In the first chapter of my story “Goodbye to Roommates” , you read about how I had very serious problems with roommates, before I even moved into my own house. How I ended up evicted from my own house by my tenants. How my tenants broke into my room, took my belongings out of my house and put them on the porch in the rain. How I called the police, and the police said, “Get out of here, lady, and leave your tenants alone.”
However, after this most horrible welcome to my own home, I thought things could only get better. I mean, what could be worse than being evicted by one’s roommates???? I thought that once I lived in my own house and was able to select my own roommates, surely I would be able to live in peace and harmony there!. Again, I was quite mistaken. Due in part to my not having learned the right skills in screening tenants, I would continue to experience atrocious behavior, disrespect and bullying, within my own home, for actually several years to come. Which is why, I was never so glad as on that day when I said goodbye to my last roommate. (But that day would still be several years away….)
So let’s pick up the story from where we left off, with me arriving at my house just after the initial ghastly trio of roommates moved out , the ones who came as an added bonus with the purchase of the house. (Hint to homeowners: don’t ever buy a house with tenants in it — I guarantee they won’t be so excited to have you as their new housemate!)
I did need to have roommates of some kind, since I could not afford to pay the whole mortgage by myself. This opportunity to purchase this house from my friend, was particularly exciting and unique, because it offered something that many other homes would not — I would be able to live there with others, but the potential existed in the house, to create a relatively large private space, so that I could live with others but simultaneously experience a good measure of the kind of private living that I had known for the last 20 years, as a renter living in my own small apartments. The house had three bedrooms, two downstairs and one upstairs, as well as a large living room and additional parlor or dining room.
The upstairs bedroom, spacious to begin with, had an additional “extra” room attached, that could be used as an office, or meditation room, and it also had a private half bathroom. What I realized I would be able to do, was use the extra room, (or at least half of it) to set up my own “kitchenette”, with a refrigerator, microwave, toaster oven, and hot plate, and so in effect, except for those times I needed to use an actual oven, I would be able to do most of my food preparation in my own spacious “bedroom”, and have privacy in that I wouldn’t have to leave my own room except for purposes of bathing. It was almost like having my own studio apartment within my house. The other half of the extra room, could be used as my office and computer work area. I relished this opportunity to be able to create a big private space, because I am an introvert, and need a lot of time alone to recouperate and recharge, after getting drained spending time in interactions with others.
As well as creating a large private space for myself, I would be able to rent out 3 rooms to others. The house had a large living room as well as a parlor/dining room, and I planned to make the living room into a 3rd bedroom — it already had a door (it was the room I had unsuccessfully attempted to move into myself) and was really all ready to be a bedroom — all that was needed was to close the large, Victorian-era double doors between it and the dining room, add a permanent wall covering to that opening as well, and then I would have 3 bedrooms I could rent out to others, which would help incredibly in allowing me to afford my home, in the very expensive housing market in my area.
As soon as I got possession of my house, I began to move in and clean it up. The ghastly trio of tenants who had left, had left the place a mess, not only not cleaning it up but leaving piles and piles of belongings. When I contacted them to ask them to retrieve their things, they said that none of what was left there, belonged to them, that it must have belonged to “past tenants”. There were a good two entire truckloads of things that belonged to “past tenants”!! I cleaned and hauled, cleaned and hauled, and at the same time worked to move my own things in, and to start putting ads on Craigslist to get some roommates.
I knew nothing about how to select roommates!!. I had no idea how many problems this lack of skill and knowledge would create — small problems, serious problems, kerfluffles and urban living misadventures that I would later find, added up to such a story, that those who heard it thought they were hearing tall tales. People had a very hard time believing that what I told them, was actually my real experience. My whole experience would educate me in such a way that I would end up becoming a leader in the Airbnb host community, for my ability to warn new hosts of problems — not hypothetical problems, but mostly, each and every one, a problem I myself had had with a renter!!
So at the start, I knew nothing, and in that ignorance, had no idea how much there was to know that I didn’t know! I set my rent fairly low, because with 3 rooms to rent, ( I would have the 3rd bedroom ready to rent within a month ), as well as my income from my own home design/repair business, I did not need to charge a high rent in order to be able to afford all the costs of my house. I was happy to offer moderately low rents, as I had just spent 20 years as a renter myself, and wanted to help out other renters by keeping their rent low. I had no idea that by offering low rents, I was also attracting some of the “bottom of the barrel” renters, and the problems that came with such people.
My first two new roommates were a young man who was to do a last semester at college, at the nearby major university in my region, and a thirty something man who worked at a chain retail store in my region. The third was a woman who worked at a local nonprofit organization, a Peace and Justice type of organization. I also made the frequent beginner’s error, of allowing these latter two roommates to have pet cats in my home, both of which caused damage to my house. Ultimately, these two out of these very first 3 roommates, turned out to be seriously problematic and had to be evicted.
The student, let’s call him Howard, was a fine roommate, and eventually I would discover, that students, researchers, visiting professors and most anyone associated with a local university, tended to be the best roommates. This was not 100% true (and would prove to be very untrue in at least one appalling case) but it was a good starting point — something I would only come to appreciate years later after making many mistakes.
The chain store employee, call him David, and the nonprofit worker, call her Linda, started out well enough. David was quiet and out a lot, which I appreciated. When home, his use of the kitchen was lightweight and quick, and he was good about cleaning up after himself. David and Linda started hanging out together, which at first I was pleased to see, as I thought it would bring harmony to the house. Yet there began to be some things about their growing friendship that troubled me.
I would come into a room where they were both talking, and after I entered the room, they would both grow silent, and then look up at me sheepishly, and then abruptly leave, going into Linda’s room to talk. This happened often enough that I began to feel like there were secrets growing in my house, secrets being kept from me. There were giggles and laughter, and secrets, sheepish glances at me, and scurrying away from me. This didnt’ feel good. In fact eventually it started to feel quite gross. There was a “thing” developing in my house, something that I wasn’t being told about, and which I was intentionally being kept out of , and I would eventually learn that this is just the kind of thing that anyone who wants to keep control over their own home, needs to avoid. But it would take several more years and several more “scenes” taking over my property, before I finally learned how to stop these toxic home invasions.
A month after my housemates moved in, I started to notice things going missing in the house. It started, improbably enough, with the laundry detergent. As someone who likes to cut down on shopping trips by buying in bulk, I had put three large gallon jugs of laundry detergent by the washing machine. A week later, coming to wash some clothes, I noticed that 2 of the 3 gallon jugs were missing. I asked all 3 roommates about it, and no one knew anything about that. Then, I noticed that one of my kitchen appliances had vanished. My crock pot was gone. I looked in all the cupboards, everywhere, also looked in the laundry area, wondering if had been moved — nothing. No crock pot. Again I inquired with all the roommates, and again, no one knew anything about it.
Little items were vanishing as well — a quart of milk, a book from my bookshelf in the dining room, and there seemed to be fewer cans of canned food on my shelf in the kitchen than I remembered. Howard complained that his little paring knife was missing. I was very upset, realizing we had a thief in the house. I suspected David or LInda.
A few days later, I had told David I needed to go into his room to finish a painting task that I had started before he moved in. The first thing I noticed when going into his room, was the awful state it was in.
It looked like someone had just thrown a bunch of clothes and belongings in, at random, scattering them everywhere. Also, David had no bed, and was sleeping on the floor, on a thin foam pad. I was appalled to see that his cat litter box was full to the brim of cat poo, and there was cat litter and cat poo on the floor near it as well. It was clear that in the entire month he had been here with his cat, he had never changed the litter box. Also, there was a plant in the room, sitting on the floor in a pot that had no basin underneath it to receive the water, so every time he would water his plant, the water would drain out of the holes in the bottom of the pot and go right into my hardwood floor. In the corner of the room, not quite hidden from view, I also saw my missing crock pot. On his blanket, I saw my missing book. A jug of laundry detergent was uncovered underneath a pile of clothing. (The 2nd missing jug was nowhere to be found) The entire sleazy portrait of David was now unfolding: I had rented my room to a kleptomaniac slob and baldfaced liar.
I grabbed my belongings out of his room, and raced upstairs to my room, sitting down at the computer and starting to do searches on how to do an eviction. Who would have guessed that only one month into my adventure with roommates, I would already have to evict my first roommate! Since I had already had to speak to an attorney for help with bad tenants before I even moved into my house, I knew a little about evictions just from those conversations. I knew that in order to evict someone, I had to give them a very specific, legal eviction notice form, stating that their tenancy would be terminated in 30 days.
I printed out this notice and taped it to David’s door. When he came home later and found it, he was upset, but he still denied stealing my property, and said that he had only been “borrowing” these things, and that he was definitely not responsible for the other missing items. Right.
What I discovered after giving notice to David, is that 30 days is far too long to have someone in your home who is a kleptomaniac slob and baldfaced liar!! By now I had started doing research on the laws in other states, and found that there were some lovely states, such as Connecticut, where a landlord only had to give a tenant 3 days’ notice to move out. Or North Carolina, 7 days. Or even Utah, Florida, Colorado, Arkansas or Louisiana, 10 to 15 days. I deeply envied the luck of Connecticut homeowners when they had an arse of a roommate!
At the same time as things were going south with David, Linda was acting more strangely. On a couple days, I found Linda out in front of my house, sitting on the sidewalk, acting loopey, and smoking. I thought she had a strange look in her eyes, but I found myself looking away, partly out of fright.
Another day, I found some of my dishes in the kitchen trash can, three plates and a bowl, all in fine condition but inexplicably deposited in the trash. At this point LInda was sitting on the sidewalk talking to herself and mumbling, and her eyes had glazed over look, and she was rocking back and forth mumbling to herself, and I finally realized we were dealing with serious mental illness. I went to her rental application, where fortunately I had had her fill out parent contact info and emergency contact info,and phoned up her parents in Virginia. They said oh no, not again, and I was then informed that Linda was bipolar and had a habit of going off her medication. Right. What else now, I wondered. How could this get much worse?!
The answer to that question came a few days later, when I found Linda’s cat peeing on the hardwood floor in my dining room. I then noticed that there were other spots where her cat had peed, and realized that her cat was mirroring her: as Linda was falling deeper into the realm of psychosis, her kitty cat was acting out and expressing contempt for my home. I phoned up a hardwood floor specialist, and was told that each spot of cat pee on a floor would cost $150 to repair. At three spots so far, LInda had already used up 4/5 of her security deposit. I was disturbed, enraged and very fearful about what the total amount of damage would be if I could not get Linda out soon — it could end up being in the thousands of dollars! Infuriated, I saw Linda starting to come up my front stairs, and I had an urge to shove her right down the stairs again and start throwing her stuff out of the house right after her.
If that wasn’t enough, I got another rude awakening about Linda’s destructive bouts that night. David (who still had 10 days to go until his tenancy was terminated, and all the while I had to worry that he might not move out as required) called me up that night, very upset, saying that Linda had just broken his car window, and he wanted me to pay for that. Lovely — a lover’s bad breakup now, between a kleptomaniac slob and a psychotic woman with a disturbed cat. By now I had been on the phone several times with Linda’s mother, and insisted that she come and retrieve her daughter from my home, citing the ever growing list of violations and damages.
Very fortunately, her mother was quite willing to come and “Bring Linda back home” so I did not have to worry about also serving eviction notice to Linda, and potentially then also being stuck with Linda and her disturbed kitty cat, both inside my home, causing more and more damage daily, while the court system wound its slow working machinery, and jot and tittle of letter of the law were preserved, all to safely protect the valuable rights of malicious, destructive, criminal, and truly psychotic renters. If you detect a note of contempt here for a “justice” system which goes to great lengths to protect the rights of tenants, while turning a cold shoulder to the situation of property owners who may daily be forced to impotently witness the gradual destruction of their property, you will be correct in your assessment of my opinion of the legal system. But, ha! At this point I knew very little about the depth of injustice of the legal system, and you will have to go on and read parts 3 and 4 of this blog story, to discover the full perversity of the US civil legal system, which only unfolded for me to fully see, several years into my life in my new home.
Even though Linda’s Mother was rushing to my city to collect her daughter, she could hardly arrive soon enough, and in the next 3 days while I had to wait her arrival, I had to fish more of my crockery and cutlery out of the trash can where crazy Linda had ditched it, and I had to stay home from work every day just to make sure that the windows of my house didnt’ end up broken in the same way that David’s car window had. I had to endure bizarre shrieks and more insane sidewalk occupation by crazy Linda,
which I hoped would not appall my neighbors and turn them quite against me so early in my tenure in this community, as someone who brought garbage to their neighborhood.
David finally moved out, about 4 days before his last day to legally remain on my premises. I observed him gather up whole armfuls of clothes and belongings, without bothering to pack them or even put them in bags — he just took out these large loose armfuls of stuff and piled it into his car, in his trunk, in the passenger seat, anywhere. He declared he had found a new place to rent, in a part of town that was expensive and fashionable, and I wondered what lies he had told to get his new room, and how long he would last there. I didnt’ give him but 2 months at most.
Linda’s mother and brother arrived from Virginia to collect her, and started moving her things out as well into their car. As soon as they arrived and started the first phase of moving her out, I actually changed the locks on the front door and didn’t give LInda the new key. Not really legal, but I couldn’t afford to stay home from work every day to monitor Linda and make sure she didn’t destroy more of my property or sneak more of my dishes into the trash while her Mother’s back was turned. So I was going to make sure that she and her family could only enter while I was there to supervise.
At last the day came when both David and Linda were gone for good. Of his original $575 security deposit, I refunded David a total of $11, and he stated that his parents would sue me, but I doubted it. WHile observing Linda’s relatives first arrive to help her move out of her room, I got to see the inside of it, and noticed that for who knows how long, Linda had been sleeping in a bed that had no sheets on it, (just on the bare mattress) and like David, most of her belongings seemed to be stored on the floor. Yecch.
I was ever so happy to see the back of David and Linda as they departed my house with the last of their armfuls,
and told myself I would never have problem roommates like these again. I was learning to screen renters, I told myself. From now on, no theives or mental cases. But again, I was quite mistaken to think that I had yet learned enough, and I was also very mistaken that I would never again have serious problems with my roommates! In fact the ghastly problems to come would make some of these incidents seem like child’s play. So stay tuned, parts 3 , 4 and perhaps 5 of this blog will coninue the story, and describe further misadventures of this reluctant landlord!!