A Question of Legality

Face it, Airbnb and Airbnb hosts have had quite the drenching in accusations of “conducting business illegally.”  People in cities around the world are upset with the spunky corporation, which has grown in size and power quite dramatically, and which began as an illegal arrangement by 3 young guys of the Millennial Generation, to try to make some income renting out a couch to those coming to their city for an event.

couch sharing --- the early Airbnbing
couch sharing — the early Airbnbing

Short term rentals in San Francisco were quite illegal when Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia  and Nathan Blecharczyk began Airbnb in 2008.  In fact, Short term rentals not only remained illegal in San Francisco for 7 years after the founding of Airbnb, until February 2015,  but were actually a criminal matter in many cases — it was a misdemeanor to do short term rentals in some situations.  Short term rentals were illegal in San Francisco, all throughout the time that hosts in San Francisco set up thousands of listings on Airbnb — currently over 7000 listings — until the city passed a law in Feb 2015 which legalized short term rentals in a person’s primary residence.

San Francisco Short term rental law

So, in effect, thousands of people were doing short term rentals on Airbnb for many years,  during which time this was all illegal!!  Now multiply those thousands of people and their listings by many hundreds of cities across the nation, which had similar prohibitions on short term rentals, and what do you have?

Some would say, you most definitely have a scofflaw company, and thousands upon thousands of scofflaw hosts and homeowners.

Others would say, you have a political and social movement, and a compelling phenonmenon.

you have a movement
you have a movement

Your take on this,  depends, of course, on your ability to view laws and regulations in the context of an evolving, changing and adapting society — which are formed to help humankind — rather than as fixed structures and values, rigidly fixed in place and inflexible, to which humankind is enslaved and under the burden of which humans are often squashed.  I think you’ll know at this point by my rhetoric which side I stand on.

A wise guy in the ancient Middle East said it well,

“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”

What do the words of an ancient prophet have to do with Airbnb hosting?  They lend perspective on how we can either use laws to support valuable or benign human endeavors, or to suppress them.

Highly legalistic and literal-minded human beings are unable to get beyond what their families, tribes, or governments tell them, and then to envision new possibilties.  Their level of moral development is at a lower level than those visionary individuals who pursue totally new ideas and start movements.  Actually the study of moral development in human beings is interesting, and I recommend the book  Spiral Dynamics by Don Beck.  He describes how moral development moves along levels called “memes”.  At the lowest level,  you will tribes where everyone has to do what the tribal leaders dictate under pain of ostracism or even death (we see this in the modern day in religious cults and fanatical/terrorist groups like Daesh) , through to more complex societies where diligent literalists mindlessly pursue a set of encoded social mores, values and laws , and on to the highest level, where, if you hadn’t guessed yet — individuals actually think for themselves!!  And in the process, come up with their own moral values, beliefs and decisions, freed from all cultural and poltical “shoulds”.

Many people limited by a legalistic and literalistic mindset,  live in America, a country which would not exist if its founders had obediently followed the law of their British overlords.  Many of these people are , in addition,  Airbnb hosts, who would not be doing Airbnb hosting today, if the founders of AIrbnb had been individuals concerned about always strictly following the letter of the law.  Airbnb would not exist today and no one would be “hosting” today, if its founders had started by consulting the law and the law’s representatives, and had first dutifully gone to their city’s Business Licensing or Zoning office, or into their City Council Chambers,  asking if the city could please change the law because they wanted to start having paying guests stay at their home.  No, had the founders done that , they would have been laughed out of the Council hall.  It was not possible to start this movement by getting right with the then current law.  Rather it was necessary to create a movement sizeable enough to create a significant challenge to these outdated laws.

The point being, many of those who scold others about being sure to cross all t’s and dot all i’s when following the law, are simultaneously enjoying many rights and freedoms, which they would not have if everyone thought like themselves and always took their advice.
Sometimes mass civil disobedience is needed, and the laws of the land need to be violated, and violated by great numbers of people, to accomplish some good and movement forward for all.  Ghandi knew this, and led his people to make salt when this was prohibited.  Making salt…seems a small thing.  So does doing what you want with your own bedroom.

make salt and rent rooms
make salt and rent rooms

 

His government was oppressive in his day, and it continues to be intrusive and nannying in our day.

 

 

There’s a saying that is pertinent, and it goes like this:

Be the Change!!
Be the Change!!

Short term rental laws are a “Moving Target”

What do we get when we have many sets of outdated laws, and a large movement, or phenomenon, of people trying to move society beyond their shortsighted limitations?  What we have is a situation in flux, a “moving target” of regulations as it were.    Hence, it can be misleading to characterize something as “illegal” when in fact it may be illegal today, and quite legal tomorrow, or the reverse — it’s legal today, but will be illegal in 4 months or a year from now.    When “legality” is so rapidly changing, let’s not speak as if it is something set in stone.  The terms legal/illegal are just not that helpful,  and can be  misleading and problematic for a cultural phenomenon which is very much in flux and in regards to which, many cities are in the process of, or planning to, rewrite their regulations.  Particularly in those parts of the world where the regulations on short term rentals have not yet been revisited by their municipalities in the new era of Airbnb hosting, I think it is shortsighted to quote such regulations as if they were definitively authoritative and final.  So, particularly with regard to a phenomenon which is so challenging the status quo (and keep in mind the “status quo” tends to be large commerical operators, eg “hotels”),  it is necessary that we can look beyond simplistic distinctions between black and white, legal and illegal, and envision the future, and how this and other movements fit into the future that we would like to see.

 

Some Regulations on Short Term Rentals are needed

Though the libertartian in me blanches at the thought of any government telling people what they can and cannot do with their own bedrooms,

keep calm and stay out of my bedroom
My Bedroom = Not a place for  government to be intruding

not all short term Airbnb rentals are of bedrooms in the host’s home.  For this reason primarily, I acknowledge there is a point to having fair and reasonable regulations on short term rentals — and in some cities, such regulations have been more necessary than in others.  I see significantly more rationale in governments regulating the use of apartments in large multi-unit buildings, for instance, than in governments regulating property owner’s use of bedrooms in the home they live in.

Quite often, in smaller cities or towns which are not large tourist meccas, and where there are relatively fewer Airbnb or other short term rental (STR) hosts, regulations are not needed because there is simply no problem.  Palo Alto, California is an example of a city which decided that it did not need to visit this issue, as short term rentals had not caused any problems in Palo Alto.  See this story to read about that.

In other cities, such as New York City or New Orleans, which are tourist cities, many individuals have been motivated either to buy up or to rent out properties solely to turn around and offer them as short term rentals, so high is the demand for entire home/apartment short term rentals in these cities.  New York city with liberty statueThis has created some problems for neighbors and neighborhoods.  Where real problems exist for neighborhoods and communities, then we see the rationale for some reasonable regulations.

In sum, what I have been trying to do here, is argue not that laws aren’t needed or that it’s fine for all Airbnb hosts to violate any laws pertaining to their business — but rather, that there is a complexity on the issue of the legality of short term rentals, and there is a larger context, and these things need to be  appreciated. The simpleminded approach of “if it’s illegal you shouldn’t be doing it” just doesn’t apply well to this new phenomenon — which we would do well to recall, is really a very old phenomenon.  Just because there is a law prohibiting something, does not mean that law is right.  Just this year in the US, in June 2015, the US Supreme Court decided the case  Obergefell vs Hodges , and determined, all of a sudden, that gay and lesbian individuals had the right to marry. News of the ruling.  The day before this decision, gay marriage had been prohibited in 13 states. Then the following day it was legal.  The “rightness” of gay marriage did not change all of a sudden on that one day — it had been right all along, it just took the law quite some time to catch up.  A similar situation applies to short term rentals.

Difference between city/state/regional laws and contracts 

15s0zf4Sometimes when this issue of legality arises, in conjunction with short term rentals,  confusion can arise between citizen’s obligations to regulations/laws of their governments, on the one hand, and their own responsibilities and obligations to private individuals or organizations that they have via contracts with those individuals/entities, on the other.  While it can be pointed out that government regulations on short term rentals are often unclear, outdated, or in a state of flux, and thus the duty that citizens have to this nebulous and changing body of law can be seen as qualified by their very ephemeral nature, (and/or their unjustness) the contractual agreements we have with private individuals or entities are of a different order.  These private agreements were entered into willingly (unlike government regulations, which are often imposed upon individuals who have no say in the matter) and are more ethically compelling than government regulations.  212we8oWhich is to say, that in my view, a tenant’s obligation to their landlord, or a condo owner’s obligation to their condo association, is of a different moral order or nature, than that same tenant’s or condo owner’s obligation to their government.  We can speak of “civil disobedience” with regard to unfair government regulations, but we cannot speak of “civil disobedience” with regard to an individual with whom we have entered into a private business contract.

A reasonable approach 

I’d like to suggest that a reasonable approach to short term rentals, requires starting with the perspective that the existing laws on this issue, in most cities, are simply out of date and irrelevant to modern times.   As some have said, “The Sharing Economy is here to stay”.  (I admit, the term “Sharing Economy” isn’t the best to refer to micro-entrepreneurial enterprises.  “Peer to Peer Economy” is a better phrase.” )  Hence, cities should not be enforcing out of date laws, but either deciding not to regulate short term rentals, where these cause no problems,or working to pass new regulations which are fair and reasonable.

Berkeley, California is a good example of a city taking a common sense approach.  The city of Berkeley_image_towerBerkeley refused to enforce existing law prohibiting short term rentals, when city officials realized that the Airbnb phenomenon was as large as it was — meaning, there were hundreds of short term rental hosts in that city.  It was a movement.  So the city set about to create new short term rental laws, and while it was doing that, refused to enforce the old, outdated laws that it was working to rewrite — a very reasonable and practical approach, and one more cities should emulate. People complaining to Berkeley’s Code Enforcement or Zoning Dept about those doing short term rentals, were out of luck, as they were met with the response that Berkeley was not enforcing those laws.

By contrast, the author of    This Story   about Airbnb hosts in Roanoke, VA, doesn’t seem to appreciate the wisdom of the position  that Berkeley took on the issue, and  illustrates the foolishness of the belief that cities should enforce those laws which are rapidly on their way out.

This refusal by the City of Berkeley to enforce laws which were on their way out, was also wise in that it prevented many people from using these laws simply to bully their neighbors — something which wise government leaders will acknowledge, that miscreant neighbors like to do.  There were numerous complaints coming into the city of Berkeley from one particular individual, a tenant in a large apartment building,  who seemed to have a vendetta against someone.   He wrote long pages of letters to the City Council and Planning Commission, urging the most drastic and draconian of penalties be applied to an individual who was actually no longer even doing short term rentals, but long term rentals listed on Airbnb.  He urged huge fines and asked for criminal penalties as well, for these individuals.  One City of Berkeley Planning Commissioner responded to this tenant’s salacious desire to see others slapped with criminal penalties, by quipping,  “Why don’t we just bring back the firing squad?!!” Actually, New York City has just about done that, by suggesting that those who violate its short term rental laws, be  subject to $50,000 fines !!

Affordable housing — problems and solutions  

It is worth mentioning, in this context, that the juxtaposition of two emerging phenomena, is resulting in a degree of irrational animosity towards Airbnb hosting, which would be unlikely in another context.  At the same time that short term rental hosting on Airbnb and other venues is emerging, we have a housing crisis,  and in particular, an affordable housing crisis, in many areas of the nation and world.  Many who are upset about the lack of housing or affordable housing, readily blame Airbnb and short term rentals for this problem, even though the housing crisis has been in the making for many decades.  Airbnb is a convenient scapegoat for a problem which is complex, and many-sided.  This battle and this animosity have recently been seen in sharp relief in San Francisco, home to Airbnb headquarters, and also home to many organizations with goals of promoting affordable housing, stopping evictions, offering greater protections to tenants, and strengthening rent control laws — though it remains to be seen just how rent control laws could be strengthened in the city which, of all places in the world, may well have the most extreme degree of tenant protections and rent control laws on the planet.  Many SF property owners have a hard time in this setting  , and there are many stories of abuse and exploitation of rent control laws by tenants.  There have already been many horror stories of property owners who were unable to move into their own homes, such as in this such as in this case of a small SF landlord ,or who have had to pay a king’s ransom to do so.  Just how such laws could be tipped even more in favor of tenants who seem to have more rights to the properties they live in, than the owners themselves, remains to be seen.

In any case, unable to find any easy target to blame for the escalating rents in the nation’s most expensive rental market, many of these organizations have decided that Airbnb is to blame, and duly cited a few hundred “rogue” hosts who are apparently doing illegal rentals of apartments which they dont’ actually live in.  The point seems to escape these tenant and affordable housing  organizations, that if and when (I think it will be “when” and not “if”)  these property owners are forced to stop doing short term rentals of these properties, they are unlikely to then kindly offer these units as permanent  housing to some of the tenant activists who have been so ardently castigating them and attempting to wrest control of their properties away from them.    Instead, such owners are much more likely to  allow these units to join the other 31,000 other rental units which have been taken completely off the market in San Francisco by their owners, due to those owner’s desire not to be hemmed in by what they and many others experience as exceptionally oppressive rent control laws.  See one such story here . Or read here a story of an owner who is being bullied by his tenant   . Or, they may offer those units as “medium term rentals” on  Sabbatical Homes , which would allow them to fulfill all legal requirements, and not do short term rentals, but not allow their units to be available as anyone’s permanent housing, thus finding a way to avoid the rent control laws they despise.    There have been a few news stories showing that property owners are often doing just this.

Hence,  I think it’s unlikely that property owners are going to be forced into doing any kind of business with their properties that they dont’ want to be doing.  So I think viable strategies for solving the housing crisis and the affordable housing crisis, cannot be made through violent efforts to force property owners to do what they dont’ want to do.  There must be (and I believe there are!) other solutions to the housing crisis, than developing more and more oppressive regulations for property owners.

(I will write more about Airbnb hosting , the crisis in housing/affordable housing, and why I believe rent control is an outdated and increasingly useless means of creating affordable housing,  in another blog. So stay tuned!)

Offering short term rentals, or any type of rentals, is actually an affordable housing solution both for homeowners, as well as for tenants who have permission to sublet.  Renters are not the only ones who need affordable housing, and help affording their housing — homeowners also need affordable housing, and renting out space in homes has been a means to access affordable housing,  long before Airbnb arose — though the popularity of Airbnb hosting with homeowners is hearkening us back to the 19th century in America, when “putting up boarders” was much more common.  (This will also be a subject for another blog).

The types of accomodations that travelers choose are changing in this country, and housing is also changing.  I expect that we will continue to see many changes in terms of how people are housed, and how they use their housing.  In the midst of all of these changes, how likely is it for the law to always remain rigid and inflexible, unchanging in spite of the rapid change of society?  Let’s take the perspective that laws need to change as our society changes, and continue to push for changes that can easily be viewed as restoring older rights and customs,  ways of traveling and housing travelers, that existed for centuries before there were hotels.

Travelers Come Back Home

Mary and Joseph
The original Airbnb-ers

You know all those hoteliers who are getting upset about the competition they are getting from hosts in private residences?  Well hotels didn’t used to exist.  In antiquity, all travellers stayed in private residences.   As time went on, hotels took the travelling guest business away from private residences, and many cities reified and codified this change by developing zoning laws that helped hotels retain their monopoly.  Now we are returning to some of the same form of ancient hospitality we used ot have, and so the hotels’ monopoly on this business is being broken.

And therein lies a story for another blog!

 

 

 

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Tales of a Hermit Host

If you read about it in the news, being an Airbnb host seems like an extroverted undertaking — you do it because you want to meet people!!  Well,maybe you do it because you need the extra income…but you still want to meet people!!  Welcome them in, chat them up, even invite them to have dinner with you and your family or go out for drinks at the local pub and find a new friend.
So what if…you dont’ want to spend a lot of time with your guests? What if you actually….like to be alone?  I mean, what if you really like to be alone! Well maybe not entirely alone, as being alone with books is always a delicious experience.

 

And if they thought her aimless, if they thought her a bit mad, let them. It meant they left her alone. Marya was not aimless, anyway. She was thinking.”                                                                                     hermit with books

                                    Ryokan

                 “Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.”
Ryokan

 

I’ve always loved to be alone.  Problem is, I live in a time and place where housing is expensive.  If I were wealthy,  I would love to live in my house all alone.   Oh, I would relish having all that space! Ironically, I have a large house, but my private living quarters are not inordinately spacious, nor are they elaborate , and much of my own rooms’ decor and setup is downright simple.    All so that I can make room for others in my home…others who I want….but do I want them, or just tolerate them?

It’s a curious question, how one who is by nature very introverted and solitary,  a hermit, adapts to living with others.  What are my real feelings and thoughts about this situation?

Honestly, I don’t mind having others around, just as long as  they are not too close . I like hearing the sound of footsteps below, the sound of water running or dishes clanging on the other side of the house, or the murmur of a conversation going on somewhere on my property.  These are comforting sounds, reminding me that I am part of the human community, and I think my comfort with them, indicates I’m not a misanthrope.  I like knowing there are people in my house, and I like knowing that I don’t have to be there right beside them, forced into interaction, severed from my interior process and my imaginal journeys.  I can be part of the human community, but not imposed upon.  How beautiful and different this, from being stuck in a roomful of people or in a large crowd, with no escape in sight! That is a real nightmare for an introvert!

crowds yecch
not fun for the introvert

One way that I adapt is by defining very clearly, the nature of my house and the type of setting I am intentionally creating — which, if it cannot resemble a monastery, can at least resemble a retreat atmosphere, where spiritually oriented retreatants come to silently share the same space. They dont’ come to the retreat primarily to play card games and have dinner together, or chat over a bottle of wine.  THey dont’ come to retreat to watch TV and play video games. They don’t even come to go on vacation in that area and use the retreat setting just as a hotel room.   They come with an inner purpose, a purpose having to do with their inner life — or, failing that, at least they come with a project to do,that benefits from a quiet space that they can do it in.  You see, I’d love to have only spiritual retreatants at my house, but there aren’t enough of them.

retreatants in retreat hall
Spiritual practice in a quiet sanctuary
stillness in the forest
stillness in the forest

 

So I invite guests to a retreat setting, hoping to inspire them to want to be retreatants, but knowing that many of them are not interested in spiritual practice.  Still, I hope being in the peaceful setting that I offer, might rub off on them, to inspire them.

Another way I manage , as a hermit in a home with others, is to carefully and firmly carve out private space and private time, within my household. I need large blocks of time to be alone, to engage in creative pursuits.  Generally, the mornings are most productive for me to do meditation, spiritual study, creative writing and art.  I try not to emerge from my “hermitage” until about 10am. One of the difficulties in this respect in having others in my home, is that there are invariably chores to be done, that require me to go out — and often in the morning — such as feeding the backyard fowl, or taking out trash, watering the plants.  I find that when I go out of my private space, it can be stressful if I am in a creative mindframe or a trance state, and I have to interact with others about mundane matters.  For instance someone asking where they laundry machine is, or how they can get to a grocery store.  It’s even harder if I encounter a bubbly guest who is eager not only to chat, but wants to sit down and have a long conversation with me, just at the time when I most need to be alone.  This may be difficult to appreciate,  for someone who isn’t themselves an introvert, or who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a creative state or a state of mind that is “miles away” from discussions about grocery stores or laundry.  Some who are not able to appreciate the stress here,  may be likely to snap,

“Well, if you find it to be so difficult to engage in chit-chat, why are you having others in your home, why not live as a recluse in a cottage deep in the the forest somewhere?”

Which is the kind of nasty comment I had to endure from many an apartment neighbor, during the years I was a tenant, living in apartment buildings.  If you think it’s hard to be a hermit in your own home in the city, try having to do it in an apartment building!  It’s enough to start a war, to have hermitage needs in a multiunit apartment building.   Oh yes, I’d love to live deep in a forest somewhere, but I haven’t yet figured out the finances.   Then too, I think we need spiritual nourishment in the city, and we need to have people living in urban places who are calling others to quietude.  Even if some may resent hearing that call.

So what actually happens when I have guests over to my home-cum-hermitage?

Mostly, things go surprisingly well.  I seek and obtain a lot of independent guests, who have things to do when they come to town, so they aren’t oriented to “hanging out” at my house.  I only do single occupancy, one person per room, which greatly helps minimize noise, as it cuts down on conversations.  One person in a room is generally far quieter than two.  I have quiet hours, after which point, I dont’ allow cellphone conversations in the house.  This too helps keep the atmosphere quiet.  I dont’ allow guests to have visitors over, and again, this helps clarify that my intention is  not to create an environment for socializing, but a nurturing setting for relaxation or inner work.2yxejxv

One difficulty that I’ve had in the past with being solitary and needing privacy, but having others in my home, was the tendency of longer term renters (roommates) to appropriate the common spaces as theirs.  I was alone in my private space so often, that I appeared not to “own” or possess the common areas, which were far more often occupied by my roommates.  I found this to be a very serious problem with roommates, much less so with short term guests, which is why I now prefer short term renters.  The problem that arises, when one is often hidden in one’s own home, is that the owner’s absence gives the renters a feeling of license to ignore the owner’s requests and rules of the domicile, and to do as they please.  THe result, for me, was quite often that I ended up being bullied in my own home.

 

not nice to be bullied in your own home                 bully image

 

So having guests over at my house, actually became a solution for this hermit.  It meant an end to bullying, as it meant that there was much less likelihood I would venture out into the kitchen, and discover that it had been taken over by a “gang”, a gang of “roomies”  who might say hello, but the tone in the “hello” was clearly one of  “Welcome into MY kitchen!”

It was a lovely thing indeed to get the last of these roommates out of my house for good, and declare that my house was no longer a “residence” for anyone but myself.  From this point forward, I was going to be the only permanent resident of my own home, and everyone else staying here would be a guest.  Once in a while I do get inquiries from guests who say that they would love to stay for either a week or a year, and I get a little worried about that.  It’s nice to have folks appreciate what I am offering, but no more roommates, please!!

 

retreat center cabin with chairsYou’re welcome to visit but not to stay….

 

 

Xenia and Theoxeny

Hosts  like to say that Home Sharing is as old as the story of Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Actually it is older. It occurs to me that the subject of receiving guests at one’s home, and the theme of hospitality, must be a theme in many an ancient myth. So I set out to find some.

I found a few ancient gods (pagan deities, pre-dating Mary, Joseph and Jesus) associated with hospitality.

Empanada was the Roman Goddess of Hospitality:

www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/empanada.html

Empanada

And Nephele was the Greek Goddess of Hospitality:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nephele

Nephele is the seated figure here

As well,  Zeus in his role as Zeus Xenios was the protector of travelers. In the Odyssey, we read:

zeus

Zeus is the protector of suppliants and guests
Zeus Xeinios, who attends to revered guests

 

Xenia, the ancient Greek concept of Hospitality

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenia_(Greek)

From WIKIPEDIA:

Xenia (Greek: ξενία, xenía, trans. “guest-friendship”) is the ancient Greek concept of hospitality, the generosity and courtesy shown to those who are travelers who’ve wandered far from home, or who may be the associates of the person bestowing guest-friendship. The rituals of hospitality in Greece created and expressed a reciprocal relationship between guest and host expressed in both material benefits (such as the giving of gifts to each party) as well as non-material ones (such as protection, shelter, favors, or certain  rights).

The Greek god Zeus is sometimes called “Zeus Xenios” in his role as a protector of travelers.  He represented  the religious obligation to be hospitable to travelers. Theoxeny or theoxenia is a theme in Greek mythology in which humans demonstrate their virtue or piety by extending hospitality to a humble stranger (xenos), who turns out to be a disguised deity (theos) with the capacity to bestow rewards. These stories caution mortals that any guest should be treated as if they were a hidden divinity and help establish the idea of xenia as a  Greek custom. The term theoxenia also covered entertaining among the gods, a popular subject in classical art, which was revived at the Renaissance in works depicting a Feast of the Gods.

Xenia consists of two basic rules:

(1)The respect from host to guest. The host must be hospitable to the guest and provide him/her with food and drink and a bath, if required. It is not polite to ask questions until the guest has stated his/her needs.
(2) The respect from guest to host. The guest must be courteous to the host and not be a burden.
Xenia was considered to be particularly important in ancient times when people thought gods mingled among them. If one had poorly played host to a stranger, there was the risk of incurring the wrath of a god disguised as the stranger. It is thought that the Greek practice of theoxenia may have been the antecedent of the Roman rite of Lectisternium, or the draping of couches.

While this particular origin of the practices of guest-friendship are centralized around the divine, however, it would become common practice among the Greeks to incorporate xenia into their customs and manners for very much all of ancient Greek history. Indeed, while originating from mythical traditions, xenia would very much become a standard practice throughout much (if not, all) of Greece as customarily proper in the affair of men interacting with men as well as men interacting with the Gods.

Xenia in Homer’s Odyssey

Xenia is an important theme in Homer’s The Odyssey. Every household in the epic is seen alongside xenia. Odysseus’ house is inhabited by suitors with demands beyond the bounds of xenia — in other words, RUDE GUESTS!. Menelaus and Nestor’s houses are seen when Telemachus visits. There are many other households observed in the epic, including those of Circe, Calypso, and the Phaeacians. The Phaeacians, and in particular Nausicaä, were famed for their immaculate application of xenia, as the princess and her maids offered to bathe Odysseus and then led him to the palace to be fed and entertained. It should be noted, however, that because Odysseus was indirectly responsible for Poseidon’s sinking one of their ships, the Phaeacians resolved to be less trusting of subsequent travelers. However, Polyphemus showed lack of xenia, despite Odysseus reminding him of it, and refused to honor the travelers’ requests, instead eating some of Odysseus’ men. BAD GUEST!!   The suitor Ctesippus mocks xenia by hurling a hoof, disguised as a ‘gift,’ at Odysseus. When he is speared by Philoetius, the cowherd claims this avenges his disrespect. Book 1 has Telemachus showing xenia to the disguised Athena. Eumaeus the Swineherd shows xenia to the disguised Odysseus, claiming guests come under the protection of Zeus. When the leading suitor Antinous throws a stool at the disguised Odysseus and strikes his right shoulder as he asks for food, even the other suitors are worried, saying Antinous is ‘doomed’ if the stranger is a disguised god. As well as this, whenever Homer describes the details of ‘xenia,’ he uses the same formula every time: for example, the maid pouring wine into the gold cups, etc.

In the Odyssey, Calypso had wanted to keep Odysseus in her cavern as her husband, but he refused. Circe had also tried to keep Odysseus in her home, but her attempts failed as well. Although both these women had homes and much to offer him, their hospitality was too much for Odysseus. He instead left each with the goal of returning to Ithaca and reclaiming his family and his home. Sometimes Hospitality was unwanted or was given unwillingly.

Historian Gabriel Herman lays out the use of xenia in political alliances in the Near East.

Solemn pronouncements were often used to establish a ritualised personal relationship, such as when “Xerxes, having been offered lavish hospitality and most valuable gifts by Pythios the Lydian, declared “…in return for this I give you these privileges (gera): I make you my Xenos. …the same set of words could be applied in non-face-to-face situations, when a ruler wished to contract an alliance through the intermediary of messengers.” Herman points out that this is correspondent to pacts made by African tribal societies studied by Harry Tegnaeus (in his 1952 ethno-sociological book Blood Brothers) where “the partners proclaim themselves in the course of the blood ceremony each other’s ‘brothers’, ‘foster-brothers’, ‘cousins’. The surviving treaties of ‘fraternity’ ‘paternity’ and ‘love and friendship’ between the petty rules of the ancient Near East in the second half of the second millennium B.C. incorporate what are probably written versions of such declarations.” (Herman also sees an echo of this in the medieval ceremony of homage, in the exchange between a would-be-vassal and the lord.)

Herman goes on to point out “No less important an element in forging the alliance was the exchange of highly specialized category of gifts, designated in our sources as xénia (as distinct from xenía, the term of the relationship itself) or dora. It was as important to give such gifts as to receive, and refusal to reciprocate as tantamount to a declaration of hostility. Mutual acceptance of the gifts, on the other hand, was a clear mark of the beginning of friendship.” Herman points to the account of Odysseys giving Iphitos a sword and spear after having been given a formidable bow while saying they were “the first toke of loving guest-friendship”. Herman also shows that Herodotus holds “the conclusion of an alliance and the exchange of gifts appeared as two inseparable acts: Polykrates, having seized the government in Samos, “concluded a pact of xenia with Amasis king of Egypt, sending and receiving from him gifts (dora)”. Within the ritual it was important that the return gift be offered immediately after receiving a gift with each commensurate rather than attempting to surpass each other in value. The initial gifts in such an exchange would fall somewhere between being symbolic but useless, and of high use-value but without any special symbolic significance. The initial gifts would serve as both object and symbol. Herman points out that these good were not viewed as trade or barter, “for the exchange was not an end in itself, but a means to another end.” While trade ends with the exchange, the ritual exchange “was meant to symbolize the establishment of obligations which, ideally, would last for ever.”

Hospitality in other ancient societies

In ancient Ireland, hospitality was not only a courtesy, but a legal requirement, and the inhospitable were bitterly criticized. (Hospitable God: THe Transformative Dream, pg 31) With the coming of Christian Monasteries, guest houses were created for guests. Welsh folklore reflected an equally high estimation of hospitality, and Julius Caesar, traveling in Teutonic lands, recorded the serious demands of hospitality among the Teutons, as did Mauricius among the Slavs.

In the Slavic Lands, Ragegast was the deity associated with hospitality:

www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk/divinity_of_the_day/slavic/radegast.asp

the god Radegast

Ivan Hudec, in his book, “Tales from Slavic Myths” (page 104) says that in ancient times, Prince Helmhold wrote this in the Slavic Chronicle (or Chronica Slavorum, written by Helmhold in the 12th century) :

There are no other people like the Slavs for extending their hospitality to strangers.

Hudec says that the Slavic people were extremely generous to their guests, and didn’t wait for guests to request something before offering it.  He says that “if a member of the Slavic community was exposed as reluctant to welcome a stranger at his home, such a host could expect to have his abode set on fire. Moreover, those reluctant to offer hospitality would be “condemned in public for having denied bread to a stranger.”

Of course, this was long ago, in days before hotels existed, and when travellers relied more heavily on the hospitality of those whose regions they passed through, than is the case today.  And though the hospitality we refer to in this article was given without expectation of compensation in exchange, it remains true that welcoming “strangers” into one’s home, whether they are paying guests or not, is a form of hospitality which has its connections and  roots to these ancient times.

 

Goodbye to Roommates!! Chapter One: Evicted by My Tenants!

photo 1 (14) Ah the freedom!!!

 

There are many different reasons people become Airbnb hosts.  For some, it’s the desire to meet people from around the world, and gain insights into different cultures.  For others, it’s a way to combat loneliness and a sense of the “Same Old”.  For many it’s about money.  But there is still another subset, and I think not a small one, for whom being Airbnb hosts opens up a wonderful new opportunity — the ability to get rid of one’s roommates.

You see, not all of us are so fortunate as to have never needed additional income, in order to pay our rent or mortgage.  Yes, we would love to live alone, or just with our partner or family, but for us that isn’t possible.  So we have needed to rent out a room, or two.  Back in the day, this always meant getting a roommate (or two).  There were many adventures and misadventures which would subsequently ensue, going in that direction.

We are looking for someone who is broke and messy
We are looking for someone who is broke and messy

I came to realize, that there is hardly a better way to learn how bad some people can be, than to bring them into your own home to live with you.  Many people you might meet in various social settings, might seem just fine to you, until you invite them to come live with you in your house, and follow your rules.
Now all chaos may break loose.  The would-be roommate who politely answered your ad, dutifully reported for a meeting on time, and promised that they would be clean and quiet and follow all your house rules, can readily turn into quite another beastie, once you tell them, that the house rules will actually apply to them!  They were fine with every detail, you see, except they weren’t expecting that your rules would actually apply to them.  They thought, I guess, that this was merely a formality to go through, idle chat, just you needing to talk about policy and decorum and cleanliness and the rest, to pass the time and fill in the space.  Or maybe they believed that these rules you had, would only apply to them during their first few days or weeks….and then forgeddabouddit once they settle in for the long haul.  Because you have noticed a disturbing phenomenon taking place with a disturbing number of roomies.  They follow rules dutifully for , eh, maybe the first few weeks. Then after that, a new set of assumptions comes into play.  Now, they start feeling comfortable, you see.  Now, you see, your home is their home too. And here precisely is where the battle lines begin to be drawn.

Now you have another beastie altogether on your hands.

monster child
Now you have quite another beastie on your hands

Many people have actually been quite fortunate with roommates — maybe they found a friend to move in with them,  got lucky with a very polite person right off the bat, or maybe they are rather “laid back” and loosey-goosey about how they run their house, (so that it doesn’t really matter if roommates dont’ clean out the tub because the tub is always rancid looking)  — or perhaps they have their head in the sand and dont’ actually know what is going on in their home.  I have run into many who are still in this “honeymoon phase” of having roommates, and feeling that it works well.  Well, bless them, it works for them!

Others, like myself, find that things go badly with roommates right off the bat.  So let me tell you my story, which will help you understand why I was never so glad, as on that day when I got the last roommate out of my house.

This story will be told in seven parts, or chapters.  Note that the names of the roommates have been changed, to protect the guilty. A few other identifying details have been altered, but otherwise, this whole story is true, and records my stories with roommates over the course of many years.

A Dream Come True: A Chance to own my own Home

While I was a renter myself (which was for most of my adult life), I never had a roommate, as I always had my own small apartment.  That was in the days when rents were still affordable in my area!  So I had a series of studios and  one-bedroom apartments, all to myself, and it was heavenly.  This wasn’t to say I didn’t have problems with my apartment neighbors from time to time, and sometimes quite serious problems, but to be able to lock the door and go into one’s own private space, 2zfr5nrwas very helpful.  Indeed it was incredibly rejuvenating.

But for several years, I had longed to have my own home — yet I had always  wondered if I would ever be able to afford such a thing.  Just as the desire to have my own home rose most intensely, there came a point, synchronistically (I am a believer in synchronicities) where a friend of mine, call her Rachel,  had a house she wanted to sell, as she was leaving the country.   With help from my parents for the down payment, I managed to get a loan, and bought the house, a charming old Victorian home in an urban setting.  My friend had been an absentee landlord, living elsewhere while renting the house out to tenants, and she knew that I needed roommates to be able to afford my mortgage.  So I bought the house with the tenants in it, and figured they would become my roommates.  That I had not had roommates since college, worried me a little, but I figured that if it was my own house where I had the roommates, surely I would not have any problems with this arrangement.  I could hardly have been more mistaken.

As soon as the sale was closed, Rachel and I made an appointment to go over to my new home, and meet the tenants.  Who in an instant had gone from being her tenants, to my tenants.  We arrived, and convened around the large  kitchen table, and these tenants, all three of them,  expected to hear the announcement that I had bought the house and would be living offsite in another home somewhere else, just as their landlord and my friend Rachel had done all these years.  They thought that it would be no big deal, just sending their checks to a new person, and maybe a bit of a rent increase.

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Tenant to Homeowner:  “But it be MYYYY house!”

So when they heard that I planned to move into “their” house, there were some shocked expressions, and then some angry faces.

Obviously, if I was going to move into my own home, I needed a bedroom to move into, but all the bedrooms were currently occupied by tenants.  I had already decided in advance which room I would occupy, and so when I sat at this table with my new tenants (call them Melinda, Joshua,   and Natalie) and made this announcement to them, making it clear that someone would have to move out so that I could move in, Joshua, who rented the room I intended to occupy,  angrily insisted that “that is MY room!!”  He insisted that as the senior tenant at the house he had seniority. What, did he think he had “seniority” over me, the owner of the house???  Everything about his tone and his demeanor, seemed to suggest so.   That was the first of many eye-opening and heart-sinking moments, when I realized that owning a home was going to be a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.

My tenants Don’t Want me around

After I announced to the tenant trio that I would be moving in, and occupying Joshua’s room (which was the largest one), I felt a coolness in their demeanor towards me.  I hadn’t announced just yet on what date I would be moving in, but I felt a real urge to start cleaning up the yard, as the whole house and yard were in a significant state of neglect.     Because there were three of them, it made most sense to me that instead of communicating everything three times, once to each of them, I would just write one note to all of them.  I gave them notes informing them of when I would be coming over to do yardwork, and what I would be doing.  I came to trim vines, which had taken over the entire side of one house — Melinda complained crossly, that the massive overgrowth of vines was the only thing had given her privacy, and that now without the vines, the neighbors could see into her window!!  I guess she had never heard of blinds, curtains and shades.  I came another time to paint the front stairs, which were horribly peeling, and was greeted by Melinda’s complaint that the paint color I had chosen was awful.  Simply awful.  

It was around this time that I began to feel seriously unwelcome in my own home.  My attention to the neglectful garden was viewed as instrusive, 30x7axw

my removal of garbage and old car parts from the yard was mean-spirited, my decision to erect a nice wood fence to replace a sagging and pitiful chainlink fence, was arrogant and tyrannical.  And moreover, I was not supposed to send them one note for all of them to read, but instead had to either phone up each one of them separately, or complete all letters in triplicate so they would be duly triply informed.  I felt like at this point, there was nothing I could do that would not be viewed negatively by the unhappy trio.   Clearly they were not happy that I planned to move into my own home, and they finally told me, in so many words, that they did not want me coming over at all.    At the same time, in a phone conversation I had with Joshua, he began to talk to me about “code violations” in the house.   I felt my stomach just about fall out of my gut at this point, since I began to sense legal problems on the horizon.

With a heavy heart and a leaden gut, I flipped through the yellow pages, looking under “landlord attorneys” and made a few phone calls.  I had the sense that I was getting into something I needed help with, and my friend Rachel, who had sold me the house, wanted nothing to do with me when I told her of some of the problems I had started to have with her “good tenants.”  She suggested I wasn’t communicating with them very well.  Right, yeah.  Maybe the notes in triplicate would have done the trick and all would have been fine and dandy.  In reality, Rachel had set me up, and she probably knew it.  She had intentionally omitted telling her tenants that the person she was going to sell the house to, was planning to move in, because she didn’t want them bailing on her and moving out when she still needed their rent.  So she left me to do the dirty work, with the result that I took the fall.  I was the bad guy, the scapegoat, the bad landlord.

So I found a local landlord attorney, and set up an appointment.  The attorney agreed with me that the mention of “code violations” was a suggestion that I could have problems.

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Landlord attorney: “You might just have a little problem there.”

We went through my options.

Trying to sit down and talk rationally with the tenants did not seem very productive, as our relations had grown so strained.

I could serve eviction papers on the tenants, but evictions are more complicated when the property owner does not actually live on the site.  Owner move-in evictions are quite legal, but the process could be time consuming and potentially expensive if they fought the evictions.

Alternatively,  my attorney smiled at me, I could just move in.  Owners who live in the same house as the tenants they are trying to evict, have advantages in the process.  My eyes lit up at that last suggestion — could I really just move in?  Yes, he argued — after all there was a free room in the house, the living room.  It even had a door, so it could be used as a private room.  I began to feel excited, as I felt that a solution was right on the horizon, and all this ghastly feeling of being treated like a pariah at my own house, was going to come to an end.  I was going to just …bust in and live in my own house! Imagine it!   I  dont’ think I imagined that this would result in the trio liking me any better, but it did make me think I would not feel quite so powerless on my own property.  I felt that if I was right there living in my own house with them, it would be a lot harder for them to treat me so badly…much less to tell me that they didn’t want me coming around!!!

I Bust into my Own House

So, I arranged to come over one day, saying I was going to fix the lock on the living room door.  In fact I came over to install a lock on the living room door, and I had a workman friend help me with that.  331zs69Once I had the lock installed, I moved some of my things into the room, as the tenants looked on, incredulous.  My tenants were horrified that I was moving in with them.  They told me I could not do that.  They stared at me, they glared at me.  They did not want me as their roommate.  I felt afraid, and very uncomfortable as well, because as you my gentle reader may imagine, as it is just appalling to be moving into the home one has just bought, under these conditions, where you are so unwanted there.  Nevertheless, Rachel had refused to help or for that matter even listen to me, my other friends were totally boggled and slackjawed about the whole affair, hardly any help at all at any point, and so I had no one helping me but an attorney and this is what my attorney had said to do. To just move on in.

Well, I moved in and then left again.  I suppose I was walking around that afternoon wondering what it would be like to sleep in my house, with so much hate there.  Then I recieved a phone call from one of my tenant trio.  It was Melinda.  She was calling me, she said, “Just to inform you that your things are out on the porch.” My things are just out on the porch…what????? I quickly drove back over to my house, and my God, if my tenant trio hadnt’ busted into my new room, the living room, taken all my belongings out of there, and put them outside on the front porch,

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Please — this is my house — don’t lock me out…

and then, to top it all off, they had had a locksmith come over and changed the locks on the front door.  They had locked me out of my own house!!  

If my stomach had felt like lead before, and if I had been feeling stressed before, nothing could compare to how I felt when I drove over to my house and found my things out on the front porch…having been evicted by my own tenants! I called the police, dialing 911, and expected to get some help…but I was shocked to find out, when the police arrived…that they had already been over there earlier that day!  It was the police who had told the tenants it was fine to remove my things from my house! The police had authorized my tenants to evict me from my own home.  Who can beat that?  I mean how could things get much worse than this.  I was feeling so despondent and hurt, that I could hardly summon up the energy or anger, to argue with the police when they said to me,  in essence, “Lady, you dont’ live here, so go home!”  I did go home, to the apartment where I still lived, and that night while I was there, I could hardly sleep.

Side note:  Now it may well be the case that I could have  just ignored what the police said, and just had the locksmith come over again, and broke right back into my own house!.  The police are well known for trying to interfere in matters that are not really their jurisdiction, and in this matter I believe the law was actually completely on my side.  These tenants had not rented the entire home from my friend Rachel, their original landlord — they each had separate rental agreements, one each for each of the rooms they occupied.  Therefore they actually had no authority, nor did the police, to bar me from moving into a room that none of them had rented — the living room.  The police often try to dictate on civil matters where they have no authority to do so.    If the tenants didn’t like it that I was moving into my own home, they were free to sue me, but in my view, the police were not free to authorize them to evict me.  However, after being evicted from my house, I definitely did not feel like taking on the police force, and so I did not consider trying to get back in.  And ultimately, as it turned out, not escalating with the tenants on this matter was the best decision for me to make. 

That evening, feeing traumatized and weak, I tried to call Rachel and talk about what her tenants had done, but she wouldn’t listen to me and told me it must have been my poor communication skills. Poor communication skills my ass, I said, they evicted me from my own house.    I think Rachels’ reply was that I shouldnt’ have moved in.  So you buy a house and then you dont’ move into it, because your tenants tell you that you can’t, that it is their house!?!  

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Locked out and looking in

If I recall right,  Rachel finally hung up on me that evening and that was pretty much the end of our friendship.  That night was a Scotch Whiskey night, I think Whisky was the only friend I had that night.

I was sitting there the next morning, feeling incredibly awful, contemplating turning right around and selling my house again, when I received word from my tenant Melinda — she was giving notice, she would be moving out.  Then before the day was over, Joshua also gave notice that he was moving out.  I called up my smartass attorney Richard, the one who had gotten me into all this trouble, and told him the story.  I related it to him about the police and everything, my things moved in, my things moved out again, and he seemed to know the punchline.  When I told him two of my tenants had now given notice, the day after, he said, “See…I told you it would work.”  So I had been set up again!  First I was set up by Rachel, who sold me the house, leaving me to take the fall as the bad guy for buying a house that I wanted to move into. Then my attorney Richard, set me up to do a move-in that he had seemed to know in advance, would not actually work, but which succeeded in disturbing my tenants so much, that they gave notice anyway, that they were moving out.  I felt thoroughly manipulated, but I also felt like the sun might just be starting to shine on what had been a considerably dark and gloomy situation thus far.

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Sun, sun, sun — -here it comes!

The third and final tenant, Natalie, did not give notice right away, but that came about a week later.  At this point I felt home free. I was actually going to be able to move into my own home.   Melinda and Joshua and Natalie asked me to please not come around the house at all during the remainder of the time they would be there, and I was agreeable to that.  So I waited the month or so, and then when the day finally came when the trio would be moving out, I got a friend to come with me on what we called “a drive by viewing”.  We kept driving by and viewing whether the ghastly trio had moved out yet or not.  I had my house keys in my hot little hand, eager to jump out of the car and run up the stairs and open up the door to my own house, as soon as they had vacated.  I was burning, itching to open the door to my own home.  After several drive-by-viewings, we finally determined that the three had all vacated the premises, and that evening, I entered my own home in peace for the first time.

I would like to add, since I think it helps the reader have some context, that my search for a home is of particularly profound significance to me, since there is a very real way in which I have never actually had a real home, and a very real way in which I have continued to deal with the problem of being bullied in my own home.  I grew up with parents who did not know how to parent, a mother who was cold and distant, unable to provide adequate mothering, a father who was a bully, and as the only female child (and the only gay child) in a family that most definitely preferred men, and most definitely preferred them heterosexual. My mother didn’t like girls.

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Where is my Mother?

She fawned over my two brothers, and they were given privileges and favors — as I recall, they got to go out and play, go surfing at the beach or go mountain biking,– while I was forced to do housework that neither of my siblings ever had to do.  I recall my father’s face, ash-white with anger, glaring at me, and his voice threatening me,  because I had not dusted the house properly — while my two brothers were out with their friends surfing at the beach or doing BMX bicycling in the hills.  It was bad to be a girl child in my family,( as I think it had been actually for many generations past in my family) and I was duly punished for it.  I developed a severe, crippling depression while in high school, and didnt’ recover until 4 years later.   Now in middle age, rather than feeling healed by time, I feel like more of an orphan than ever.  I have  been by this point effectively disowned by my family, which mostly refuses to communicate with me.  When I make a phone call to my Mother, she responds as disinterestedly and coldly if I were a shoe salesman with a business in her town, calling on her to say hello — no one listening in on our conversation would have any clue that I am actually her daughter.

As oriented temperamentally as I am to be optimistic and task-oriented, and to “carry on” heroically without complaint in life, the truth is that in my heart of hearts , I have spent my life looking for my Real Mother, and searching, in places where I have lived, for My Real Home. A place where I can live at peace, free from bullying of the sort my father engaged in.  Given the importance of home to me, there is a very great significance in me being able to find a way to live in harmony with others in my house, to feel at home in my own house, to feel comfortable in my own house.  Which for me finally has come to mean, not having roommates.

So, this is the first chapter in the story of my struggle to find that real home.  The struggles were not yet over, and there would be horrible situations with roommates yet to come.  I would  have to endure several more quite appalling and very disturbing situations with those I lived with,  in the years to come….which I will describe as I continue my story in Part Two of this blog, coming up soon.

(Story to continue in Goodbye to Roommates, Part Two)

 

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