my house, and you are welcome to visit, but not to stay.

I do this for instance, by prohibiting renters from having any mail delivered to my home, or using my address for any purpose whatsoever, such as setting up a bank account.  I prohibit them from having any friends over: in fact no visitors may enter my home for any amount of time, even 5 minutes.  I prohibit renters from leaving their belongings out in common areas, and insist they use designated storage spaces only. This very much helps with the problem of renters starting to lay “claim” to the homeowner’s space by “marking territory” and leaving their things around.  If after two warnings, a guest/renter continues to leave the same items out in common areas where prohibited, their property will go directly into the trash can.   I prohibit use of phones in common areas, and prohibit socializing or phone use in my house after 10pm.  I also prohibit monopolizing of common areas and if two or more guests start becoming friends and “hanging out”, I direct them out of my tranquil retreat center to a local cafe which is more suitable for such activities.  I am very strict about the rules for guests cleaning up after themselves. I don’t allow guests to bring furniture, appliances, or really anything more than 2 suitcases of belongings. In short, I make it quite abundantly clear that it is me who runs my home, not my renters.

Another very lovely aspect to not having roommates: everything in each room of my house, now belongs to me.  I have all my own furniture in the guest rooms, and all my own art.  I have my books and doo-dads in these rooms, not roommates’ own choice of decor.  This means that my house features art by Picasso, Miro and Kandinsky, not idiotic Occupy or Che Guevara Posters and passive-aggressive anarchist taunts at my authority.  I dont’ allow renters to hang their own things on my room’s walls, and I prohibit renters from hanging things in windows or on the outside of their room doors — I just dont’ want to see my house starting to be rearranged and any sign of foreign invaders staking claims to my territory.

28087jo

My rooms feature my choice in art

 

So there is a very real way now that even though these rooms are mostly occupied by others, they remain mine even when others are in them.  This goes a good long way towards allowing me to retain ownership of my entire home, as does the fact that I like to spend time in each of the rooms of my house now, when a guest vacates it, just to keep putting my energy there, saying, “this space is mine!!

I think it’s often important for women in particular, especially those who have had bully fathers or been marginalized in their own families, to be able to finally take up our space.  So, y’all go,  girls — and make yourselves very large in your own home, your sacred space. I want to see you being gigantic there! Take up the space that is yours, without hesitation or guilt, but with natural female power.  As I experience it, this lovely, mysterious, delicious women’s power comes from Gaia and the earth, and it’s something unique to us as women.    So , go gals, get grounded and go touch the earth and recieve your natural inheritance!

Finally, I will point out something that is very central and highly significant to many Airbnb hosts and others do short term rentals — when you rent to someone on a short term basis, they have no tenant’s rights.  In fact, a short term renter is not a tenant.  I think having read through my story thus far, you will quite appreciate, gentle reader, how much this means to me in particular, as well as to anyone who has had to endure some of the truly beastly and horrific violations and abuse that homeowners have to endure, because in so many regions, tenants seem have more rights in their homes than they themselves do, and end up bullying homeowners about in their own homes.

Hence it is a lovely thing, to know that if a short term rental guest violates your house rules, you can, just as a hotel can do, kick them out the very next day.  You do not need to give that miscreant 30 days’ notice. More, if a short term rental guest overstays the period they have rented for, you do not have to file a lawsuit and go to court to try to extract them, and potentially be stalled for 6 months to a year while a vile scammer pulls a sick fraud on you.  Instead, you can toss them out on their heinie, and their luggage out on the sidewalk after them.  If the guest tries to overstay, they are trespassing, committing a misdeanor crime, and can be arrested.

In my opinion, this is in fact is how it should be for anyone renting a room in someone’s home —  that they have no tenant’s rights, and can be thrown out without going to court — in fact it’s my understanding this is the way the law presently is in Ireland and the UK, and it seems to go just fine there.  Those who want tenant rights, should get their  own apartment.  Those who rent in someone’s home, should not have “rights” to stay in that home one day beyond their having made themselves vile pests there and becoming seriously unwanted there.  Just like cockroaches or other foul vermin, homeowners need to be able to remove all unwanted tenant-pests right away.  (If these words seem harsh to you, please read my last 6 chapters!!)

In short, by having rules in my house that keep guests in their place and keep them from encroaching on my territory or other’s territory, and rules which also, are not those they would be comfortable with on a long term basis or for living permanently with, I help ensure that those visiting my home are very aware of the most important thing, this long sought-after goal which I have finally been able to attain  — namely,

o1ked

                      My house is mine.  

 

 

Goodbye To Roommates!! Chapter Six: I Start Kicking Butt

After the disappearance of my tenant Robb, (and it was still two years before his skeletal remains would be found in a remote desert area of Utah — see chapter five of this story), things began to go more downhill with Jon, who had been my roommate during part of the sordid drama introduced into my home by the Demented Duo (see chapter four of this story).   It’s now time to tell the story of Jon.

I learned more about how to screen renters

jerk

When screening renters, avoid the Jerks

 

After the departure of Marie, and the disappearance of Robb, I eventually brought in two new roomies, Bridget and Tomasso. Bridget was a biology student at a local college, and Tomasso was here from Italy for a 6 month program at the major university.  I had at this point learned that I had better luck with tenants who were students.   Thanks as well to years of some truly atrocious experiences with roommates, I had learned a little more about how to screen prospective renters, and what to look out for.   Though I was earlier less aware of this quality, I’d developed an “arrogance detector” at last, and now I sought out roommates who had an aura of gentleness, sweetness — even obsequiousness.  Because one of the things I had learned in all my misadventures, was that it was just about completely meaningless for a prospective tenant to say that they had read my house rules and agreed with them and would follow them all. This had been very hard to learn, because I’m an honest person, and you, gentle reader, are doubtless an honest person, and it’s just very  difficult for us honest and sincere people to understand how someone can look us right in the eye and lie to us!   We tend to have that naive and foolish belief, that if someone signs a rental agreement and agrees to abide by it, then they will.

 

Otherwise, if they did not want to abide by it, they would go and look for another place to rent, with rules that they could agree to — right? Wrong.  Many of them will sign on to your rental agreement, never intending to follow the rules they agreed to — why? Because your place is cheap, and conveniently located.  So for many tenants, the fact that they need a place in the price range you are offering, and in the convenient location you offer, makes them feel entitled to have it, regardless of the fact that they dont’ intend to follow your rules.  This is exactly the problem that would develop with Jon, as time would show.

What I had found in my years of experience, is that at the very moment many renters are signing a rental agreement saying they will abide by all the house rules, liar liar pants on firethey actually think that all his paperwork is a meaningless formality, and that you, the landlord, are not going to be so tiresome and boorish that you would actually expect them to follow all these rules!! I mean, there you are, sitting across from them, looking normal and human and pleasant and smiling, so, come off it, they think inwardly, you must be joking, you aren’t really going to  expect all dishes to be put away all the time, or no socializing after 10pm, or whatever the rule is that they dont’ think matches your pleasant face.  So, such liars and cheats are signing on, and blowing off, at the very same time.

Such prospective tenants  dont’ care a fig newton for all your rules, they just want  a place that has the low rent you have, and the proximity to public transit or downtown or other convenient location that you have, and so they will unethically, dishonestly force-fit your offering to themselves, dismissing your needs and emphasizing their own.  And thus when one is screening prospective renters, one has to realize the prevalance of this dishonesty, and this self-centeredness and disrespect for you as the homeowner and the person whose home it is, and seek to screen out these dolts.

Hence, what I had learned to look for in renters, was not the words and promises that came out of their mouths, but to apply my intuition (which I had plenty of, but which I had not sufficiently valued) and look for those renters of whom I assessed, that they would be ashamed of themselves if they did not meet my expectations of them.  Because it is one thing for a landlord to scold a tenant for their misbehavior, but it is quite another thing, and much more effective, when that same tenant’s own conscience is scolding them from within.  Thus, you do well as a person offering rental property, if you learn to select those renters who have the capacity to experience shame and guilt, and to be suitably chastened by their own conscience.

Things go downhill with Jon

anti authority

Jon didn’t like authority — including mine

 

So after I brought in Bridget and Tomasso, I congratulated myself on my improved tenant screening skills, because both these individuals were exceptionally polite and sweet.  They followed all the house rules to an absolute tee, and had been very honest about their own habits, the fact that they would not be around much, but would be out attending school and busy with studying.

 

At the same time that the overall level of tenant cooperation in my house improved, things started going downhill with Jon.  This problem actually had started around the time that Marie moved out, but grew worse after the arrival of my stellar tenants Bridget and Tomasso.  I had the intuition (and I think I am right on the money here) that Jon (as an anarchist-empathizing political activist at heart) had a deepseated need to have some sort of anti-authoritarian subversion of my authority going on in my house at all times, in at least a minor way. Once I deprived him of any and all co-conspirators to his need to at least subtly subvert my authority, he found himself enormously frustrated, and had to resort to greater open defiance. I think that Jon’s wishes for my home, were precisely in reverse to my own.  As I gained more control over my home and brought in better tenants, those gentle hearted and truly considerate people who followed my rules without complaint, Jon must have felt more marginalized and alone — poor baby! He no longer had anyone in my house to build anti-authority, anti-landlord alliances with.  It must have just riled him that I had at last learned to divide and conquer, and had divided him out from all the miscreants, haters, bullies and other vermin he could use against me.

For the most part, and for the years since he moved in, I had actually found Jon to be a decent tenant. His anti-authoritarian subversion had generally mostly had at least one other in alliance with him, so he was content to defy my authority in small ways which I didn’t notice much.   Like me he was pretty solitary, and very quiet.  He kept to himself a lot, doing computer work and research in his room.  He had been planning a career change, wanting to do something other than the work he had been involved in with an environmental organization. I guess he realized that as he entered his thirties, that a low salary nonprofit job wasn’t what he wanted for the rest of his life.  trainee electricianHe had expressed interest in being an electrician or an ironworker, and I had perked up when I heard about his interest in electrical work, since I did electrical work as part of my home repair profession.  So I gave him some books on electrical work, and offered to take him to one of my jobs where I was installing a new circuit in a house where remodeling was going on (actually the home of a friend of mine), and have him help me there at this house  He came along and helped me the whole day, and I enjoyed the chance to teach him something about electrical work.  Much later, my friend would say that she thought he was pretty arrogant.  I dont’ know why I missed seeing that in him, all the time he was in my house.  Others who met him or heard stories about him, all expressed that they found him exceptionally arrogant, but I didn’t see that in him until things started to go badly, which was actually just around the time when  Marie moved out.

One of the things I had begun doing a few years back, was keeping backyard chickens.  Jon had expressed interest in helping with this, and so for the last couple years,  he and I shared the chores with the keeping of the chickens.  However, I had felt all along that the chores were not  being divided equally.  I noticed too often that I was “picking up the slack” where Jon was slacking off.

chicken chick
The sweet birds needed good care and Jon was slacking off 

He’d forget to fill the chicken waterer, and I would come and find it empty.  He would forget to clean out the coop, and I would have to remind him to do that.  He would get sick with a cold or flu, but instead of asking me to cover for him,  would just flake on feeding the chickens at all that day, supposing I guess that I would be there as usual to pick up the slack.  So Jon’s flaking off became a thorn in my side that was needling at me for several months.

First Butt-Whupping of Jon

After itching with this persistent annoyance of his continual slackage and overall poor attitude about the chicken chores, one day I realized that Jon had brought a second bike to my property without asking me.  The rules were clear: tenants could have one bike and one bike only at my house, which were kept in the backyard in a bike storage area.  When the previous tenant had left, and taken her bike, the new tenant Bridget had not had a bike to put back there, and so I guess Jon had thought that he could simply seize the vacant space and claim it as his.  When I realized that Jon had put two bikes there, I told him that he could not do this, and that he would have to get the other one out of there.  He argued that he had nowhere to put it.  I told him I didnt’ care, but that he couldn’t have it in my bike storage area or anywhere in my yard.  He took it and stored it in my yard anyway, insisting,  “you have to be flexible” – I had to do no such thing.

disobey

Jon had a need to disobey authority, including mine

 

But in his mind, because he had a need, I was mandated to provide for his need, my own needs and wishes be damned.  He saw I had space in my backyard, and he didn’t care if I didn’t want extra bikes lying around cluttering up my space, and he didnt’ care that I had a house rule that clearly stated that tenants could not leave their belongings in yards or any common area — he felt that I was all but legally mandated to provide for his storage needs.

Jon’s bike finally departed my premises, but not without me threatening to take it to the dump if he didnt’ get his crap out of my yard.  As I started to more firmly plant my foot down now, and assume the full power of my authority in my home and show very little patience with his arrogant bullshit, Jon and I entered into a warpath, which would escalate over the next few months.  I was now standing up to Jon’s nonsense and disrespect, putting him in his place,  and doing with him what I should have done long ago, such as during the second week of his tenancy, when to my disturbed surprise, I heard the distinct sound of a small animal yapping, within his room on my no pets property. Knocking on his door, he opened it, and there he was with a little puppy in his arms.  When I asked what the hell was going on, he couldn’t have a dog in my house, he argued, “it will only be here overnight, I’m taking care of it for someone.”  I should have kicked him to the curb at that time, but as the puppy was cute, I softened and shrugged off this early blatant violation of my house rules. I didnt’ realize it until much later, when previous tenants told me stories about Jon, that he had actually promoted mass defiance against my house rules every time I went on vacation.  I found out he’d had parties in my home (it had always been strictly forbidden for any renter to invite more than 2 guests to my house) whenever I went away for a few days or a week.

After the bike incident and my butt-whupping of Jon, putting him in his place by demonstrating to him that you are my tenant, and I am not your servant, and you follow my rules, I don’t take your commands he became noticably different in his manner in my house.  He was now sullen and hostile looking, and refused to greet or acknowledge me as I passed by him or when I was in the same room with him.  Really I should have just evicted him at that point, delivering him a notice of termination of tenancy and telling him , nothing personal, but I need more space and I’m taking your room.  That would have kept things from escalating and getting worse, and him from feeling that he could only maintain his arrogant pride by putting up a massive fight.  So I’m saying this as a word of advice to all of you out there who find you have a problem with a tenant — particularly one who is a roommate — get them out quickly, before things escalate and get worse.  Early and quick is more painless.

firedSecond Butt-Whupping of Jon

The tension heated up between myself and Jon, and now others could sense it as well.  Jon had become such a slacker with taking care of the backyard chickens, that I finally had to fire him from this task, which he did only out of self-interest in obtaining fresh eggs, because he showed very little love for the hens.  Bridget, took over his chicken care duties, and she reported to me that she’d had a conversation with Jon in which he had spoken about me using foul language.  “She needs to take a fucking chill pill!!“, Jon had apparently said about me, and Bridget said he’d seemed incredibly angry, angrier than she had ever seen him before.

In weeks to follow, there were a couple other things that I needed to talk to Jon about, regarding a couple other small but persistent rule violations regarding the number of guests he was having over.  When I tried to speak to him in person about these things, he refused to listen, and walked away from me. When I wrote him a note and left it in his mailbox, he never responded.  He was blowing me off, but I was not going to be blown off any more. Not with all the crap I’d had to endure, all the rudeness, disrespect and outright persecution from seriously bad tenants.  No, Jon was going to find that he could not blow me off, because I was going to be on his ass. But instead of trying to speak to him more about events now in the past, I waited for a present-time problem to occur so I could confront him.  I did not have to wait long.

Third Butt-Whupping of Jon

Ever since the problems I had had first with the Demented Duo taking over my kitchen for their tawdry sorority drama scenes, and then Marie, inviting over friends and boyfriends nearly every day of the week, I had tightened up my house rules about guests, to try to prevent renters taking over my kitchen with strangers in my house, something that had always made me feel uncomfortable.  So from early days when I allowed renters to have up to two guests at a time three times a week, I now allowed only one guest at a time, 2 days a week, and I no longer allowed the kitchen to be used for “hanging out” — one could only use the kitchen to cook or eat.

cafe socializing

Jon to friends: Come hang out at my landlord’s house because she doesn’t allow you there

 

One late afternoon in late summer, I heard the sound of laughter in the kitchen below, and went downstairs to find Jon at the kitchen table with two of his friends.  They smiled and politely said hello to me, and I politely said hello to them, and then quietly told Jon that he was only permitted to have one friend at a time at my house.  Jon briefly glanced at me, said “sure”, in a very insincere tone that sounded far too much like “Whut-EVER!!” ,  and continued chatting with both his friends, ignoring me completely.

Not quite sure what to do, I went back upstairs to ponder this issue.  I hoped that in a few minutes I would hear Jon saying goodbye to his friends, and I would not have to press this issue in front of all of them, because I didn’t feel in the mood for more confrontation.  However, as the minute hand wound around the clocks’ face, I did not hear the sound of meals wrapping up, dishes being washed,  goodbyes announced, or doors closing and unwelcome house guests departing the premises.  I only heard the sound of more laughter from below me.

So after about 30 minutes I went right back downstairs, marched up to my kitchen table, looked at Jon, and angrily announced, “You will have to ask your guests to leave right now!!.”  Jon said that I was being ridiculous, and that they were only having a quiet dinner. I told them that they could take their quiet dinner elsewhere, but that he was not permitted to have more than one guest at a time at my house.

bull

I finally cut loose and it felt ever so good.

 

He burst out that he had never agreed to that rule, and so I was prohibited from imposing it on him.  In fact, he was 200% wrong in his understanding of state law on this issue (more about this later), but arrogant as he was, he would not allow his complete ignorance of the law to temper his enormous sense of self-righteous entitlement.  I became so angry, that there and then, for the first time in my life that I can recall, I literally yelled at one of my tenants.  As he told me that my rule was ridiculous nonsense, I yelled, “If you don’t like it here,  then get the hell out of my house!!!!” I was shaking and trembling with anger as I yelled that, and I have to say, it felt very good to let my anger out to that extent.  I had finally cut loose with the tension and anger that had built up in me over not just the last few months of Jon’s impudence, rudeness and disrespect, but really over several years of getting trampled by my insolent and bully tenants.  I was massive now — I towered in height over Jon.  Though he was about 6 inches taller than me in physical height, I had now gained several feet in height on him in moral authority and sheer emotional power.  I felt robust, I felt strong, and I felt in charge — and I realized at that point, that this was the way it had to be in my house, from now on.  I was never again going to let this feeling be taken away from me — the feeling that it was actually me, rather than my tenants, who owned my house and who was to have full control of it.

Ironically, I eventually realized something else about Jon that helped me feel more powerful as well as more fortunate than him — as arrogant and insolent as he was, Jon was very uncomfortable with the emotion of anger.  He had a hard time being angry — he tended to repress his anger.  Actually this was likely one of the main reasons he ended up being so vindictive.  (And quite likely also a main reason he is spending his whole life in expressing his anger indirectly, through anti-authoritarian actions) People who are comfortable in their own bodies and anger can have an easier time just letting haul with their upset, and yelling, and this allows a needeed emotional release.

smoky volcano

Jon’s repressed anger would run his whole life

If he could have said what he really thought and felt just one time, perhaps he would not have needed to take such vindictive actions after leaving my home.  Those who are more repressed, and can’t tolerate the feeling of anger, tend to store it up until they have something inside them not too unlike Mt Vesuvius, and about as dangerous to their health.

It can seem new-agey and “lite”, that nice little saying, “If you want to change the world, change your thoughts, and your world will change” — but Carl Jung put it more powerfully, “What is relegated to the unconscious comes to us as fate.”

The Gnostics were even more forceful — I think they glimpsed the Vesuvius within — gnostic gospel

“If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

So if you find yourself, like Jon, immersed in your computer studying conspiracy theories, blaming and pointing fingers at middle aged women who want to live in peace in their own home , take heed of your projections, and your Vesuvius of repressed emotions, and do some personal growth work.

Fourth Butt-Whupping of Jon

After booting his friends out of my house, I realized now that it was inevitable — Jon was going to have to be evicted.  I had all along hoped that he would realize that my house no longer suited his needs and fit his lifestyle, and that he would just do the right thing and get out.  But, as Jon would later state in his deposition with my attorney,  he stayed at my house, in spite of his dislike of my house rules and in fact his refusal to follow them, because it was cheap and conveniently located.

Since Jon showed no sign that he would willingly leave, I realized I would have to start documenting everything. Owing to my previous experience with the legal system, warning letterI knew that it was important to have documentation of all that took place, and to keep notes and a timeline.  So, I began to “cover my ass” by writing up a warning notice to Jon.  In my note to him, I put him on notice that he had not only violated the house rules, both in bringing a second bike to my premises, and then refusing to remove it when asked, but by bringing more guests than permitted, and refusing to cooperate when asked to remove those.  Further, I wrote that  he had been heard verbally stating that he would in fact not follow my house rule about number of guests permitted. I then issued him an official warning, that any further violations of house rules or any further statements that he did not intend to follow my house rules, may result in the immediate termination of his tenancy.

I did invite Jon to talk in person about all this, but he refused, saying “it would be nonproductive” , and then he issued me a note saying that from this point forward all my  communications with him were to be in writing only.  Where had I seen that before? Oh yes, with the Demented Duo, the DooDoo.  So I kind of knew where all this was going, and I was not too surprised to find, later on, that since things had gone sour in my relations with him, he had been again in co-conspiracy with team DooDoo.

Well, since it was totally unacceptable that I would have a tenant in my home whom I was being prohibited to talk with (and in fact I had it in my house rules that tenants may not refuse to communicate with others in the household), Jon was going to have to get his butt out.  I mean, just how did he think things would go from here — did he think he was going to live in my house for another 5 years or so, refusing to permit me to speak to him in my home?

Fifth Butt-Whipping of Jon

So I really had no choice but to finally march up to his bedroom door one day, knock on it, and hand him an eviction notice.  He refused to touch it, I guess thinking that if he did not take hold of it, I could not serve him. I dropped it on the floayr9l0or in front of his feet – that does as well.  He railed at me, what tyrant I was, what a Nazi, insisted that I had a serious mental disorder.     At this point I had heard so much of this nonsense from tenants that this kind of vomit didn’t phase me any more, so I ignored the gratuitous insults and added, “please note that you have 60 days, and if you aren’t out of here by then you will be sued.”

Jon then stated very forcefully that I was totally in the wrong, and that he would fight me “every step of the way” and that he would ultimately win.  I worried that he would fight the eviction, which can cause it to be a long and costly enterprise, but because he was not a low-income tenant, he would not receive free legal aid to do so, and thus if he wanted to fight the eviction he would have to pay out of his own pocket to do so.  Which I doubted he would try.  Alternatively, I knew that he might leave, and then try to sue me afterwards with some fictional nonsense, as had occurred to me before.

For the next 60 days things were quite awkward.  As I had found before, when 30 days seemed much, much too long to have someone in your home who hates your guts and refuses to talk to you — 60 days is far worse.  Passing someone in the hallway who you have just served eviction papers on, being with them in the kitchen, seeing them emerge from the

257hfr4

It’s a slimy thing to have haters in your space

 

bathroom with nothing but a towel on, is all very very awkward.  I knew that if I tried to speak to Jon, after he had given me “official notice” that I was only to communicate with him in writing, he would probably find a scammer attorney  (of which there were many in my area just salivating to have a disgruntled tenant cross their threshhold) and sue me for harassment.  So I had to say nothing to him, and endure extreme awkwardness as we went on living side by side. In fact, as I would later find, reading the trash that his scammer attorney wrote in his lawsuit, it was damned if you do and damned if you don’t.  Since Jon  couldnt’ sue me for harassing him by talking to him when he’d prohibited me to do that, he complained in his whiny lawsuit, that I had sat in stone silence with him in the kitchen, sitting there and looking but not talking.  The nonsense of scammer tenant attorneys is unending!

Given that he had told me to write to him only, I was surprised to get a phone message from him one day, saying that he had “a proposition which I think will save us both a lot of trouble”.  The fact that he was suggesting I would have trouble in any way, was a sign of trouble, and I deduced then that this was a bullying attempt: if I did not cave in to his demands, he would likely be seeking revenge the way bullies so often seem to do now – through the best of all bully tools, the civil legal system.

What did Jon want from me? I made him put it in writing, stating that just as he had told me to put all in writing, I insisted he put all in writing.  (I had intuited that his “proposition” would amount to some form of bullying, and hence, was eager to get proof in writing that he was bullying me with “propositions.” ) He wrote,( attempting to edit out the bullying tone I knew he would have communicated in person) that wanted me to allow him to stay in my house for another 6 months, saying that he “thought” he had a good place to move into then.  Consider what you would do, gentle reader, if you were placed in this situation.

bf0ql1

Beware the massive slime monster: the scammer tenant attorney

 

You have a tenant, who has signed a rental agreement and agreed to follow certain rules.  That tenant then not only violates those rules numerous times, but also expresses contempt for them.  Later, when you ask this tenant to leave, because they are not following the agreement that they agreed to, they want to make a new agreement with you, saying that they will agree to follow this agreement this time.  Would you agree?

I hope you will say no, gentle reader.  I hope you will realize that a person who lies one time, cannot be trusted to promise that they will not lie the next time.   You dont’ want to enter a new contract with a person who has just breached their last contract with you.  Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s important for all landlords and homeowners to know, that there are devious means out there, whereby tenants can employ the malicious scamming tactics they are taught by filthy scammer attorneys, such that if you void one eviction notice you have given them, they are then able to manipulate the circumstances, such that they could quite conceivably prevent you from evicting them at all. I had studied up on the law very much by this point, not willingly, but I had come out educated.  I knew exactly what those devious means were by which someone might try to use scams to prevent being evicted.  Besides which, I knew I would rather get another lawsuit in the mail,  than have someone who hated me living in my home for 6 months, bullying me the whole time, who might very well just decide to sue me after they left, as well.

So I said no to Jon’s perverse request to live much longer in the home of someone he hated, whose rules he hated, who he thought was a tyrant Nazi with a mental illness, and whom he refused to speak with, but who he wished to bully into allowing him to stay for oh, I dont’ know, perhaps the rest of his life.

Just a note here, to those who dont’ want to get someone who you find out really doesn’t fit into your house, perversely clinging to it and trying to live there for the rest of their life — it helps a lot if you aren’t the cheapest place to live in your whole city.  If  your rent is too low, bad tenants wont’ let go — they wont’ get out, they will say — “I can’t afford to move” or “I can’t find a place.”  And it may well be true that they can’t find anyplace else in the city they can afford.   In which case you will need a giant crowbar and a whole can of WD-40, or a court order, in order to try to pry them the hell out of your house.  So dont’ do like I did and try to do favors to tenants by keeping their rent low — they will stab you in the back in their gratitude.

Jon moves out and then sues

moving day
Jon departs with all his stuff

I was out bike riding at the time, but was elated to get the call from Bridget, when she reported to me that Jon had showed up with a U-Haul truck and was moving his things out, just 3 days before his 60 day notice was expiring.  I was happy, delighted, blissful, never felt so good in a long while, as at this point when I had finally gotten the last bully out of my home.  From all that Jon had said, I fully expected him to try to sue me, but — on what basis? I had been exceptionally careful not to give the slightest reason for him to sue. I had taken caution to look for any traps that he might set for me, and scrupulously avoided all interaction with him during his last weeks in my house.  In fact, there was absolutely, positively no basis whatsoever for any lawsuit.

Yes, Jon had alleged that I was not permitted to change the house rules and limit him to one guest at a time.  His belief was that any house rule changes were invalid without his agreement of them.  This was in fact his major complaint, and doubtless the reason he went to an attorney to try to sue me.  In fact, in my state it is very clear, that Jon was totally and completely wrong on this point.  The law states that in cases where rent control laws do not apply (and whenever a homeowner has tenants in the home where they also live, rent control laws do not apply), the landlord may change the rules or rental agreement at any time, with 30 days’ notice, and those changes go into effect in 30 days.  If the tenant does not agree to the new rules or new rental agreement, he must vacate the premises.  The tenant’s continued presence in the premises, itself implies that he agrees to the changes.  In other words, the only recourse that a tenant has, in a non rent-control situation, when the landlord wishes to change the rules/rental agreement (including raising the rent by any amount) and the tenant doesn’t agree with those, is to vacate the premises, and to leave.  This is why I kept telling Jon that if he did not like it in my house, he should leave.  It was actually illegal, a breach of contract, for him to stay in my house and not follow the new set of rules.

Jon had also kept arguing that he “had a right” to socialize in my house and bring friends over, but tenants have no such rights.  Many landlords who have roommates/renters, actually prohibit their renters from having any guests over whatsoever — which is what I do now.  Particularly with my long experience seeing how bully renters use the occasion to bring visitors over, as a way of bullying the landlord and trying to usurp control of common spaces, I now prohibit renters from bringing any guest into my house at all, for any amount of time.  Many Airbnb hosts have this rule.  Even further, many property owners also prohibit their renters from using the kitchen at all — and I could have done that if I had wanted to.  All those things are legally permissible rules for me to have in my own home, and Jon was ignorant of all of the law on all of this.

33aw6s0

The local slime mold tenant attorney — looking not for truth but for dollar signs

 

But doubtless when Jon strolled into the local scammer tenant attorney’s office, the fact that Jon had the law all wrong, was a moot point to this scammer.  If Jon had received truthful information from an attorney, there would have been no lawsuit, as there was absolutely no basis for a suit.  But Jon found a slimy scammer, and all this sleazeball saw when Jon walked in, were flashing dollar signs. Which was why, when I got the lawsuit in the mail five months later, it had nothing material written in it about the issue Jon had considered central in the matter — his “right” to have his friends come over to my house.  Yes, Jon’s unethical fraud of an attorney did make the idiotic point weakly, (perhaps only as a bone to throw to Jon, who might have otherwise felt a little guilty seeing that everything written in the lawsuit, was fictional) that Jon had a “constitutional right to assembly” in my home, something that prompted smirks and loud guffaws from my attorney.  “This is not a Federal Case!” my attorney laughed, shaking his head at the absurdity of someone to think that he could sue me for federal civil rights violations.  “He does NOT have a constitutional right to assembly in your home!!”

Other ludicrousness from the suit: the allegation that I had perpetrated “Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress” when I yelled at Jon in my kitchen.  No, the impudent and disrespectful Jon had it coming and needed to be scolded.  But his attorney wailed, in hysteria coded into legalese, that Jon had been much damaged by my yelling at him, and in fact had had $50,000 in medical expenses going to doctors for psychological treatment,  based on the harm done by my yelling at him.  Right!  But I mean if you are going to tell lies, why not make them truly massive lies.  Why only $50,000 in damages? Why not $5 million, and claim that Jon had to fly around the world to all sorts of expensive specialty doctors in leading clinics, to have his head examined, after the severe injury of a middle aged woman raising her voice to him?    I could not see how Jon could have signed off on this garbage, which made him look like such a helpless twit.

The entire lawsuit (which cost me not a thin dime, since my insurance company covered all expenses) was another hideous example of the horrendous abuse of the legal system by scammers and fraudsters.  Lacking one single legitimate reason to sue, this particular attorney, who was apparently well known for his unethical, sleazy tactics, simply used a boiler plate template.  Regardless what the tenant complained about, this sleazeball would sue all landlords for the exact same thing. His legal practice was cut and paste — he always sued landlords for the exact same thing, habitability issues. My attorney was quite familiar with this slime — he was well known among defense attorneys working for home insurance companies. He made his rounds there — in fact he was a parasitic growth, a form of human bloodsucking louse attached to the insurance companies.  He made nearly his entire living through these scams, and sadly, it was successful because most insurers just quickly send off a check when their insured is sued.  I pointed out the folly of this approach — it would breed  more parasites and lice, if these vermin found that they could easily get paid for their lies.

6yjn14

The slime monster scammer attorney emerges to prey on the innocent

 

This particular scammer  would claim that the premises were “uninhabitable” in various ways.  He would allege cockroaches, or rats, or other vermin.  He would allege there was no heat or a lack of a functioning plumbing system.   This sick scammer knew that in most cases, it didn’t matter what lies he told, because most insurance companies would just quickly cut him a check so that they would not have to spend time and money defending their insured.

So in spite of the fact that there had literally not been a single day in my house in the ten years that I owned it, when the heating system did not function, and in spite of the fact that Jon had never uttered a single complaint about heat in his time in my house (nor in fact had any other tenant ever complained about heat issues), Jon’s sleazy attorney was now suing me primarily over heat issues.  Among his fabrications, was the statement that Jon had complained to me both in person, and in writing, about the lack of heat.  To his credit, when brought in for a deposition, Jon stated that he never had any issues with heat, thus contradicting the lies his own lawyer had written.

Miss Karma will Kick your Butts now

stop bullying

Bullies: Look out for Miss Karma, She comin’ for your Butt

 

Jon and his scumbag attorney were much disappointed that my insurance company did not simply cut them a check, but chose instead to defend me against their incredibly audacious lies and nonsense.  So Jon’s attorney ended up losing money on this case, because he never got paid for all the time he had to put into a deposition with me (which left him frustrated because I refused to answer so many of his questions, as I simply kept saying “I don’t know” and ” I can’t remember” like the defense attorneys tell you to do), for all the motions he had to file, all the discovery he had to remit, etc etc.

Yes, they got some settlement $ in the end, but it was much much less than they wanted.  During  the process, I hope Jon learned something from the fact that after my attorney filed a Motion to Dismiss,  all the causes of action in the lawsuit were eventually effectively tossed out, except the truly fake ones having to do with claims of no heat.  So, though he got $ from an insurance company, Jon has to live with the fact, and has this karma on his shoulders, that he ended up suing me over something that never happened, and which he knows full well never happened . At the same time,  Jon’s  only real claim against me, the fact that he thought he had to agree to any changes in house rules to make them valid, was tossed out by the Motion to Dismiss,  as being completely meritless.

21cwbvtFor their lies and their bullying, and their malicious efforts to harm the innocent – such as a middle aged woman who simply wishes to live in peace in her own home — I trust that Miss Karma will now attend to complete this matter and kick some butt.  Because you can abuse the US legal system, you can fool Blindfolded Lady Justice, but truth will come out in the end.  And those who perpetrate iniquity upon others, will (as is said in the Psalms) fall into the pit they dig for others, and their own evil will return to them.  I am not Christian, but rather Pagan, and I tend to put my energy into love and joy and gratitude — but I do have to say, that after so much experience being bullied and disrespected in my home, I do like to read about what the old prophets said would happen to the evil doers.

Besides, I like to give the power of the wise old prophets a little boost,  with some HooDoo Candle Magic and bags of Mojo. And a little “Return to Sender” Spell might just do the trick as well.  Which is just to say:  Look out, DooDoo, Look out Jon. Look out, Scumbag Tenant Attorneys.  You’ve got a karmic kick comin’ at ya.  

crystal ballThe Crystal ball reveals:

The Magic of the Crystal Ball, also known as “what a little bird told me” or sometimes, “Just Google it”, revealed some interesting news of late.  Pertaining to one of the several previous roommate miscreants, the Magic Ball revealed an eviction process had lately commenced.      Miss Karma is starting to come round.

 

2s81qgx

Miss Karma to team DooDoo: “It Sucks to be You! “

 

 

 

 

Goodbye To Roommates!! Chapter Five: Strange Disappearance

If you have followed me thus far in my misadventures with roommates, and read about all the problems I had with my tenants for several years, you may wonder  how I had the patience to endure all this trouble and distress, all this disrespect and abuse — of which there will be more still to come!

The answer lies largely in love and joy, which in me are unstoppable forces.  I love my life, I love my house, I love the Divine, and I love goodness and beauty, truth and justice, music and art and nature, and many other things, and I don’t let the nasties of the world get in the way of any of this.  The thoughts we think, create our world, and so my world would continue to unfold as love and joy, in spite of all the difficulties I had to experience, because love, joy and gratitude were where I chose to put my energy.   hs1i8j So through all of my difficulties, I experienced myself being buoyed up by the power of the spiritual realm.

Though I’m not Christian, but Pagan,  I find great beauty in some of the Christian music and mythos. “The Pure of Heart Shall See God.” And the DooDoo that set up traps for others to fall into — well,  they shall see something else!!  And the  Christian mythos eloquently speaks to that as well:  (I like to modify some of the Christian story to fit my Pagan orientation)

“Behold he has labored with injustice, and brought forth iniquity — he made a pit, and dug it, and is fallen into the hole he made.  His evil shall return upon him….but I will praise Gaia.  Sing praise to Gaia, who dwells in the Beauty of the Earth and Sky. “

So I would carry on with my mission of love, joy and gratitude in life, and leave the Demented Duo to Miss Karma. She tends to take care of those loose ends pretty well.

After the Demented Duo ( see part four of this story to read about them) moved out of my house, I had a few other more minor misadventures with roommates, but for the most part things were fairly peaceful for the next 2 years, including with Jonathan.  Jon was very quiet, and very clean, and I very much appreciated those things about him.  He didn’t seem to mind too much that I had deprived him of his budding co-revolutionaires the Demented Duo, but I got the sense that he could contently do his political organizing elsewhere.  He seemed to adapt to whatever situation I had in my house.  And I adapted to his “Occupy” poster on the front window of my house — I never liked it entirely, and later on I would get to the point where I would take greater ownership of my entire house, but I wasn’t there quite yet.

Quiet Robb and Marie “You- wont’- have- a- problem- with- me” 

robin art nine
 

Robb’s art was fine, detailed and often intriguing

 

Eventually, I had a fellow artist in the room where Elizabeth had formerly stayed.  I was delighted to have this shy, sweet, very polite young man at my home — a thin blonde twenty-two year old student at an art college in my area, Robb was also very quiet and clean, and one of my best tenants.    His art was fascinating, and he spent long quiet hours making his detailed drawings and paintings. (This image shown here is one of Robb’s real artworks, really created by him!)

Things went very well at my house for about a year. Eventually, I got a new roommate with the arrival of a young French student, Marie.  Just like Elizabeth, Marie had said before she moved in, “You’ll never have a problem with me”, I should have taken heed, knowing that this meant I would have problems with her.  But in she came, and things went well for a few months, until the time when she broke up with her boyfriend.  Usually a break up means one sees less of a person, right?  True for everyone, except Marie.    After Marie announced she had broken up with him, he started coming over every day.  She knew that this was not permitted, but dismissed me when I reminded her of that, raising her voice, waving her hand at me,  and insisting that she could not be bothered with my trivia at this delicate time.  As well, I found her out on my front porch smoking, and her boyfriend out smoking in my backyard, when they both knew or should have known that I did not allow smoking anywhere on my property. There were also cigarette butts being strewn on the sidewalk in front of my house.

Having learned something from my experience with the Demented Duo about the problems that can result when I fail to put my foot down in time, I was not going to be blown aside this way.  I sat Marie down, and I told her how it was going to be in my house. She insulted me and complained how mean and heartless I was, for wanting her to abide by the rules she had agreed to follow at the start.

fjp535
Cry Baby tenants

Later, I would find out that she had complained nonsensically to Jonathan and Robb about me, saying,  “since the house is hers, she thinks she can do what she wants.”  So what did she think, that since the house was mine, I should NOT have things go how I like in my own house?  It was very difficult to understand the childish petulance and self-centered orientation of some of my tenants.

I throw Marie’s boyfriend out of my house

To her credit, Marie was honest enough to give notice that she would be moving out.  Other tenants (notably Jon, in time to come) were not honest enough to simply leave my house when the situation was no longer working for them.  So although Marie gave notice, during her last weeks at my house, she refused to follow the rules, and continued to have her boyfriend come over nearly every day.  Again, I was to the point now where I had endured enough disrespect to last several lifetimes, so there would be no more of this.  All the crap I’d had to endure, and the lawsuit, and all the injustice, gave me strength and spine and I was now going to most definitely stand up and take care of problems in my house.  The next time I found him in the house, 2r23h4kI just went right up to him and told him to get out immediately.  He yelled at me about how he wouldn’t go, but when I persisted and kept saying, “get out! get out now! Get out of my house!!!” he finally relented and left, saying he didn’t want to be in my house anyway, as horrible as I was.

Marie scolded me right and left, backwards and forwards, how could I do that, being so horrible and mean as to chase her boyfriend outta my house (the one she had ostensibly broken up with several weeks ago?) !

Meanwhile, Jon, who had become friends with the young women who were tenants in the house next door to mine, had heard that they were having a roommate move out, and so there was a spot opening up for a new roomie next door.  Unfortunately, he told Marie about this opening next door, and she lept at the opportunity.  She pranced on over to the house next door, (which by the way was about fifteen feet away from my house!) and introduced herself, and before I knew it she was getting on right swell with the three women tenants next door. I even saw her idiotic jerk boyfriend smiling and running up the steps next door and going inside there.  I was disturbed at this.  I was perturbed at this.  I did NOT want Marie and her ass of a boyfriend moving in right next door to me!!  I realized I had a phone call to make.

I foil Marie’s plans to move in next door

The three young women next door thought they would just pick whomever they wanted for their new roommate.  And apparently, from all I could see, they wanted Marie.  She had charmed them, as she had charmed me, with her large green eyes and French accent, and promises to be good and courteous.    news flashBut, like many tenants, these young women next door failed to realize one important thing — they were not the owners of that house.   Now tenants have their wants and wishes, and landlords have ours, and generally landlords are very keen to know when a fellow landlord has a problem with a tenant.  I knew my neighbor, Tom, owner of that house next door —  I had known him for several years, since I first moved into my house. He and I had got along well. He lived in another city, but we were in touch regularly.   So I called him up and gave him the low down.  Once he heard the tale, particularly the part about Marie being a smoker, he said he would call up his young ladies and quickly put the lid on that plan of theirs to have Marie as a new roomie.  He had smartly set up his rentals so that while he allowed his tenants to choose who they wanted as a roommate, he had the final say and had to give his seal of approval and write a rental agreement with the person. I told him to wait until Marie moved out of my house, before he conveyed the news that she was not welcome in his, because I didn’t want any retaliatory behavior in my house for her last few days.

Marie was due to move out tomorrow, and she was insisting that I give her back her security deposit immediately, the day of her departure.  Now I might do this for someone who has been an excellent tenant, as a courtesy to such a good person, but never for a disrespectful brat. But again, I did not want to give her cause to start acting out before she moved out, so I didn’t directly tell her that she would not get her deposit refunded immediately.

When she finished moving out of her room, Marie approached me and demanded her deposit.  I went in and saw that she had done no cleaning whatsoever, and informed her that if she did not clean the room, then I would be deducting cleaning charges from her deposit. Again, the brat swore at me, declaring loudly how mean I was that I would force her to vacuum her room, (oh, poor baby!) but she hurriedly grabbed the vacuum and ran it to and fro a few times.  It didn’t do much, but I was willing to let that go.  So I told her okay, now you’ll get your deposit back in 3 weeks.  (this is the legal requirement in my state: security deposit must be returned in 21 days) “Three weeks!!!” She yelled at me, that I had promised to give her back her deposit immediately.  I had done no such thing.

call the cops
 

Please! Call the cops!

 

So now, I insisted it would be three weeks and no less than  3 weeks, and she said she would be calling the police about this.  I smirked inside — fine, let her call the police, you might as well call the police because I didn’t bake you a pie today.

Marie continued yelling as she ran out the door.  I guess after she went outside, she must have called a friend or two, because she did not give up with her threats that I must fork over her security deposit refund right away.  She sent me a half dozen text messages, all of which I ignored, and when that did no good, she took to banging on my front door, which I ignored as well.  Eventually, nutty Marie went away, to my relief. I wondered what would happen when she found out she would not be moving in next door?

The answer to that came in a couple days, when I received threatening emails from her.  Marie was threatening to sue me for causing her to “lose my home.”  She declared, insanely,  (but with a cute bit of  non-native English speaker charm) , “You cause me to lose my home, so think I should cause you that you lose yours home.”  I was upset, because when I had spoken to Tom, I had made very clear to him that Marie was not to know that I had anything to do with why she wasn’t going to be moving into his house. He had promised me no worries, but when he spoke to his tenants, he had slipped, and told them that he’d heard from me that Marie was a smoker, and “I never rent to smokers: smokers lie.”

I continued to recieve email threats in second rate English from Marie, all attenuated in their violence by the charm of their improper grammar and syntax.  I ignored all of these, believing that by refusing to reply I could best avoid escalation, as well as pointless arguments with an insane point of view.  My neighbor Tom’s house was in no sense whatsoever “her home” , and it was inappropriate of her to even have interviewed with the ladies there, given the problems I had had with her.  Any decent person would have understood that.   Seriously – I had had to throw her boyfriend out of my house, and she thought the two of them could just happily move in right next door to me??  If they got in there, there would be no end to their bullying of me, attempting to retaliate. It would have been very bad.

happy-dance-smiley-emoticon-2
 

time for a little happy dance for a change

 

So, particularly after all the dastardly events with the Demented Duo, I was very happy to score a success with putting the lid on Marie’s plan to move in next door.  Eventually, she quit sending me the ludicrous threats — though she had stated defiantly in one of them that she came “from a long line of French revolutionaries” —-perhaps she finally realized that you shouldn’t start revolutions over trivia and nonsense.

Robb’s Breakdown

Around the time that Marie moved out, I began having a few difficulties with Jon, which I will describe more in Chapter Six of this story.  For now, however, let us go back to Robb, the quiet, shy, young artist tenant.  Unbeknownst to me, Robb was distraught about school, which I would find out later from his parents.   He had obtained a loan and was attending a highly rated art college, studying animation, with the intent of becoming a professional animation artist.  But he felt discouraged — just like manufacturing jobs, animation jobs were going overseas,and he worried that he would never make it in this career.  Aside from that, he was worried about all the debt he was accumulating, paying the expensive tuition at his school.  He worked at a lowly Starbucks job, and again, unbeknownst to me, was having trouble meeting his bills, and his parents had actually been giving him money to pay his rent recently — and my rents were still very low.

 

prayer shawl
 

The prayer shawl

 

One day, out of the blue, Robb asked to speak to me.  We had not done much talking apart from light chat during his tenancy.  But now, he seemed to need to talk to me about something. I sat down with him in the kitchen, and he began telling me a story, of how, on his birthday, he went on a hike with a friend of his, up to the top of a local hill.  When they got to the top, his friend gave him a Jewish prayer shawl as a birthday present, and said what I surmised were a few words of prayer or blessing for Robb.  For some reason, Robb was either confused or disturbed by this.  He called it a “ritual” and asked me what a ritual was.  I was taken aback, as I could not fathom that someone would be perplexed or thrown off by something as innocent as a few words of prayer or blessing, particularly if given by a friend.  This was hard for me to understand, since as a natural mystic, I had since early childhood had easy, friendly and plentiful contact with the numinous or divine realm of life.  For me, ritual of all type (whether the magnificent and solemn ritual of Catholic Liturgy, or the earthy and simple beauty of solitary prayer time with a zafu and a candle) was as comfortable a thing as an old pair of jeans.  Hence,  it was very difficult to understand the viewpoint of someone who stood so far outside this powerful spiritual center of all our lives.

I had the intuition that for Robb there was something disturbing about this thing called ritual, in fact the whole spiritual realm.   During his entire time at my house, this was the only occaision he had ever sought me out to talk to me about something specifically.  As I spoke to him about the prayer shawl experience, there was a vacant, uncomprehending look in Robb’s face, that concerned me, and I wasn’t sure what to make of this whole situation.  Robb had never been a very grounded individual, but I had never seen anything like this in him before. When later on I would see the inside of his room, I would notice he had put up on his wall a Tibetan prayer rug, as well as an occult Magical Square above his desk, the Sator Square .  The presence of these symbols in his room, suggested he had interest in the spiritual realm, but as a quite ungrounded individual, he was, unfortunately,  likely blocked from any meaningful access to these realms.

A couple months later, at 4am in the morning, I was awakened by a knock on my bedroom door.  I wondered what the matter was, assuming some emergency.    Answering the door, I found Robb, who stared at me with a vacant expression in his face, and said to me, “What the hell is going on???!!” What the hell indeed.  psychosisI thought there was some emergency, and expected him to now tell me that there was a huge water leak pouring into his room or loud music from a neighbor, or something very serious.  Instead, he declared that I was running a power saw in my room.  It took me but a couple seconds to realize Robb was having a mental breakdown, and was in the grip of psychotic delusion.

I told him I did not have a saw in my room, and went out to sit at the kitchen table to talk to him.  As we spoke, Jon was awakened, and came out and sat at the table along with us.  Robb kept talking about the noise of saws, saying he had seen power saws and had seen his parents being cut apart with saws.  Both Jon and I tried to ground him and tell him there was no saw and that these things were not real. I held his hand and asked him to put his feet on the floor and sense his feet.  psychosis artRobb sat there, with a sort of glassy look in his eyes, and said that he was having a spiritual breakthrough.  Psychotic delusions often seem like spiritual breakthroughs to those experiencing them, which is why matters of sprituality and religion are so difficult for those who have mental illnesses with psychotic aspects.

After about a half hour with Robb, Jon and I said we had to get back to bed, and so we encouraged him to try to sleep.  I went back to bed, and hoped all would be well, but just minutes later, there was Robb knocking at my door again.  I went and opened and he insisted he had to come into my room to check for power saws. I went out again, as Jon did, and we sat Robb down again.  Now Robb was more restless, and kept getting up and going in and out the front door of the house, mumbling to himself something about “Just deal with it” and it seemed to me he was hearing voices. I went upstairs and pulled out his rental application, and found his parent’s phone number.  I called them then and there, at 5am.  It was later now, their time in Iowa, where they lived.  I explained that Robb was having psychotic delusions, and then went and put him on the phone with them.  His mother Carol spoke to him, and he seemed to calm down and do better after being on the line with her.  I then spoke to Carol again, and was glad to hear that she and her husband Darren had asked Robb to come home to Iowa to visit them.

Eventually, I had to leave to go to work. I asked Jon to watch Robb and to let me know or call 911 if there were any serious problem.  I thought that Robb might be turning out to be schizophrenic, as it is often around this age — in their early 20’s — when many schizophrenic individuals first show signs of their mental illness.

Robb’s Disappearance

amtrakWhen I returned home from work later that day, Robb was gone.  I learned later that after spending that night at a friend’s house,  he had boarded an Amtrak train for Iowa the following morning.  It wouldn’t be until several weeks later that I found out that the reason Robb spent the night at his friends’ house, was because Jon had yelled at him at my house and he felt afraid.  I could easily see that Jon would be neither patient, nor compassionate and  mature enough to deal with someone in psychosis.

I hoped all would go well with Robb’s visit to his family, though I was quite concerned that his mother Carol had not seemed willing to accept that her son had had psychotic symptoms.  “He has not been sleeping much” she insisted, “He is stressed about school, he has been anxious and when he gets like that he doesn’t sleep well.”  I didn’t think it was so safe for someone to travel alone while in a psychotic state, but to tell the truth I was relieved that his parents were acting quickly to take care of him in any way, since the alternative was that he would stay at my house, and I worried about a repeat of my experience with Loco Linda years before.  I also did not want to be continually awakened by Robb knocking at my door in the middle of the night demanding to come in my room and check for power saws.

The following day, I got a call from Robb’s mother Carol, asking if I had heard from him.  It turned out that he had never arrived in Iowa.    The train had arrived, but he had not been on it.  A big “I told you so” alarm went off in my head, as I pictured Robb, in a state of psychotic delusion, getting off the train and wandering to god knows where.  I wished his mother had been more willing to accept what I had said about his state of mind.  Later on, she would say that if she had known how bad it was with him, she and Darren would have come out to my city to get Robb herself.

Over the next two days, I heard more from Carol:  Robb had been seen exiting the Amtrak train in Omaha, Nebraska.  His belongings had been found still on the train at its terminus point in Chicago.  No one had seen or heard any sign of him in Omaha.  Carol and Darren believed that Robb was just confused and hadn’t had enough sleep, and would turn up eventually. But still they called the police, and filed missing persons reports.

A week later, still having heard nothing from Robb, and the police not having found him, Carol and Darren drove to Omaha and began a search.  They combed the city and put up missing persons flyers everywhere.  missing person

I wondered if Robb had wandered off into some remote field somewhere, and died. His parents felt sure that he was just needing time alone, was overly stressed out and needed a break and would call them soon, but I was not optimistic.  At the end of the month, Darren drove across the country to my city on the West Coast, to collect Robb’s belongings from his room, and Jon and I met him at that time.  What most struck me about Darren was how very distressed he seemed, and how he did not seem “embodied.”  He also seemed estranged from his own heart — as sad and harrowing as the story of his son’s disappearance was, I could not see sadness or grief in him.  Only tension and anxiety.  I felt the hollow pain of the narrow room in which he made his life.

As a person who trained as a psychotherapist and who worked as a professional counselor with clients for a couple years, as well as someone with a strong natural intuitive capacity, and an earth-centered spirituality, I had an ability to grasp the quality of a person’s relationship to their body and to the earth.  Similar to that of his son Robb, Darren’s energy felt exlusively and entirely mental, and given that his mental state now was so tense and disturbed, without a connection to the grounding energy of earth and body, he had no source of rejuvenation.

anxiety image
 

It hurt me to watch Carol and Darren suffering with anxiety

 

I could see him sucking himself dry with the torture of his cyclical thoughts.   I would later see Robb’s mother Carol with the exact same plight, and thus grasp more of the story, and understand why in their posts about their sons’s disappearance on their FaceBook page dedicated to him, there always was a focus that the solution somehow would come by  mentally figuring things out.   As a natural “Sensitive”, I was so aware of the tension they carried, that it actually hurt me physically to observe Carol and Darren in the news stories and TV shows where they were featured, talking about Robb.

Weeks passed, and then months, and no one had heard from Robb. There had been no definite sighting of him anywhere, but Carol and Darren seized on any possibility, any clue. They interviewed homeless people, staff at shelters, cafes, and hired a private  investigator.  They pressed the Amtrak police and Omaha police to do more to pursue all leads.  They thought, and thought harder, believing that if enough thought were applied to the situation they would certainly succeed in figuring this out.  Darren mentioned that one of the last books Robb had been reading, was about changing one’s identity, and they thought he had been so desperate to get away from his debt and his frustration with art school, that he decided to go and live “off the grid”, perhaps with a group of homeless teens in a major urban area.  As the wheels of Darren’s mind turned, struggling to figure things out, they turned in repetetive circles, trapping him in the same narrow realm of painful thoughts.

homeless teens
 

Is Robb living off the grid with homeless travelers?

 

I was skeptical. I observed all of this with sadness. From what I had seen of Robb’s mental state on his last day at my house, he was not very likely at all to have had the clarity of mind to just easily slip off a train and, without being seen by anyone, make his way into an off-the-grid or homeless community in some major city.  More cogently, Robb had loved his parents.  He had been in regular contact with them.  Hence it would have been quite out of character for him to just try to slip out of his identity and never contact them.  If he was struggling with mental illness, someone somewhere would have come across him, as a person in the grip of psychosis is not going to be able to just readily find his way about the nation, with no money (his wallet had been left behind, together with all his belongings).  I did not have a good feeling about this — in fact I doubted that Robb was still alive.

As months went by, then years, Carol and Darren pursued possible sightings of Robb in many cities around the country.  They traveled to New York City, where someone said they had seen him sketching on the sidewalk, calling himself “Tree. ” They went to Las Vegas, where another reported sighting had occurred. They visited Portland and Phoenix to drop off missing persons flyers and pursue leads there.  They tried hard to get publicity and attention, hoping that the more people who saw Robb’s face, the more potential for someone recognizing him, and their ability to bring their son home at last.  mysteries

Eventually they got a TV show to do a segment on Robb’s disappearance, “Unsolved Mysteries” I believe was the name of the show.  Carol and Darren were in the show, seen traveling all over the nation interviewing people at sites of “possible sightings”.

Every so often, I would get a call from Darren, asking some question about what I had noticed about Robb during his last days here, as the two of them sifted through the facts straining for the clues which they felt would ultimately lead them to their son. Darren said that he would rather die of cancer than not know where his son was.  I could not imagine their pain and suffering.  They both attested that their lives would never be the same again until they found their son.

Robb is Found

I didn’t actually think Robb would ever be found.  But due to a stroke of luck, the fact that a  train maintenance worker was in the right place at the right time,  Carol and Darren got an ending to the story at last, though it was not the news they hoped for.  Robb’s remains were found in a remote desert area in Utah, beside the train tracks far from any town.  The train maintenance worker was doing track repair in this desolate area, 15 miles from any road or structure.  Robb’s remains were so

skull
 

Robb is Found

 

decomposed that detectives had had to identify him with dental records.  The remains were skeletal, and the coroner declared they were in a similar state as if they had been lying in the desert for 75 years. A  bit of clothing remained, and a bus card, and the keys to my house were there beside him, and nothing else.

I wondered if in a confused mental state, Robb had fallen off the train.  Doing research online, I found that over the past 15 years, 43 people or about 3 a year, have fallen off Amtrak trains to their deaths.   Carol rejected this idea, and insisted this had been a homicide.  Talking to detectives, Carol reported that they stated that the situation “reeked of foul play”.  She pushed police and the FBI to pursue the investigation, and expressed great frustration when they did not do so.  She said she would never rest until the killer of her son was brought to justice.  Carol and Darren believe, and I think their idea is plausible, that Robb met with some unsavory characters  on the train, and was lured outside the train in Omaha, where he met with violence in the trainyard.  Then his body was put on a freight train heading back west,and dumped out in the desert. I do think that his confused mental state played some role in all of this, if in no other way than making him much more vulnerable to criminals and predators.

And yet, whether he fell off the train while in a delusional state, or whether he was murdered in the Omaha train yard by hoodlums, or met some other unknown end, the sadness and the grief and the loss are the same, and there is the same need to let go of trying to mentally figure things out, and accept Robb’s death.

We will probably never know what happened to my tenant, Robb, the young student from art school, with so much talent and creativity.  His parents mourn the loss of him and his friends and community grieve for him, and I say prayers for him and wish well to his sweet spirit.

forest fall

 

Here is an actual photo of Robb:

robin putnam
 

This is a real photo of Robb, shown here in his rented room in my house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye to Roommates!! Chapter Four: the Demented Duo

Having read chapters one , two and three of this “Goodbye To Roommates” story and blog, you will be well on your way to appreciating why I eventually chose to swear off all roommates.  In the first year of owning my home, I was: evicted by my own tenants, had a kleptomaniac slob tenant,  and one who fell into psychosis and threw dishes in the trash, broke a window, and whose craziness sent her kitty cat into sequentially damaging my floors.  I then had a bully tenant masquerading as a Green,  peaceful, community-loving, nature-loving blithe spirit.  I thought to myself, surely, things will get better now — what else could happen?

xsgb9
More tenant horror still to come

But unfortunately for me, I had not completed running the gauntlet, and I was to have another 7 years of further struggles and true tenant horror stories, still to come!

After experiencing these roommate problems in the first year,  I worked harder to improve my screening process, my interview techniques, my rental agreement and house rules.  I did the best I could, but I was at a disadvantage in this process, in that it was difficult for me to imagine how people could look me right in the eye, and lie to me.  I had a weakness:  I was predisposed to take people at their word.  If someone promised me something, I tended to believe them. Much later, I would finally come to realize that  I could not take what prospective renters said at face value. I had to pay much more attention to factors other than the actual words spoken and promises made, in order to avoid seriously problematic renters.  Eventually, I would identify certain “types” of renters that were likely to be problematic, and other types which were likely to be excellent and lovely to have around.  The identification of these types involved what I learned through difficult experience, as well as the use of intuition and paying attention to my “gut sense”.  Later on, I will summarize some of what I learned through these many years of hard experience.

In the next few years after Steve, the Bully Tenant, I had some more minor misadventures with a few other renters.  There was Mariana, from Brazil, who asked permission to paint her room, and ended up painting some of my furniture as well.    There was Greg, who liked essential oil, and spilled enough of it on my carpet that the room was redolent of this scent for 4 months after he departed.  There was Brian, who had lived in his car during a summer in Alaska, an adventure that hadn’t prepared him well to live indoors. He put a plant in his room , but no basin underneath, so for the several months he watered his plant,  he watered and damaged my hardwood floor.  There was Cathy, who must have had more belongings than anyone I ever rented to — she moved them in over many days.  It was only a few weeks later when  the circuit breaker for her bedroom kept tripping, that I realized she had put a refrigerator and microwave oven in her bedroom.

Strange Boyfriend, Strange Religion

Then there was Hannah, who began having her boyfriend over, and something was wrong with him.

o6xrlt
Hannah’s boyfriend was odd

He had large red blotches on his face and behaved strangely.  He seemed to always avoid looking at me, and scuttled about, as if he were up to something.  I also began to find, that just around the same times as his visits, the latch on my back gate kept turning up unscrewed and removed from the gate, and deposited on the ground next to the gate.   Someone was removing the latch so that the gate would stay open, and this seemed to happen just around the days he came over.  I issued notes to all housemates insisting that whoever was doing this, please stop, but nothing doing.  The only way I was able to finally solve the problem was to use bolts rather than screws for the latch, which required more tools to remove than Hannah must have had in her secret arsenal.

There was something secretive and about both Hannah and her blotchy boyfriend —  an artificially polite air, how he always looked away when he passed by me.  I began to suspect that he was actually staying overnight more than the 2 nights a week I permitted.  I asked her about this and she denied it.  Halloween came, and I put halloween candy out for each roommate by their bedroom doors.  An hour later, at a time when I knew that no one but Hannah was home, I saw that all the candy had vanished.  Not too long after this, Hannah moved out.

28tiblu
strange religions

When Hannah departed, I saw that she had taken one of my bowls from the kitchen, and placed it on the floor in her vacated room.  She had placed a flower beside it, and filled the bowl with packages of condoms, like an offering at an altar.  I hurriedly threw out the remnants of her strange religion, and wiped my hands of her.

 

Enter the Demented Duo: DooDoo for short

Around the 3rd year of my adventure in home ownership, I ended up with 3 female renters.   Sandra had come first — a short-statured, easy-going, pleasant woman who radiated confidence and natural poise.  Then a few months later came Marge,  a heavy-bodied and somehat dowdy woman with what I appraised as a wry and affable look on her face, who had worked as a paramedic in her native state of Pennsylvania, and sought the same type of work here in the Bay Area.  She didn’t have work yet, but had insisted she had plenty of savings and could pay the rent easily.  I thought I had seen something earnest in her eyes when I interviewed her, and l liked her down-to-earth quality and the fact that she’d been involved in such essential and practical work.   I thought that anyone doing such very practical work, just had to be a responsible and honest person.  I was wrong!  The other area where I was wrong with Marge, was in ignoring the discomfort I felt when, during my interview of her, she asked me too many questions about myself.  That discomfort was a sign, and I ignored it and suffered the consequences.  Marge was the first of the pair who I would eventually term the “Demented Duo“, or  “DooDoo” for short.

Shortly after Marge, came Elizabeth, the second half of the Demented Duo.  (These two could also be termed the “Loathsome Couple” — and in time to come would prove truly a despicable, distorted pair, in a real Edward Gorey kind of way) She was starting a graduate psychology program at a local university.  She seemed to be very passionate about her subject, which to me was a great sign, as I’d had good luck with grad students.  She wrote to me that she was a studious, quiet person who’d be spending hours at her studies, and mostly would be out of the house, only home to sleep and study.  Again, great, just what I was seeking.  She agreed with all my house rules and said “you’ll have no trouble with me at all.”  (I would later find that those who said this about themselves were generally the ones I had trouble with).

Elizabeth came to her interview with me, with a big blaring warning sign and red flag, which I completely ignored — her boyfriend. 2dgmkya In retrospect I dont’ know why I so readily dismissed the implications of this.  I had already had enough experience of getting annoyed when I would set up a “room showing” for a prospective renter (and from the start I had only ever permitted ONE renter per room) and find that person showing up at my door with a friend, or a lover, or a partner, or a father or mother or child, as if my home were open house for the whole world to just come on in and traipse through!  So I had begun to very much not appreciate surprise extra people expecting to come into my house.  But for some reason, maybe because Elizabeth seemed to be exuding 110% manners and politeness, or maybe because I had a master’s degree in psychology myself, I dismissed this big red flag, that she brought her boyfriend to her interview with her, which so very well revealed her dependency  … as well as first intimate her tendency to form alliances to bully and ride roughshod over others.

Toxic Sludge Takes over the Kitchen

Within mere days after her arrival, I began to sense I had made a mistake with Elizabeth.  This awareness deepened each time I visited my kitchen.

At this point, I was not using the kitchen in the house very much, having found that I thoroughly enjoyed the privacy of my own room upstairs, where in my charming private “suite” setting, I had a small second room with a  refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven and hot plate to use — which was pretty much all I needed for 90% of my cooking.  I was never much of a cook, as I had too many other interests to want to spend much time with preparing food.  So I had most of my meals upstairs, but I still needed to use the kitchen downstairs to use the oven, and to store some bulk items.  As well, I would pass through the kitchen many times a day when I went out to the backyard, or garage.

What I discovered within days of Elizabeth’s arrival, was that I increasingly felt like an embarrassed intruder in my own house — in my kitchen.  It seemed that it had only taken a few hours inside my house, for her to create a die-hard “clique” with Sandra and Marge — particularly Marge — and sometimes an additional friend of one of theirs, as well.  Prior to the arrival of Elizabeth and Marge, my kitchen had been a relatively quiet and peaceful place.  Sandra or one of my other two roomies at the time (two men who were out most of the time and cooked lightly) would use it, but they would be there briefly, rarely all three at once (in fact mostly only one at a time) and the three of them all went their own way.  They would chat with each other, and there was a friendly and light atmosphere — which felt fine to me.

106lve0
My kitchen becomes a tawdry sorority den

But now, with the coming of the DooDoo Duo, Elizabeth and Marge, all of a sudden the entire atmosphere of my kitchen and thus my house had changed.  In spite of my having heavily emphasized in my house blurb, my house rules, and my interviews with tenants, that I intended to create a quiet and tranquil environment in my home, without heavy socializing, and in spite of the fact that Elizabeth had assured me that she would be out studying all the time , and rarely home, (and that she was quite studious and scholarly as well),  I found that my kitchen had become a loud and boisterous, very busy place, where I was continually hearing much more than I wanted to know anything about, even just in a few seconds of passing through.

My kitchen was now “socialization central”, a “happenin'” place where not only at mealtimes but for several hours during each day, I would notice that at least two of these three were sitting and talking — and the conversations never seemed light and easy.  The drama was thick and heavy in my kitchen — I could cut it with a knife, I could section it into slabs, and set them out in a pan to fry.

2w2ngja
Way too much sorority drama

The body language and the facial expressions, the knowing nods and whispers, the gestures, the shrieks, screams and demented outbursts, everything,  reminded me of girlish cliques in high school.   Within only the first two weeks of Elizabeths’ arrival, the heart of my home had been transformed into a tawdry sorority den, where I  heard references to sex and booze, drugs, divorce and infidelity in  boyfriends.  There were loud shrieks, which tore through the house and disturbed me in my meditations in my second floor study, and there were giggles and piques of cackling.  Often this went on late into the night.  Though I had stipulated quiet hours after 10pm, more than once I had found Marge and Elizabeth deeply engrossed in gossip at my kitchen table around midnight.  Once I woke at 3am, and thought I heard mumbling noises.  I went downstairs and found the Demented Duo, Marge and Elizabeth, going heavily at the drama in my kitchen at this wee hour.

In one particularly bad case of TMI, I was in the kitchen watering plants, and overheard Elizabeth fretting with Marge that ever since she had gone to that photographer Sandra recommended, and had him take nude photos of her, she worried that these might show up online.  Later I heard Sandra getting into this conversation, and deduced from what was said, that Sandra made her living as a nude model, and was trying to coax Elizabeth into making side income doing the same.  Meanwhile, I observed Marge with a wine glass at every dinner, and would later realize she was an alcoholic.

n1vwwl
GROSS! I got their YUCK on me!

I could not go into my kitchen any more without hearing much more than I wanted to hear about  intimate details of these women’s emotional and sexual lives.  Such an environment, which involved the violation of standard polite decorum, as well as revealing the extremely poor (nonexistent, really) boundries in these two women, both repulsed and sickened me.  I felt violated just after a minute of  listening to their disturbing drama  — It felt like, “gross! I got their yuck on me.”  This feeling of getting their yuck on me, intensified when Elizabeth had her boyfriend come to visit — a rare occurrence since he lived in another state. Then  I heard the screeches and shrieks, and the sounds of  alien life forms having strange sex,  ripping through into my quiet artist’s atelier, while listening to Baroque Music and doing abstract watercolor paintings.  Yuck, yuck, yuck.

I was very uncomfortable, and wasn’t sure what to do.  What I should have done was evict all three nitwits, telling them to get out and take their sleazy garbage and their drama along them.    But I was afraid of having serious problems with all three of my roommates at once.  I was afraid of having a mutiny on my hands.  So I tried, in a variety of kind and polite, and therefore apparently ineffectual and useless ways, to ask them to “tone it down” and take their socializing elsewhere.  Once when I called up Elizabeth to speak more directly to her about this issue, her response was so irrational, reactive and defensive, so hysterical, that I was flabbergasted that this was a woman who actually intended to become a psychologist.

Elizabeth had no capacity to rein herself in — she was a seeping morass of neurosis, uncontrolled and toxic emotions, leaking out everywhere, all over my house — a toxic sludge polluting my premises.  She had no capacity whatsoever to reflect on her own behavior.  She had no capacity whatsoever to tolerate criticism.  In her mind, my politely asking Elizabeth  to respect the rules of my house, which she had agreed to in advance, and to be quiet in my home which I had intended as a quiet tranquil place, was akin to me ganging up on her with 3 or 4 meanies and engaging in vile and obscenity-laden cyberbullying.   Elizabeth’s mind, her mental and emotional state, was a filthy rat’s nest.  Her psyche was  full of horrors and distortion such as I had never seen before in my life so close up.  I had seen mental illness  in the pathetic sidewalk-dwellers in my city,  I had seen hysteria in films and horror stories, but until the coming of the Demented Duo to my home, I had not seen this type of delusion in person.  Even Loco Linda, the bipolar woman who’d tossed my dishes in the trash and sat mumbling and rocking on the sidewalk, was preferable to Elizabeth — because at least Linda knew she had a condition. Elizabeth had no idea what toxicity emanated from her sick mind, and so garbage flowed from her wherever she went.

2jbwmx1
I need a hazmat suit to protect me from my toxic roommates

I felt quite anxious after this disturbing insight into her character. I felt increasingly afraid and helpless in my house — I felt like the presence of Elizabeth in my house was getting grime all over me– and felt like I needed a hazmat suit to protect me from all the grossness invading my home.

Yet as time went on, things got worse instead of better.  Starting with her second month at my house, Marge began paying her rent late every month, and I found her inebriated in my house on a few occasions. When I would walk by her in the house or yard, she would always avoid looking me in the eye or saying hello — I continually felt dissed and marginalized in my home, by both Marge and Elizabeth, as if I were just so peripheral and really irrelevant to the “happenin’ scene” that was going on here, the scene that ate my house.

When I attempted to talk to Marge about her continual late rent payments, she would wave me off, frowning and saying that she didn’t have time for this now.  With both Elizabeth and Marge, there were so many ways that they continued to blow me off or dismiss me.  It was clear that they expected that they and their loud, drama-heavy “scene”  could just eat up my house , and I should run off and hide in a corner.

Only 3 months into grad school, Elizabeth was already having serious problems there.  Around this point, there were many more instances of kitchen occupation at late hours of the night, and more shrieks, cries and wails.  I finally found out that Elizabeth had gotten suspended from graduate school, for speaking inappropriately with her advisor — threatening her, apparently!  Elizabeth was a piece of work, and Marge was her enabler and caretaker, the good alcoholic paramedic, who felt happy disrespecting me and the rules of my house, but always wanted to make sure Elizabeth, the neurotic princess, was okay.  The drama and its grotesque sludgy toxicity kept spreading.

The Kingdom of one’s Home 

nqqkv5There were two factors contributing to this increasingly serious problem, factors which I would not fully under stand until a couple years later.  These had to do with the control of the kitchen, the heart of the home, and with the building of alliances in my house.  Essentially, I discovered, being a homeowner-landlord with roommates, is unfortunately more similar than I would have liked, to being a  king or ruler of a city, state or nation.  I did not fully understand it, but this is vital for a homeowner who has renters to understand:  the kitchen is the heart of the home, and whoever controls the kitchen, controls the home.   (In some cases, the living room may be the heart of the home) This was why the most serious problems I had in my house with roommates, all ended up being centered on the kitchen.  It was there that Steve had his “duel” with me, first marking territory by leaving his things out, then telling me to get out of my kitchen, and then finally sabotaging my kitchen and trying to prevent anyone from using it, by refusing to wash any dishes whatsoever and piling the sink high and higher with his refuse.  This was why the toxic sludge of polluting emotions, neurosis, alcoholism, lack of boundaries, and other tawdry sorority trash, was now spreading out over my home, emanating from the kitchen and Elizabeth.  And this would be why, in two years to come, in the last ugly tenant battle I had in my home (coming soon in chapter 6 of this story!) , the fight also was centered on the kitchen.

In fact, when years later I did research and contacted a woman named Sue who’d owned my house years before (two owners prior to my friend Rachel who’d sold me the house) I discovered that Sue had actually sold her house (my house), primarily because she kept having this same issue I was having and would continue to have for a while. Her tenants would continually gang up on her.  She actually often had more tenants than I did, as she would have two to a room — but apparently she found herself similarly marginalized, bullied and besieged in her own home.  So my house actually had a history of homeowner bashing by tenants.  It was only my deep love for my house and my patience with immensely trying circumstances that would finally bring this sordid history to an end!

Sue had had the same problem I did, in her attempt at rulership.  By creating a private refuge in my upstairs suite, where I could stay alone and did not have to emerge too often because I had a “kitchette” of my own there, I had unwittingly created a power vacuum, namely, I had apparently abandoned rulership of the heart of my kingdom — the kitchen.  Hence, the foreign powers kept trying to invade this area, and steal this land away from me.  The dilemma I faced was that I was an introvert and needed a lot of time alone, and did not want to “hang out” and spend time in my kitchen just to maintain rulership of that space.  I ultimately realized that in order to resolve this problem, I would have to dramatically change how I ran my house.  (More on that later).

The second problem that faces both kings of nations, and landlords with roommates, is that of alliances.  Specifically, alliances of enemies or foreign powers.  The building of alliances among roommates is a threat to the homeowner-landlord, which can be understood by simple mathematics, as in: three against one.  Hence the landlord, just like the king of a nation, needs to work against the building up of alliances in his/her own home, in the same fashion: divide and conquer.  What this means, is that if you have more than one roommate, it is often in your best interest as a landlord to make sure that the roommates you bring in, are not people who are likely to become good  friends.  So if you have two vacant rooms, and Mary responds to your ad and says that she and her friend Barbara would like your two rooms, you do not want this arrangment.  You will do much better if you rent to someone who Mary is not likely to become friends with.   Someone who has few or none of her interests, and who has different hours.  This can prevent the kind of alliance building that can result in you discovering one day that your home has been usurped by a foreign nation, and invading army, an alien tribe, and that instead of being a king ruling a nation or a home, you are stuck in your little bedroom, scared to come out.

Enter Jonathan, and the Occupy Movement

2ccmjhv
Jonathan was trying to change the world — his revolution against authority started in my kitchen

But let’s get back to the story with Elizabeth, Marge and Sandra.   By this point, after I had made it clear enough that I was very unhappy with the goings-on in my home, Sandra, bless her heart, was honest and respectful enough to move out.    She did this quickly and painlessly.  Realizing that above all I needed to NOT bring in another chatty Cathy into this difficult situation, I opted for a new roommate who I thought would be the perfect antidote to the sorority scene:  enter Jonathan, a tall, thin, silent, bespectacled man who in appearance and by his own self-description, seemed to be quite solitary and unemotional.  He was in fact rather flat and leaden.  I thought this dull, heavy lead applied to the hysteria would accomplish the needed alchemy to tone things down.  Unfortunately for me, the (serious!) mistake I made was in not taking into account that he was a political activist as well.  One of the more intellectual of such, but an activist nonetheless.  The other mistake I made, was in failing to recognize the level of arrogance in Jonathan.  I would come to pay dearly for these mistakes later on.

Soon after he moved in, I noticed to my dismay that Jonathan was quite enjoying sitting in the kitchen,  having conversations with the Demented Duo.  It was true that his heavy leaden nature did take the hysterical edge and giddy sorority shrillness off the scene, but it did not remove the scene — it just changed the personality of the scene that was still eating my house.  Now instead of a sorority hangout site, my kitchen was the crucible for fomenting  political activist conversations and general revolt and subversion of authority (for instance: my authority).  The noise level diminished, thanks to Jonathan (and he actually did cooperate with me and helped convince the DooDoo to tone it down, something I’d been unable to achieve), but it was still very apparent that a revolution was being organized at my kitchen table, and I was not happy with this.  I would still find myself walking through my kitchen, fetching foodstuffs or there to use the oven, and getting the message loud and clear that I was peripheral to this important political organizing being done in my home.  For one thing, I was being totally ignored when I entered my kitchen.  No one said hello, no one even bothered to look up.  There were intense looks, gestures, laughs, sometimes steely stares in my direction, as if to say to me, “what are you doing in our kitchen!!”  

In fact, much later, in legal documents during a litigation proceeding, Jonathan actually came out directly and said that when I had come and sat down with him and Elizabeth and Marge, eating with them during a holiday dinner (when I first naively thought that if I just tried harder to befriend my tenants they would surely respect me more), they had all felt awkward about my presence in my kitchen.  Jonathan’s attitude (which I am sure was also representative of team DooDoo) was thus very clear: since my presence there made my tenants uncomfortable, their view was:  I did not belong in my own kitchen.  

I think it would be difficult to find any of my tenants’ viewpoints that shows more clearly than this, just what was going wrong in my house.

2w71hlwThis was about the same time that the Occupy Wall Street movement was starting up, and there was a local Occupy movement in my area.  Jonathan talked to me about his involvement in this, and I was empathetic, because I was opposed to the abusive behavior of the Big Banks and Wall Street as well.  So although my politics were most definitely not in keeping with the liberal progressive majority in my city (I had always been pretty much centrist) I supported the Occupy movement.  Therefore when one day I came home from work, and saw that the front window of my house, the window of the room Jonathan rented, now was covered with a big 3 foot by 2 foot “Occupy” poster, depicting a raised fist, I was a little taken aback, but not smart or strong enough to say what I should have said to Jonathan, “ get your fucking crap down off my front window.

It would later come to be quite a piece of irony, that I was evicting from my home a tenant who was at the same time loudly declaring “occupy” on my own window of my own house.

Another tragicomic irony about my problems with my tenants, was that they would constantly complain about how “mean” I was and what a “dictator” or “Nazi” I was.  In fact, as you my gentle reader have by now well understood, one of the biggest reasons that I continued to have serious problems with my tenants was that I was far, far too nice and polite!!.  I was too much of a doormat.  I was weak, I was fearful, I lacked strength, and to tell the truth, I kept hiding away from my bully tenants in a corner of my house.  I continued to allow myself to be disrespected, ignored, and my house rules violated and blown off, for much, much longer than was reasonable.  I applaud all of you who will not have endured what I did because you took the stick to the baddies early on.  As for me, I had to learn everything the hard, hard way.

I was by now feeling so uncomfortable in my house, (indeed, I felt more and more afraid to leave my own room) that I realized I was experiencing another kind of bullying, different than the direct in your face defiance of Steve, but bullying nonetheless.  For the last 4 months Marge (who had not yet succeeded in finding gainful employment, and who apparently had fallen into depression)  had failed to pay her rent on time. Seeking to solve her problems with booze, she wandered shitfaced around the house on a few occasions.

r8icl5
Elizabeth and her demented hysterics

Elizabeth continued with her hysterics, and spent most of the day in my kitchen “hanging out” in long drama sessions with Marge, and now with Jonathan often there as well, though as someone with actual employment, he was not home during the day and could only hang out with them in the evenings.  A couple times, Elizabeth had had friends over for dinner, and the noise level of these gatherings was disturbing. Once I went downstairs to tell Elizabeth and her two friends to tone it down, and two of them rolled their eyes at me, as if to say, nodding to each other in a condescending and sarcastic tone, “This woman, the one who owns this house, isnt’ she a kick? Don’t you find her just a hoot?  I mean, who does she think she is? The owner of the house or something? !!” 

 

Ultimatim Delivered

In short, I had had quite enough, and my anger started to move me out of the inertia caused by my fear.  I sat down and typed up a letter in which I articulated new rules for use of the kitchen.  There would be no “heavy” conversations here — private matters should be discussed in private, not in common areas.  It was henceforth not allowed to use the kitchen to “hang out”, but the kitchen was ONLY to be used for meal preparation and dining.  No one was permitted to use or be in the kitchen after 10pm.  Renters could not invite more than one guest over at a time, and no more than twice a week.

Jonathan almost immediately approached me expressing his displeasure about the new rules, stating that he did not believe I  was ” allowed” to have such rules.   I would continue to have problems with Jonathan for the next two years, and you will read more about that in Chapter 6 of this story.

Really, the change in rules was the wrong direction to go in that it was too patient.  I should have just given a big black boot in the behind to Elizabeth and Marge (and really Jonathan too!)  and kicked them right out of my house with a round of triple eviction notices.  The truth was, that I had read enough about tenants and evictions at this point, that I was afraid to evict a tenant.  I had heard it was much better to just wait for a tenant to give notice and leave, rather than for the landlord to terminate their tenancy.  However, that really wasn’t true, all things considered.  What I eventually learned, is that the most important thing, is that you as the homeowner are not forced to suffer in your own home, that you don’t allow your renters to cause you to suffer any longer than absolutely necessary.  Anyone who causes you any problem, you get them out right quick.  The quicker the separation the less pain all around.  Delaying in this only causes the situation to escalate and exacerbate.  But I would not really learn this for another 2 or 3 years.

So in the meantime, I talked to tenants — in person, on the phone, by letter.  I changed house rules, I changed visitors policies. Instead of bringing about better behavior, this brought about resentment and some blatant defiance and tit for tat behavior.  If I was going to enforce rules on Elizabeth, Elizabeth wanted to enforce tenants’rights rules on me, and complained that she had a problem with the window in her room that she had mentioned to me about before, and that I’d never fixed it.  So I told her I would do that the next day.

3145xrd
“Get out of my room!” Quoth the Demented dolt

So the next day at mid-day, I knocked on her door, prepared to fix the window.  Hearing no response, I went into the room, and saw she was in there, lying naked on her bed.  She yelled at me to get out, and I said as I turned to go that I had come as promised to fix the window, and she yelled that I had not said I was coming today.  I went out and fumed. I worried that  she would try to use this against me, that I had entered her room when I thought she was gone, and she’d been in there, in bed and unclothed at full noon.

 

Enter: the Legal System, perfect tool of Demented Bullies

I was so upset by now that I knew this all had to end.  I phoned up Elizabeth and told her that it was not working out, having her living at my house, and that she needed to find another place to live.  The next evening, I heard a loud shrieking laughter from the kitchen, and went down and found all three roommates there.   I demanded to know what was going on, and Elizabeth, with a victorious grin on her wicked face,  looked up at the ceiling, where there was a vent cover, and toweling behind it. She pointed up and said there was light coming through the vent, which she said showed that one could see down through the vent from the room above — my room. Elizabeth had now pulled out her cellphone camera and was clicking away, taking photos of my heat vent cover, as if she had found evidence of a crime.  She was convinced there was something not quite right, something suspicious, about this particular heater vent.  I was angry , but I was also fearful and worried.  Because by this point in my landlord apprenticeship, (and I had also assisted a couple other apartment owners with property management functions)  I had heard stories of tenant scammers, and I had realized that anything, and I mean absolutely any trivial innocent thing, can be twisted and distorted by those with motivation to do so.  So I felt sick as I observed Elizabeth gleefully and wickedly laughing, photographing my heat vent cover overhead.  I felt dread and bewilderment, worried what type of unimaginable scam this might lead to.

Marge was sitting at the table drinking wine and shaking her head “no” as if to say, “I can’t believe it.”  I gradually realized that these women, this Demented Duo,  thought I had been spying down on them in the kitchen, through the vent hole in the ceiling!  Of all the idiotic delusions, that took the cake.  I had spoken to them countless times about how little I wanted to hear any of their drama, how embarrassed I was to overhear them, how I wanted them to take their private conversations elsewhere, — and in spite of all that, this Demented Duo thinks I would want to spy on them? And listen in to their appalling, twisted sorority gossip and toxic tawdry drama????!

Surprisingly, Jonathan, in spite of touting himself as an intellectual, just cold hard dry facts, Ma’am, stood there and seemed drawn into this hysteria, as though the fact that Demented Elizabeth really believed something, made it so.  He stood around stiffly, but looked at me with a puzzled expression that suggested that he, too, was quite prepared to fantasize that the local authority figure he and the DooDoo had dismissed and contemptuously ignored, the ruler they were trying to subvert and overthrow, might have retaliated by drilling peepholes in the ceiling or peering down through heater vents to spy on them.  Why it didn’t occur to these nitwits that if I wanted to overhear their garbage, all I had to do was just walk down into my own kitchen and sit down and there and listen to them, I could not fathom.

I sat down next to Marge and started to explain to her the innocent and quite benign purpose of the heating vent duct, but she would have none of it, and just sat there sadly shaking her head, as if she had just been appraised of a massive betrayal of confidence.

It was hard to know how to respond to the demented distortions and delusions these women were capable of.  I just knew I wanted them out of my house as fast as possible.

2cmvfpuThe following day, I got a letter in my mailbox from an attorney, stating that I was to put a copy of my house rules in Elizabeth’s mailbox (each tenant had their own mail box slot in the hallway) by the end of the day.  Frightened, I wondered what in the world was going on now.  I debated, and inquired of friends: should I do as requested, and hope that this would appease the vampire girls, or should I (figuratively) scream fuuuuuuck yoooou!!  

I ended up cooperating with the request.  After the appearance of the legal system into this matter, I was intimidated into retreating, and tried to avoid Elizabeth and Marge as much as possible.  Elizabeth escalated the legal bullying by depositing a note in my mailbox advising me that from this point onward, all communications between us were to be in writing only.

 

The DooDoo is flushed — but it comes back up the toilet

The week thereafter, come a Saturday, I observed a large pickup truck pulling up in front of my home.  I peered out the window and observed Marge and Elizabeth commence to carry out their mutual belongings, and I rejoiced inside, realizing they were moving out.  The truck came and went all day, and I saw them carrying things out all day.  I mostly tried to avoid them, but at one point when I thought they were gone, I went outside to water the plants, leaving the door open behind me,and then I heard them laugh and giggle and close the door, and I realized they had locked me out of my house.

Four days later, I had not seen the Demented Duo ( DooDoo) at all in my house, and had not heard anything from them.  They had not turned in their keys and so I did not know whether they had completed moving out or not.  It would seem reasonable to think that they had completed moving, so I went and looked in their rooms, and noticed that each of them had left about 3 small items in their rooms — a scarf, a bag of trash, a pair of shoes.  I assumed these items were abandoned, but did not want to risk throwing them out.

npqcds
The ghastly gals set about to perpetrate vampirism on the innocent

So I emailed Marge and asked her if she had finished moving, saying that I had noticed some things still in her room.  She emailed me back, saying that it was now clear to her that I had trespassed into her room, but that “given everything else that is under consideration in this matter” this was of less consequence.  A deep black dread built up in the pit of my stomach, as I realized I had been set up.  The DooDoo had set a trap and I had walked right into it. No doubt the Demented Deluded Duo, this pile of stinking toxic DooDoo, had been coached by some sleazebag attorney to intentionally leave a few things in their room, thus to trick me into going into the room, so they could try to sue me for trespassing.

A day later, the DooDoo Duo emailed me, saying that they demanded that their rental agreement be terminated immediately, and that they wanted to come over and collect their security deposit and hand me the keys.  I was conflicted: I didnt’ want to be give their security deposit back right away, but if I said no, they might continue playing this game with me, saying that they hadn’t moved out yet, and in fact, refusing to complete their move and retaining possession of their rooms, playing this demented game for who knows how long.  So I caved in, and made an appointment with them to come get their security deposits back. When they arrived, they had three police officers with them!!! I was flabbergasted — I have no idea what fiction they told the police, that the police would come and accompany them just to collect their security deposit and retrieve the last trash they had left in their rooms.  I felt quite bullied, to have the police come into my home and stand over and watch me as I made out the checks.  In fact, security deposits do not need to returned until 21 days after move out, and failure to do so is not a criminal but a civil matter.

After the DooDoo left with their bizarre police entourage,  I breathed a sigh of relief, hoping that was the last I would see of them.

A couple months later, 30 pages worth of lawsuit arrived in my mailbox.  Every fiction and delusion that one might imagine, was therein contained in this most abusive of documents.  The term “despicable” was cast at me at least two dozen times within this perverse prose.  Reading over this web of lies, and researching online to see what scams various malicious tenants had perpetrated through the legal system that so readily invites scammers and fraudsters to abuse it, I found that it was not unusual to cast at people lawsuits alleging half a million dollars in damages, for injuries which were entirely fictional, for things that never happened, for phantasies dreamt up by vindictive vampire tenants in their hysterical huddles and twisted minds.

2ps2iaa I read of two cases where  women lost their house in foreclosure, both times because the legal system prevented them  from evicting, in a timely manner, those tenants who were not paying rent. I myself knew personally a woman whose tenant  commenced to rip apart her apartment, tearing sheetrock from the walls, toilet from the floor, light fixtures from the ceiling, and who turned a hose on and flooded the entire premises.  The tenant got “free legal aid” and the incredibly unethical attorneys at the  “Eviction Defense Center” fought for this malicious cretin’s right to stay in this woman’s apartment , while continuing to destroy it.  How such hoodlums can sleep at night is beyond me.  It took her over 6 months to get him out, and he was ripping her place apart the entire time. She was left with little more than a heap of rubble. And stinky rubble  at that, because he’d had two dogs in there that were not housebroken and peed on everything.

I read of another case where a woman had been sued by former tenants, with false allegations, and she was unable to pay the $15,000 in judgment that the court case had levied against her, so the tenants’ attorney forced the sale of her home to pay the judgement, and she lost her home to the lies of her former tenants.   In short, it is an understatement to say that the US civil legal system is sick ,it is twisted, it is demented, and it destroys lives.

29leh5d
Lady Justice is Blind and thus easily scammed

The perversity of the US legal system is that there are absolutely no fines, penalties or consequences whatsoever, for hurling at innocent people, any manner of baldfaced lies and false allegations.  At the same time, for the poor homeowner who is sued, there is no way to extract oneself from this virulent and toxic scam, without spending either many thousands of dollars of your own money or that of your home insurer. In short, if you are sued, you have two choices: (1) either you pay, or (2) you pay.  Courts do not throw out frivolous or totally fictitious lawsuits, because the place where whether or not it is true or false is determined, is yet $50,000 away.  Simply put, you cannot afford what it costs to get to the point where you get to try to prove that the shit that’s been cast at you is all lies.  So you have to pay a settlement.  It’s pure extortion, bald and blatant, and the legal system rolls out the red carpet to malicious tenant scammers and says, “come and extort someone — it’s easy if you just plop down a filing fee!!.”  It takes a willing sleazy attorney, of course, to make this work, but there seem to be no shortage of those.

I finally escaped from the vampirism and claws of the toxic, poisonous slime of the lies of the lawsuit, many months later, worn and torn , tired and traumatized, but thankfully with my house still underfoot, something which I had not been certain would be there below me when I went in.  Many have lost much to the jaws of this horrific monster, the law, and so if I say at this point that I have enormous contempt for the law and the legal system, I hope you, gentle reader, will take into account my intimate experience.  And sadly to say, this would not be the first time that I was to encounter this despicable monster that we call the US justice system.  Read more about that in Chapter 6 of this blog!

 

 

 

 

 

tales of hosting

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.