After the upsetting first and second chapter in my first few months at my new house, these disturbing incidents following so closely on each other, I realized that I needed to do something to try to ensure that I didn’t continue to get bad roommates. Reflecting on my process for finding roommates, I realized I was not communicating enough about the kind of environment I wanted in my house and the kind of people I was looking for. So, I undertook to write up a short introduction to the type of setting I was intending to create — although I did not realize it but I was still muchtoo idealistic and naive.
Seeing that I had just had two roommates who were slobs and who showed little interest in communicating with me, I thought the mistake I had initially made, was that I hadn’t sufficiently emphasized that I was seeking housemates who were communicative, friendly, clean, respectful, and able to contribute positively to a small community.
So I wrote up a blurb about my house and how I wanted roommates who would communicate, attend weekly house meetings (I thought this would be just the trick to help support open communication), be friendly with each other and respectful, and in general simply attempted to appeal to the higher ideals of human nature. In essence, I was saying I wanted nice people. Little did I know that this was about as effective as writing a personal ad in which you say that you are looking for someone to date who enjoys candlelight dinners and walks on the beach. I would only realize much later that it is fairly pointless to say you want “nice” roommates and expect that the non-nice will recognize themselves as not desired, and politely bow out. At this point I still had much, much too much faith in people’s ability to assess their own qualities quite astutely and insightfully, as well as to be honest about those qualities.
So, thus armed with my quite useless short description of the “nice” setting of my nice house , and an equally useless description of the kind of “nice” roommate I was seeking, I placed more roommate ads on Craigslist, still offering the rooms at nearly rock bottom prices — still feeling obligated to do more to take care of others, than caring for myself.
After the double eviction of David and Linda, and before my next seriously problematic tenant, I had gone through a few other roommates, and had experienced a small series of awkward roommate adventures. There was Daniel, another student, here for a semester, polite and friendly, really very sweet, but he had set fire to my armchair by putting a space heater too close to it. Then there had been an Indian man named Naveet. When I went into his room to show it to a new prospective roommate, I noticed with some embarrassment that on his computer screen, pointed towards myself and the young woman coming to see the house, there was a very clear and very large image of a nude woman with her business end pointed towards the viewer. Naveet moved out and Selena moved in. She , like Naveet, stayed only a couple months. While she was here, she dyed her hair orange in my tub. The tub remained orange for the remaining two months of her tenancy. I thought it was damaged for good but the color finally wore off. Each of these incidents and embarrassments tended to result in me going off to my list of house rules and adding to them — “no use of radiant space heaters, no use of hair dye, no illegal downloads…” Several years later, as an Airbnb host, I would joke with other Airbnb hosts that our list of House Rules had gotten to be the size of the Yellow Pages, and as hefty, but in my case as in theirs, we didn’t actually have any rules in our list, that were not drawn from actual experience and real problems with renters.
The Green Healthy LIving Good Communicator arrives
After Selena moved out, I placed another Craigslist ad and in short order, I received a reply from a man, Steve, who seemed to exactly fit the bill of the nice person I wanted for my nice house — someone who was very communicative, who valued open and honest communication, was happy to have house meetings, and he expressed enthusiasm for “green” energy, cooking healthy food, and clean living. Hope lit up silly twinklings in
my large and foolish eyes as I pictured Steve as the polar opposite of David — a person who was clean, would bring a positive energy to my house, was engaged in meaningful pursuits, would communicate openly and honestly and not hide in corners whispering secrets to other roomies.
When I met him, Steve didn’t seem quite as lighthearted as I had expected (this was the warning sign that I didn’t listen to), and had a firm, tenacious kind of energy — something which I misread, in my hope and kindness, as an indication of a person with perseverence and stamina. Actually, it was arrogance and pushiness, but I would only come to realize that many weeks later.
Steve moved into my house, along with my existing housemates at present: Bob, a tall thin man who had a strong interest in bike racing, and Jack, a computer programmer.
It was early December, and after moving in, Steve hung an attractive green wreath on his door, which he clarified was not a Christian but a Pagan holiday symbol. Things went fairly well for the first few weeks, although the house meetings were awkward, because as it turned out there wasn’t much to talk about. I wasn’t interested in having dinner or get togethers with my roommates — I just wanted a peaceful setting in which I could be my introverted self in peace. After a month or so I decided to call off the house meetings as we would all show up, and have nothing much to say, and it was just increasingly embarrassing to me that I had come up with this dipshitty idea.
Marking Territory Commences
Within the first few weeks of Steve’s time in my house, I began to notice that dishes and other personal items were being left out. Not a lot of dishes, and not always in the sink. There would be a cup left on the counter, or a plate in the sink, or a pot on the stove and cutlery on the counter. Clothes were left on the floor in the bathroom, or a toothbrush on the windowsill. All of this was pretty minor, but it was persistent. By the time I had brought Steven and Bob into the house, I had set up what I thought was a good solid set of “house rules”, one item of which, (and highlighted as being particularly important to note) was the statement that things needed to be put away in the kitchen after use of the kitchen, and that personal belongings could not be left in common areas.
I had been proud that I came up with this rule, after the experience of finding too many of Linda’s belongings left around the house, and feeling that I needed to prevent roommates laying claim to common areas much the way a dog marks its territory.
So now after Steve moved in, as I found things being left around the house everywhere, a little here, a little there, I had the distinct intuitive sense that my home had been “marked.” All four corners were marked, each room seemed to be territory claimed. The claiming was continual, as a dog which needs to mark and claim the same territory each time it trots around its circumference.
At the same time as I noticed these items being left out, and intuited an associated claim on territory, I had begun to be aware of a certain “energy” or “aura” around Steve, as I observed him walking around my house. One day as I saw him walking around the kitchen, and chatted with him, it occurred to me — I have felt this before. I knew this energy.
It was the same energy I felt when I worked in a couple jobs where I was the only woman present in the male-dominated environment. The energy was not welcoming, it was not friendly. There was a message to this energy that I was now feeling coming from Steve, and it was: get out.
Even as I became aware of these associations, I dismissed them, and wrote them off. Instead of “trusting my gut”, something that many years later I would be advising for other newbies to having renters in their home, I was dismissing the wisdom of my own psyche and my Woman’s Intuition, that sacred gift. Instead of believing in myself, I doubted myself, and criticized myself for making so much of small things like a cup left out or a shirt on the floor. In such a conflicted state, it was very difficult to do what needed to be done. But eventually, the “voice from my gut” grew louder, and it would not be silenced. It kept telling me that something was off, that something was not right here. So I began talking to Steve about the various items he was leaving around the house everywhere. I politely reminded him that this wasn’t allowed, according to house rules, but I said it with such self-doubt and guilt, that I’m sure I did not come across as very convincing. And I was certainly easy for him to ignore, because ignore me he did.
Self Doubt makes it hard to run a House
As I continued to find the dishes in the sink, and other items around the house, I went to speak to Steve again about this, and this was more difficult to do. I was very anxious when I approached him again. Was I being unreasonable? If I was going to put my foot down about this and push this point, I needed to be confident and sure, and I was neither confident nor sure. Was this all very innocent, normal behavior, and was I over-reacting? Or did I have a right to request my house rules to be followed, exactly as I had written them, and what I had written was quite unmistakably clear. I had this doubt about my right to have these rules, because in my family, I had not been permitted to have needs and rights. I was told what to do — my own wishes and desires were not respected, my needs were disregarded. So, to start to value my own needs,wants and desires, was new and difficult for me. I was the authority in my own house, but I had so much difficulty assuming that authority and believing in my own right to have that authority.
When I spoke to Steve again, he responded angrily, saying that I was “being OCD” or “Nazi” about the things he left out. This accusation hit home, deepening my doubt in myself . I questioned whether I was being reasonable. I talked to my friends, mentors — the people I considered wisest were backing me, saying, you have a right to run your house as you wish. People dont’ have to live there if they dont’ agree to follow your rules. I would have the same rules in my kitchen. The most helpful advice went something like this:
It doesn’t really matter if your rules are casual and easy, or strict and challenging, or they seem fair, or unfair, or whether you are exceptionally sane and wise, or OCD and nutty as all get out, whether you are friendly and kind, or harsh and authoritative — the fact is, it’s your house, and you get to make the rules! People cannot sign a document agreeing to certain rules, and then afterwards argue about them or refuse to follow them, or say, in essence, “I didn’t think you really meant your rules.” That constitutes breach of contract. Aside from that, why on earth would someone read a rental agreement with a set of rules, conclude that those rules were written by a Nazi with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and then decide, “Hey, that’s just where I want to live.” ???
While I was struggling with this issue with Steve, there were other incidents. He had a couple of his friends over for dinner one night. While I was in the kitchen checking on my roast chicken in the oven, I was concerned to see one of his friends just get up and go to the cabinet, take down and open up a bottle of salad dressing that belonged to another roommate (Bob). I pointed out that he couldnt’ do this, and he said “sorry ” in a way that was not at all apologetic, but rather sounded sarcastic. A couple minutes later, this same guy looked up at a project I was doing in the backyard, building a chicken coop (had a plan to have chickens eventually) and then, without any invitation from me, just got up and went outside and started inspecting my chicken coop construction. I followed him, annoyed that he was feeling at liberty to just explore my property, and he began making comments about what I had done wrong. When I told him it wasn’t appropriate to just go out and start inspecting my project uninvited, he brushed me off and said, “It’s no problem, really.”
I was quite offended — the nerve of the asshole! — but I wasn’t yet strong or confident enough to say what should have been said, eg get the hell out of my house. Steve and his friend were bullies, they were intimidating, and they intimidated and frightened me, because I was still too weak in my own authority and my own power.
Another time, I was looking around in my kitchen for a large salad bowl that I stored on a high shelf, and couldn’t find it. I asked Steve where it was, and he said, oh that, I took it to a potluck party I think I left it there. What??? Steve had taken my property out of my house, without my permission, and just left it at someone’s house? I demanded that he bring it back. He actually never brought it back — it seemed that someone else had taken it, and the bowl he brought back, was not my bowl but a different one.
Now I needed more house rules — if you bring friends over, they have to follow the house rules. You cannot use other people’s belongings without their permission. As my tenants were dumb and dumber, as the list of jerks and fools grew longer, my house rules list got longer and longer.
But getting back to the issue with Steve. So I talked to Steve a third time, and a fourth. The third time, we sat down at the kitchen table and had a long conversation. I thought sharing more about myself and the reasons for setting up my house the way I did, would help. But in the end I realized all this chat and attempt at “honest open communication” , didnt’ accomplish anything: we were where we started. My reasons for what I wanted didn’t interest him — he just wanted what he wanted. I wanted my rules followed just as I had written them, and he wanted to ignore my requests and leave things around the house. He argued that his orientation was the only reasonable one. So in essence he was arguing that unless my house rules matched his own values, he didn’t have to follow them. Thus he felt free to impose his own values on my home. And likewise, the cup or article of clothing that he left here or there, I understood intuitively, was in essence a dog’s pee mark, another instance of his subversion of my authority, lifting his leg and staking his own claim.
The fourth and last time I spoke to Steve about continually leaving his things about, the bully in him burst right out from behind the green healthy earth friendly clean living man BS. He yelled at me and told me to “get out” of my own kitchen. Very disturbed by this outburst, I went upstairs again to my private room, depressed that yet once again, for the third time now, I was going to have to evict another roommate. The 30 day notice of termination of tenancy was already there on my computer, as I’d had to use it before for David. Now I printed it out, applied today’s date, and went downstairs, and handed it to Steve.
The War of the Dishes
For the next 30 or so days, before he moved out, Steve not surprisingly began to escalate in his refusal with my requests, and left more and more dishes out. Most of the dishes were left in the kitchen sink.
Not one now, but entire sets of dinner dishes. He would leave all his dishes from dinner in the sink until the next morning, ignoring complaints from other housemates Bob and Jack that they now couldnt’ use the sink at all. Then, instead of simply leaving the dishes in the sink overnight, he would leave them indefinitely, never washing them at all. I took the dirty dishes and set them aside, putting them in a bin and placing the bin in Steve’s personal storage area. This cleared out the sink for others’ use but it didnt’ avail us of extra dishes. Pretty soon all the dishes that I had in the entire house were sitting in bins on Steve’s shelf. Refusing to do any cleaning up at all, Steve was now making it impossible for others to use the kitchen unless they cleaned his dishes.
In order to avert murder and the stabbing to death of Steve with unwashed knives, I had to come up with a plan. The plan was that I got help from Bob and Jack in washing all the dishes, cutlery, pots and pans that Steve had refused to wash, and which had accumulated in bins on his shelf, and then all these items were taken and kept privately in our rooms. I informed Bob and Jack that due to the extreme non-cooperation of Steve, he would from this point on have no dishes whatsoever to use, and the three of us would each hoard 1/3 of the dishes in our private rooms. Under this plan we were able to use the kitchen, but Steve still did what he could to bully us about by tossing food on the counter and floor and bringing in plastic utensils that were again left in the sink.
Again it was all too long, much much too long, to have to endure 30 days of being bullied in your own house, by someone whom you need to have gone. I tried to avoid Steve as much as possible, and this helped. It also helped to make a little chart and mark off each day, so I could visually see the progress and the point where I would be finally free of this miscreant. WHen the day came, I was elated, and very very happy to start over again. I celebrated with a friend, and tried to cleanse out the room as best I could. I had very much hoped that this first bully would be the last — but sadly that was not meant to be my fate and I would still have to endure more of being bullied in my own house, while I spent time growing stronger and more confident, more comfortable with my own authority. And growing more comfortable the fact that this house I was living in, is actually my house. (Sadly, it did not fully feel that way until several years later, when I got rid of the last of my roommates).
When I saw Steve years later, walking out of a hardware store, he looked angry and unhappy, and I wondered where he would go in life, this man who thought he was a Green, Earth-loving, Nature-child, but in truth was an arrogant bully.
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 addedbonus 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 misadventuresof this reluctant landlord!!
Airbnb and the crisis in (Affordable ) Housing. These two subjects often arise together today — in the media, where the story often goes, that Airbnb is having a deleterious effect on the available affordable housing, is causing the cost of housing to increase, is taking housing units off the market, and in general is exacerbating the housing crisis. To hear some of the more hysterical versions, Airbnb is an alien life force, zooming in to planet earth with the ghastly mission of sucking all the affordable housing out of cities, expelling tenants and turn every house and apartment building into a hotel.
Housing crisis — we have a national housing crisis, which has been building for decades. I want to describe this crisis, and some of its causes, and explain why short term rentals, such as those offered on Airbnb, have very little effect in adding to this crisis, but do actually provide a solution to the affordable housing crisis to many, as they allow people to afford their housing.
Airbnb and short term rentals are disrupting the housing landscape, and this upsets many people. However, as we will see by exploring the dimensions of the housing crisis and its causes, housing in this nation is in great need of change — the housing crisis is serious, and it is growing, and we will not solve the housing crisis by continuing with the status quo. Rather dramatic changes are needed in how we house people — and so if the entry of short term rentals on the landscape begins to lead many to have questions about such matters as zoning laws, occupancy limits, rent control, property rights, gentrification, demographic inversion, the limits of government regulation of what people do in/with their private homes, building codes, neighbors’ expectations and their limits, housing for low income and homeless individuals, and one of the most important questions of all — just who is responsible for providing affordable housing for Americans.
The Housing Crisis Nationally
According to Andre Shashaty, author of Rebuilding a Dream: America’s New Urban Crisis, the Housing Cost Explosion, and How We Can Reinvent the American Dream for All , we have a national housing crisis. In this article he explains that in broad terms:
How dire is the affordable housing situation right now, nationally?
Andre Shashaty: I call the decreasing affordability of housing the silent crisis because it eats away at the wellbeing of families and, by extension, society as a whole, with little notice from policymakers or the press. It got worse during the recession, as stagnation of incomes proved a bigger factor than a short-term hiatus in the long-term pattern of rising rents. There’s been some improvement as the economy has recovered, but the problem is still serious.
There were 42,447,000 renter households in America in 2013, according to new data from the American Community Survey. Of that number, about 14 million paid more than 40 percent of their income for rent. That is one-third of all renter households, and that kind of a cost burden means there’s less money for other things, like nutritious food and education, and little chance to save for the future. However, this data doesn’t tell the full story. It doesn’t shed any light on the quality or location of the housing that these “rent-burdened” households occupy, which is often pretty bad. In addition, it does not reflect the plight of the homeless or the precariously housed who cannot afford to lease any kind of apartment. The precariously housed are people who share the homes of others or sleep in motel rooms. According to the Department of Education, there are 1.258 million homeless or precariously housed school kids in America, a number that has increased steadily in recent year.
Housing Crisis in California and the Bay Area
Let’s begin by looking at some data on housing from the San Francisco Bay Area, which is fast becoming the region with the most expensive housing in the nation. According to the December 2015 Zumper Report , San Francisco has the highest rents in the nation, at a whopping $3500.00 median rent for a one bedroom apartment, (median rent in San Francisco was $3670 in in November 2015 according to Zumper) which is about twice the monthly mortgage payment for a 2 bedroom home selling for $500,000 at purchase. Oakland, once considered the dumpy sibling city of its sister to the west, is now the 4th most expensive rental market in the nation, with a median rent for a one bedroom apartment of $2190. These rents represent an increase of 10 to 12% in just one year, and according to this article this article in the East Bay Express, rents in Oakland have doubled from 2011 to 2015.
But it is not just in the San Francisco Bay Area where rents are rising — this is happening in large cities across the nation — rents are rising, and vacancy rates are falling. The November 2015 Zumper report also states that:
According to a US Census Bureau report from the second quarter of 2015, the national rental vacancy rate dropped to 6.8%, the lowest seen in the past 20 years. Furthermore, a recent report conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, found that the national homeownership rate declined for the 10th consecutive year in 2014, dropping to 64.5%. This softening was seen across the entire country, affecting both urban and suburban areas alike.
As rents increase, renters have to pay an ever larger percentage of their total income just for housing. In his book Rebuilding the Dream, Andre Shashaty reports (pg 9) that more than 27% of renters paid more than 50% of their income for rent in 2012. Incomes of renters actually decreased by 13% from 2001 to 2012, while rents increased — sometimes, as in Oakland, rents have increased 100% in just a few years. A December 16 2015 issue of the East Bay Express has an article entitled Oakland’s Perfect Storm , in which an Oakland renter expresses her sadness that she cannot even afford to rent her own apartment in the city.
The median purchase price of homes has not increased as dramatically, but loans are more difficult to obtain since the mortgage meltdown in 2009. Housing costs in California are particularly high, according to this report , which indicates that housing costs in California began to significantly exceed those elsewhere in the nation, as early as 1970.
Between 1970 and 1980, California home prices went from 30 percent above U.S. levels to more than 80 percent higher. This trend has continued. Today, an average California home costs $440,000, about two–and–a–half times the average national home price ($180,000). Also, California’s average monthly rent is about $1,240, 50 percent higher than the rest of the country ($840 per month). ….A shortage of housing along California’s coast means households wishing to live there compete for limited housing.
ed housing. This competition bids up housing costs.
Consequences of the Housing Crisis: Finger Pointing
Rising costs of housing is causing more people to struggle in finding housing, or finding what is affordable, and is also leading to more homelessness across the nation. There is a growing rift between the housing “haves” and the housing “have nots.” About 64 percent of U.S. households own their homes, but only 54 percent of California households do. (Only New York State and Nevada have lower homeownership rates.) So, there are more renters in California, and San Francisco in particular has a very high percentage of renters: a recent census indicates that 63% of SF residents are renters .
The struggles and suffering caused by these housing problems, causes greater stress, tension and anxiety for many who struggle to find adequate housing. These individuals may often seek someone or something to blame. The greater the housing crisis, the more that each unit of housing is fought over, with the result that any phenomenon such as Ellis Act evictions or Airbnb rentals which is viewed as removing housing units, becomes the subject of intense debate and scrutiny.
In such a tense environment, I think it is particularly important that we do not “lose the forest for the trees”, and ignore the many complex factors at work in creating the housing crisis, while focussing narrowly on a few units which property owners seek to repossess, or which are being used as short term rentals (which, as I will argue below, is often done simply so that owners can retain control over their own property). The more the entire context of the housing crisis is examined, I hope the more clear it will be that short term rentals are not a significant cause of the housing crisis, and draconian regulations on short term rentals will not be a solution.
There are two significant elements to the housing crisis which I see too little mention of in public dialogue on the subject. The first has to do with some basic facts about supply and demand, and the second has to do with the kind of housing we are building — housing that is too expensive for too many people.
Supply and Demand
The cost of housing has risen most sharply in many areas, because there has not been adequate new construction to meet demand. This problem has been particularly acute in California coastal areas. As this government report summarizes:
…some of California’s most sought after locations—its major coastal metros (Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Santa Ana–Anaheim), where around two–thirds of Californians live—do not have sufficient housing to accommodate all of the households that want to live here. The lack of housing on the California coast means households wishing to live there compete for limited housing. This competition bids up housing costs.
Rising home prices and rents are a signal that more households would like to live in an area than there is housing to accommodate them. Housing developers typically respond to this excess demand by building additional housing. This does not appear to be true, however, in California’s coastal metros. Building activity during the recent housing boom demonstrates this. During the mid–2000s, housing prices were rising throughout the country and, in most locations, developers responded with additional building. As Figure 4 shows, however, new housing construction, as measured by building permits issued by local officials, remained flat in California’s coastal metros. We also find that building activity in California’s coastal metros has been significantly lower than in metros outside of California that have similar desirable characteristics—such as temperate weather, coastal proximity, and economic growth—and, therefore, likely have similar demand for housing. For example, Seattle—a coastal metro with economic characteristics and average temperatures that are similar to California’s Bay Area metros—added new housing units at about twice the rate as San Francisco and San Jose over the last two decades.
Part of the reason for the slowdown in housing construction in the California coastal regions, may be that it is more expensive to build housing in California. The report indicates that
Building Costs Are Higher in California. Aside from the cost of land, three factors determine developers’ cost to build housing: labor, materials, and government fees. All three of these components are higher in California than in the rest of the country. Construction labor is about 20 percent more expensive in California metros than in the rest of the country. California’s building codes and standards also are considered more comprehensive and prescriptive, often requiring more expensive materials and labor. For example, the state requires builders to use higher quality buildingmaterials—such as windows, insulation, and heating and cooling systems—to achieve certain energy efficiency goals. Additionally, development fees—charges levied on builders as a condition of development—are higher in California than the rest of the country. A 2012 national survey found that the average development fee levied by California local governments (excluding water–related fees) was just over $22,000 per single–family home compared with about $6,000 per single–family home in the rest of the country. Altogether, the cost of building a typical single–family home in California’s metros likely is between $50,000 and $75,000 higher than in the rest of the country.
In order to keep up with demand, this government report concludes that
….our analysis suggests that the state probably would have to build as many as 100,000 additional units annually—almost exclusively in its coastal communities—to seriously mitigate the state’s problems with housing affordability. Adding this many new homes, however, could place strains on the state’s infrastructure and natural resources and could alter the longstanding and prized character of California’s coastal communities. Facilitating this housing construction also would require the state to make changes to a broad range of policies that affect housing supply directly or indirectly—including many policies that have been fundamental tenets of California government for many years.
Due to the law of supply and demand, when demand is higher than available supply, costs for the desired commodities increase. Many urban areas, including San Francisco and Oakland, have built very little new housing, yet these cities have growing populations. The government report cited above provides several reasons for the failure to build an adequate amount of new housing, one of which is that the city’s residents are often voting down proposals to build new housing. Sometimes residents oppose housing developments because they are too large, too tall, or dont’ include enough affordable housing units. In Berkeley, there has been tremendous contention about the city’s plan to build an 18 story residential development in downtown Berkeley (the “Harold Way” development) , including threats by some citizens to sue the city over the plan. The planning stage for this project alone took 3 years and 37 public meetings, as detailed in this article .
In San Francisco in November 2015, there was actually a proposition on the ballot to prohibit the construction of market-rate housing in the Mission District: many were adamant that the only housing that should be built, was “affordable housing.” In his book (pg 49) , Shashaty pointed out that in two years 2011-2012 in San Francisco, 36,000 jobs were created in the city, while only 538 housing units were built during that same period of time. There is a similar problem getting housing built in many cities — recently in a letter to the East Bay Express an East Bay resident wrote:
It’s severely misguided, though, to assert that any significant part of our current crisis is due to a failure to mandate inclusionary housing in market-rate projects. Affordable housing mandates can be a powerful tool to bring much-needed affordable units into our community, yes, but the author ignored a significant detail which negates the argument.
We aren’t building any market-rate housing in Oakland.
In 2014, we built 788 units total, of which 72 percent were affordable housing projects. If each unit holds two people, you could fit everyone who has found a home in these units on a single BART train.
We could require market-rate projects to build 50 percent affordable housing, but 50 percent of zero units is still zero units.
Meanwhile, as neighbors and city council members are arguing about what housing should be built, and where, but not really building any housing, people are pouring into cities like never before. We are seeing what Alan Ehrenhalt calls a “demographic inversion”, where people are moving out of the suburbs and into urban areas. This is a reverse of the trend that began in the 1950’s, and earlier, when Americans fled the cities (often in what was called “white flight” ) and settled in the suburbs. Now the cities are being viewed as more desirable, so we have a reverse migration — white and middle class/middle income individuals are moving into the cities, while blacks and immigrants are moving to the suburbs.
In Atlanta, for instance, between 200o and 2010, the percentage of black residents fell from 61% to 54%. The white middle class is moving in, but black residents are also moving out — in particular, to Clayton and DeKalb counties, which acquired black majorities, says Ehrenhalt in his book The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City. Likewise, Washington DC has gone from being 70% black to now having only 50% black residents.
Though many people use the term “gentrification” to refer to the movement of white middle class into areas historically black and working class, Ehrenhalt points out that “gentrification” is actually an inaccurate term as this refers to patterns in an individual neighborhood, whereas what we are seeing is “a rearrangement of living patterns across an entire metropolitan area, all taking place at roughly the same time.” (pg 3) As well, “gentrification” has been a term used in what at times appears an offensive manner, suggesting that there is something undesirable about white newcomers. I have even observed that on neighborhood comment boards in my neighborhood, where the views of some neighborhood residents were dismissed simply on the basis that they had only lived in that neighborhood for 5 or 10 years, and so they were dismissed as “gentrifiers.” These claims about the damages caused by middle class newcomers, have been coupled with statements suggesting that there is something romantic and desirable about crime infested slums and blighted neighborhoods, and that it is a negative thing when neighborhoods improve. Clearly, people getting priced out of their cities is not desirable, but people are not getting priced out simply because there are white middle class people in the world who have as much right as anyone to choose where they want to live. And just like “simple physics” and the law of gravity, those who have the most means, will have more options. (What we want ideally is more options for everyone. And homes for everyone! )
Wealthy individuals originally moved out of cities due to the pollution and noise caused by industry and factories in cities. As industry has moved out of cities, urban areas became more attractive to the classes of people who had originally left them, and the demand for urban housing is greatly outpacing the available supply. Around September 2001, there were 15,000 people living in lower Manhattan, Ehrenhalt reports. By 2008 there were 50,000 people living there. But not only are Americans moving from the suburbs to the cities — the number of Americans, or individuals living in our nation, has increased greatly. According to Andre Shashaty in his book Rebuilding a Dream, the total US population grew 10% in only 10 years, between 2000 and 2010. There are also 350,000 more people in California this year, over last year.
Building restrictions affect the supply of affordable housing
Andre Shashaty states in this article that government is largely responsible for our collective failure to produce adequate affordable housing:
Governments at all levels have been complicit in allowing housing costs to rise year after year, making it impossible for builders to produce housing affordable to working people without government subsidies. There are lots of reasons for this, from building codes to land use regulations that limit density. Most local governments keep driving up the cost of housing and very few of them do anything to mitigate those increases, and even fewer work to reduce the cost burdens they impose.
Indeed, government subsidies alone cannot keep up with need. Given that the government is not able to provide adequate subsidies/support even for those who are exceptionally needy (the lowest income Americans), the likelihood of government support for those of middle income as well, who are having trouble finding affordable housing, is nonexistent. Federal government assistance to those in need of housing, is unable to keep up with demand. Between 2007 and 2011, Shashaty reports, the number of Americans eligible for federal housing assistance rose by 3.3 million, but the number of opportunties for assistance, remained the same. In many cities, it is not possible to even add one’s name to the wait list of those seeking Section 8 housing, as the wait list is too long. Shashaty states that
Less than 25 percent of the people eligible for housing assistance actually receive that assistance. There is little prospect that federal spending can be increased enough to do more than keep that percentage stable. In other words, 75 percent of the folks who are eligible for help may never get it.
Another report states that 25% of the cost of any new home, is attributable to government regulations. This report also covers regulatory costs in housing construction . Governments have many requirements to build: site and soil tests, engineering studies, environmental impact studies, feasibility studies, affordability studies, zoning hearings, creating plans and studying the plans, costs of permits, and inspections. THis 25% cost attributable to government regulations does not even cover the costs implied by the zoning and building code regulations which prohibit individuals from building the kinds of simpler homes that would be entirely satisfactory places to live. When building codes and safety requirements get more complex, housing costs continue to climb. Many of those who demand housing to cost less, dont’ seem to have any answers about how we can produce the standard housing that we have been producing, for lower costs, when costs of everything only keep rising.
Unnecessarily High Housing Standards Drive up Housing Costs
I am convinced that a significant part of our problem in creating an adequate amount of affordable housing, is that we are insistent on creating ever higher standards for housing, and our building codes and zoning laws are actually the most significant obstacle to the creation of an adequate amount of affordable housing.
Because the plight of the homeless is the most extreme case of the housing crisis , it may be helpful to illustrate the problems for the homeless when we refuse to let go of unrealistically high standards for all housing. In his book, Democratic Architecture, the architect Donald McDonald (no his name isn’t really Ronald!) describes how little “camper” type structures called “City Sleepers” were being built for the homeless in San Francisco,
where they could sleep indoors, out of the rain, with their belongings secure. These were vastly superior to sleeping in a cardboard box on the sidewalk, or simply under blankets on the sidewalk, but due to city concerns about code violations, and the California Dept of Transportations’ concerns about liability, the “City Sleepers” were taken away and the homeless were left to sleep on the concrete sidewalks again. McDonald points out (pg 24) that
…the labyrinth of codes that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to build low-income housing. …For example, do we always have to have double walls with insulation, and double-glazed windows to save energy, even in a mild climate like California’s? Which is more important to health: a hallway between the kitchen and bathroom, or not having a kitchen and bathroom at all?
McDonald then asks,
The objection often raised to code modifcations is that in paring the codes down, the poor receive inferior housing, that they are deprived of the comfort and safety enjoyed by the wealthy, and that injustice is perpetuated. But is that really the point of view of those who are homeless, of families who are forced to share apartments with relatives, or of young couples who cannot afford to buy a house?
In addition to the increase in housing costs when we insist on building everything to the specifications of upper middle class values, there have also been losses of entire styles of housing, based on changes in zoning laws and code provisions. In former times, as Andrew Heben points out (pg 17) in his book Tent City Urbanism: From Self-Organized Camps to Tiny House Villages:
An abundance of single room occupancy (SRO) hotels flourished in US cities of the early 20th century, ranging from rooming houses for the middle class to lodging houses for the lower class. Just within lodging houses, accomodations ranged from private rooms to large rooms broken into cubicles, to bunk rooms.
Ironically, at the beginning of the 20th century, we were better able to house the very poor, than we are now. As Heben points out, changes to the building codes made it impossible to continue to build the SRO housing which was one of the best options for the poor. The minimum square footage for habitable space was increased, and it was then required for each unit to have its own kitchen and bathroom. He writes,
This significantly drove the cost of development up, making it economically unviable to build very low-income housing on the private market.
Thus the theoretical improvement in the standard of living, as reflected in increased requirements in the building code and changes to the zoning code, actually has reduced the standard of living for many, as they now live on sidewalks instead of in the now-prohibited bunk rooms in an SRO. Additionally, since it is impossible to build private housing that is affordable for the very low income, housing for these populations is now dependent on government subsidies, which are in ever shorter supply.
Heben summarizes (pg 20) by saying that
The building code has come to mandate middle class norms and eliminate simpler housing options that are perceived to negatively influence adjacent property values.
I think you will have anticipated the point I am coming to, which finally brings the housing crisis issue back to Airbnb rentals. I’m going to bring up the fact, that some have pointed out, that people (gasp!) are renting out yurts, RV’s, tents, tiny houses and treehouses on Airbnb. In cities across the nation, at City Council meetings where Airbnb hosts are addressing the councilmembers, explaining why they feel they should be allowed to rent out their “art studio” , they say that it is not suitable as a long term rental, because it has no bathroom. Or no kitchen. People are aware that standard expectations/requirements for long term housing, don’t necessarily apply to short term housing, and are asking questions and thinking of possibilities. Two forces are at work: tenants and homewowners are wanting to make additional income by renting out spaces that they dont’ need, and others are looking for a place to stay, that fits their budget.
So the situation of these short term rentals, brings up a question which cities should be asking as they try to address the housing crises ravaging the nation. Which is, if someone can live quite contentedly in a “backyard studio” with no kitchen or bathroom, for 2 weeks, why can’t they live happily there for 2 years? Or if someone can live in a treehouse, yurt or tent for a week, why not for a few months? What is wrong with living in an RV parked off the street on private property, and what is the problem with a person renting out a “studio apartment” that doesn’t have a full 8 feet of ceiling height, particularly if they are a short individual? Why can’t people build tiny houses, not only for short term guests, but for their own permanent occupancy, and live in those? Why is it that cities will permit 12 people who are all related to each other to live together in one single family home, but declares that it is impermisslbe for 10 people not related to each other, to live together in that same home. Why do so many city regulations show biases towards nuclear family arrangements, something particularly anachronistic in a time of housing crisis when people have to come up with more and more inventive ways to live together.
The tiny house movement is producing zoning questions which cities need to explore. Tiny houses are simpler, tiny houses are more affordable. Tiny houses put the dream of home ownership within reach of many. Tiny houses blur the distinction between homes and RV’s. Some municipalities are leading the way in terms of openness to regulatory changes. In Spur, TX tiny houses are allowed as primary dwellings. In Quixote Village in Olympia, WA, a former homeless tent camp has become a tiny house village of 30 homes with a central kitchen and shower/laundry area. Emerald Village in Eugene OR and Community First Village in Austin Tx, as well as Om Village in Madison WI, SEcond Wind Cottages in Ithaca NY, and River Haven in Ventura CA and Dome Village in Los Angeles, offer residents a place to live with a buy-in cost of only $10-30k in many instances. These are experimental solutions which have yet to be applied on a large scale, and to more municipalities, but I think they are very important examples of what can be done to provide more affordable housing.
Other examples of ways that housing costs can be decreased by relaxing building codes and zoning requirements: eliminating the energy-savings requirements in building, such as use of double glazed windows and regulations on insulation. Reducing minimum room size and unit size. Reducing ceiling height requirements. Eliminating the requirement that many cities have that there must be on-site parking spot for each unit. Reducing permit fees and inspection requirements. Relaxing regulations on grey water systems, and electrical and plumbing hookups. Eliminating the regulations which require new housing in a residential neighborhood to be of a similar type to existing housing there. Allow residents to live in RV’s , treehouses, tents or yurts, or unheated cabins lacking electricity or plumbing, on their own properties, or rent out such space. Revise city zoning laws so that SRO’s/rooming houses/lodging houses can be again constructed to provide housing for the lower income individuals. Abolish “nanny-state” laws which prohibit individuals from renting out any space whatsoever to use as a dwelling, and treat people as adults who are capable of making their own decisions about how they want to live.
Stop the Nannying
The fact is that a lot more housing would be available to many more people, at prices they could afford, if we didn’t build to “middle class values”, but simply allowed people to create the housing that worked for them. Which brings me to my next point, that of excessive government interference, really government nannying, that contributes to high building costs via excessive regulations and inappropriate zoning regulations. These regulations in my opinion are at a level where they are no longer sensible and now amount to “nannying” — telling people how they have to live, in what kind of structure or building they have to live, and what they can rent. If governments get out of the way and “quit the nannying”, stop creating obstacles to affordable housing, many people who are currently unable to buy their own home, could afford to do so, since tiny houses cost markedly less than large middle class ones. Many people who can’t afford to rent their own apartment, could afford to rent an “art studio” in someone’s backyard which has no kitchen or bathroom, but shares those facilities with the householder, or could afford to rent a room in a new version of the old SRO or lodging/rooming house ,and share bath and kitchen with many others. As well, those currently homeless will be able to have homes — municipalities can construct tent cities and RV parks where individuals can live in tents or in RV’s, and have showers and toilets and a common indoor kitchen and dining facility on site, and storage lockers to store their belongings — and how very badly so many homeless people simply want a little tent, their own site, where they will be safe from being shooed away by the police. Several regions already have set up legal, sanctioned campgrounds for the homeless, such as Tent City in Seattle, PInellas Hope in ST Petersburg FL, and Camp Hope in Las Cruces, NM.
The homeless do set up unsanctioned campgrounds, as well, and I do not advocate that these be permitted. THey are often set up in places that damage the environment, or trespass on private property, or appropriate public spaces as private , and there are serious problems with trash and sanitation at impromptu homeless camps. However, most all these problems could be solved if cities worked with these individuals to set up sanctioned camps. In my area, there was a homeless community “experiment” at Albany Bulb, a local park. For years, police had directed homeless people in that city to get off the sidewalk and go to Albany Bulb, where the city kindly (and foolishly) let them live. Over the years, more and more went to live there, where they built makeshift shelters, some quite elaborate, and fashioned art work. But a homeless camp does not fit well in a public park, particularly when there are no trash cans or sanitation facilities (there was not a single portapotty in their compound) and the city eventually moved to evict them. Sadly, an attorney representing the homeless sued the city to prevent the eviction, which immense waste of resources just goes to show that no good deed goes unpunished. Cities really should not let the homeless simply set up camp anywhere, because it could cost them a lot to get them out again. Having clean sanctioned camps run by the city will help prevent filthy impromptu camps.
In addition to the blessing of providing the homeless with a space that is all theirs, permanent camps could offer other benefits to them. Tenants at the camps could be required to do chores in return for the accomodations they are given, which could help build their sense of worth — it is so damaging to the sense of self -worth of individuals, when they can only be people who recieve handouts from others, and never are able to work and contribute to society.
Also, housing the homeless, even in quite rudimentary housing, could drastically reduce the cost of caring for these individuals. Shashaty reports (pg 39) that the chronically homeless people use 50% of available public resources, and that for instance, 15 homeless San Diegans used $1.5 million in medical services alone in 1.5 years.
So the great irony is that all those tenant attorneys, who are so eager to jump up and “fight” for tenants when their housing is missing some tiny item from the ever-growing-longer checklist of government requirements (even the lack of a cover plate on a switch is a “habitability” issue) , are in fact banking on the very things that are making housing more and more out of reach for those very tenants — more codes, more requirements, more safety features, more environmental studies, more expense overall.
If people don’t like their housing, if it doesn’t have something they need or want, they should move out, and find another place to live. What makes that difficult now, is the dearth of housing, but there are ways to build a lot more housing for less, rather than a tiny bit of housing for a lot more.
Rent Control Causes Housing Costs to Rise
One of the consequences of the housing crisis, has been an obsessive focus by some cities and some tenants, with rent control, as a means of providing affordable housing. When area median rents rise dramatically, tenants and city governments tend to try to impose more controls and more regulations on property owners, whom they believe will experience greater temptations to evict tenants, in order to raise their rents. Some cities attempt to expand rent control laws, or impose heavier fines for violating them, and other cities without rent control contemplate having rent control. In Oakland recently, the City Council, declaring a “housing emergency”, passed a 90 day moratorium on rent hikes and evictions…. in spite of the fact that Oakland has rent control, which already severely limits rent hikes and evictions. (No one bothered to explain how the “housing emergency” created by decades of failure to build adequate housing, might be solved in 90 days) .
San Francisco, taking a page I guess from Oakland’s playbook, then ruled in April 2016 that it was no longer permissible to evict schoolteachers or students during the school year. Also in San Francisco in 2015, A landlord was fined $276,000 for evicting a tenant via the Elllis Act and then turning around and offering the apartment as a short term rental. The city council in Alameda ( a city without rent control laws) passed a temporary moratorium on rent increases in that city in late 2015, during a heated city council meeting in which one person was assaulted. Tenants had become desperate when many were being given no-fault eviction papers, or were seeing their rents increase as much as $500/month.
In the former article about the landords fined $276,ooo, city attorney Dennis Herrera said,
“Illegal conversions that push long-term tenants out of their homes diminish the availability of residential rental units for San Franciscans, and they’re a significant contributor to our housing affordability crisis.”
In fact, neither illegal evictions, nor short term rentals are a significant contributor to the housing affordability crisis, but they are definitely scapegoats for these things. Nor is rent control a solution to the housing crisis. In fact, rent control exacerbates the housing crisis, much more so than short term rentals.
Economists are nearly unanimous in agreeing that rent controls are destructive. In this article on rent control the following points were made by Walter Block:
In a 1990 poll of 464 economists published in the May 1992 issue of the American Economic Review, 93 percent of U.S. respondents agreed, either completely or with provisos, that “a ceiling on rents reduces the quantity and quality of housing available.”1 Similarly, another study reported that more than 95 percent of the Canadian economists polled agreed with the statement.2 The agreement cuts across the usual political spectrum, ranging all the way from Nobel Prize winners milton friedman andfriedrich hayek on the “right” to their fellow Nobel laureategunnar myrdal, an important architect of the Swedish Labor Party’s welfare state, on the “left.” Myrdal stated, “Rent control has in certain Western countries constituted, maybe, the worst example of poor planning by governments lacking courage and vision.”3 His fellow Swedish economist (and socialist) Assar Lindbeck asserted, “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city—except for bombing.”4 That cities like New York have clearly not been destroyed by rent control is due to the fact that rent control has been relaxed over the years.5
Rent control is a perverse type of law in several ways. First, in a free market economy where we have almost no other form of price controls, it imposes price controls, setting the maximum amount that individuals may charge for accomodations that they are offering. This amounts to forced charity, where private individuals are forced to provide charity to other individuals, who may have absolutely no need for such charity. in fact there are no need requirements for tenants to benefit from rent control, and many benefit who are actually wealthy individuals. We dont’ tell people that they have to sell their baked goods at such and such a price, and that they must give charity to everyone who buys them — we dont’ insist that people sell their clothing at set prices. ANd in fact, as Walter Block points out, it would make more sense to have price controls on all other products, except for housing. Rent control scares off investors, developers and it scares off potential buyers — thus reducing the likelihood of investment in or construction of the housing that is so badly needed. Thus Block writes:
The surest way to encourage private investment is to signal investors that housing will be safe from rent control. And the most effective way to do that is to eliminate the possibility of rent control with an amendment to the state constitution that forbids it. Paradoxically, one of the best ways to help tenants is to protect the economic freedom of landlords.
When a community artificially restrains rents by adopting rent control, it sends the market what may be a false message. It tells builders not to make new investments and it tells current providers to reduce their investments in existing housing. Under such circumstances, rent control has the perverse consequence of reducing, rather than expanding, the supply of housing in time of shortage.
William Tucker in this report states that rents are uniformly higher in cities with rent control, because rent controlled tenants tend to hoard their apartments:
…data I have collected from eighteen North American cities show that the advertised rents of available apartments in rent-regulated cities are dramatically higher than they are in cities without rent control. In cities without rent control, the available units are almost evenly distributed above and below the census median. In rent-controlled cities most available units are priced well above the median. In other words, inhabitants in cities without rent control have a far easier time finding moderately priced rental units than do inhabitants in rent-controlled cities.
This is because tenants in the regulated sector tend to hoard their apartments, forcing everyone else to shop only in the shadow market. Thus, rent control is the cause of the widely perceived “housing crisis” in rent-controlled cities.
Even such a traditionally liberal -progressive paper as the SF Weekly ran an article entitled, “The Case For ending Rent Control” in August 2000. See that article here: The Case for Ending Rent Control . Did you know, for instance, (as stated in this article) that
“Before the late 1970s, rent controls had been enacted in the United States only during times of war and economic crisis. Policy-makers considered the controls to be of temporary use in damping inflation. With the exception of New York City, controls were lifted when the national emergencies receded.”
Rent control removes many units from the housing market, thousands more than do Ellis Act evictions, for instance. The Anti Eviction Mapping Project reports that there were 4014 Ellis act evictions between 1997 and 2014 in San Francisco, a period of 17 years. This averages to 236 per year, which they label the number of “San Francisco Families forced out of their homes.” Yet, since Ellis Act evictions are often done so that the property owner can move themselves or their family back into their property, Ellis Act evictions are just as likely to be oriented to a San Francisco family reclaiming their home. While 236 tenants are evicted each year by the Ellis act, it must be pointed out that in San Francisco it is nearly impossible to evict a tenant through any means other than the Ellis Act. Meaning that a property owner has to go to extraordinary lengths simply to have access to their own property. Some property owners as the one in this story never actually are able to move into their own home. This in my view is actually a more perverse situation than price controls on products. THe fact that as a business person, one could be effectively imprisoned in a relationship with someone who one has long since lost interest in doing business with, is a feature unique to rent control, which makes the law particularly appalling. This is most notable and egregious in cases where we see the property owner living on the same property as the tenant they cannot evict, and who may be bullying them, as occurred in this case .
While Ellis act evictions removed 236 renters a year from other people’s properties, rent control laws themselves kept 31,000 units off the rental market in San Francisco, as reported in this article . As well, the recent news about the “Panama Papers” in April 2016, has revealed that money laundering could actually be a significant contributor to San Francisco’s housing crisis. THis article goes into that issue: How Money Laundering effects SF’s housing Crisis . We know as well that foreign investors, increasing those from China, are buying up apartments in US cities, and leaving them empty. This is happening in a significant degree in Vancouver, Canada, for instance — where the “vacancy rate” is reported to be 0.6%. In fact the vacancy rate is likely to be much higher if these investor properties are considered — but as these owners are not renting out their properties, but instead hoarding them off the rental market, they deplete the supply of long term permanent housing in a quite significant manner.
All perversities of rent control as law set aside, let us consider the practicality of rent control as a means to provide affordable housing. First, as we have seen, rent control actually decreases the available housing supply, due to the number of property owners who would rather keep their units permanently off the market, rather than have them filled with a rent controlled tenant. Rent control causes tenants to stay in place longer than they would otherwise, resulting in less turnover of units. While the tenants in a rent controlled unit do benefit from the artificially lower price they are paying (and what renter wouldnt’ want to pay the lowest price possible?) , the lower the rent they pay, the more the landlord has to increase other tenants’ rents to compensate for the loss involved in that low rent situation. As well, the less rent paid, the less the landlord can afford to maintain that property, so it is quite common that rent controlled properties become more run down and blighted than those not subject to rent control.
Also, because a landlord has to assume that any given tenant might stay in place a long time, when there is a vacancy, he must increase the rent as much as possible, so as not to lose out over time when the tenant remains and remains. Finally, those benefitting from rent control, can only benefit while remaining in the same place. They are trapped in place, and cannot move. This can cause stress and fear, if for instance the renter has needs arising which would make a move to a different apartment very desirable, but the tenant cannot afford to move because rents in the city have increased so much during the time she was in residence.
Rent control does nothing to make units affordable to newcomers to an area, but rather, for reasons explained above, tends to ensure that newcomers will see higher rents.
The solution to affordable housing cannot be that once you rent a place, you can never afford to move. Rental agreements in the USA are of two types — month to month, and a year lease. No one signs a rental agreement saying that they will be renting the premises for the rest of their natural life. That isn’t how we do business in the US, and yet, that is the implication of rent control — that what was intended to be a business arrangement that could be ended in either 30 days or 1 year by either side, now becomes a form of imprisonment, once for the tenant, who increasingly cannot afford to move out, and secondly for the property owner, forced into a potentially lifelong business relationship with someone they may very well not want to do business with for a lifetime.
The premise of rental housing contracts that are 1 month or 1 year, is that the renter can always find another place to live. In a housing market where it is more difficult to find another place to live, desperate and frightened tenants increasingly view their apartments as their own property, encouraged in this entitled attitude by the rent control laws. Often tenants and property owners alike will assert that “housing is a right” and that people have a right to their housing. I would agree that people have a right to housing, but they do not have a right to stake claims on other people’s property. I believe we can provide all people with a very basic level of housing, which we could say is their “right” — such as tent in a campground, with shared access to common shower and cooking facilities, or a bunkbed in an SRO. Beyond such basic housing rights, everyone can obtain the housing that they can afford. It’s my argument as well that we need to make it easier for more people to afford housing by offering many more simple forms of housing.
Landlords naturally resent rent control laws, and not surprisingly seek ways to get around rent control laws, such as by renting their units as short term rentals on Airbnb or VRBO.
In cities such as San Francisco and New York City, where housing is most expensive and scarce, there has been an exceptional and irrational fixation on property owners “taking units off the rental market” and renting them out as short term rentals. The way the short term rental hysteria goes, cities seem to believe that without draconian regulations and massive fines in place, every apartment building in the whole city would be converted into short term rentals. So, New York City has proposed $50,000 fines for those who violate its laws on short term rentals and rent out whole apartments, and San Francisco is fining similar violators, and has tallied up $400k in fines against STR violators .
If we pause and think about it, I believe we will realize that the demand for short term rentals in any given area, is not infinite. There will never be more people seeking short term stays, than long term rentals. For this reason, I believe that market forces alone would be sufficient to limit the number of property owners who “take units off the market”. Some will do this, others will not. Many of those who try running their units as short term rentals will find that it is not profitable — the stories in the community of hosts indicate that it is not easy to make more money from a unit as a short term rental, in a setting which becomes glutted with other short term rental listings, as is the case as Airbnb hosting catches on and more and more and more people sign up to be hosts, (many of whom are absolutely unprepared for the task — see my other blog, “Dont’ be an Airbnb Baby”)
Certainly a few units will be “taken off the rental market”, but the accusation behind this question needs to be examined — why is it not the right, of anyone who puts a unit on the rental market, to take it back off that market again? Why are property owners not permitted to do what they want to do with their own property? It must be pointed out that insofar as many property owners are motivated to do short term rentals with their property precisely because they want to avoid being subject to rent control, the abolishment of rent control would result in many more property owners suddenly having much less motivation to do short term rentals. And it is not as if they would also decide to raise the rent for a one bedroom apartment a few thousand dollars a month more, beyond the median price now in SF, $3500 a month.
De-Control instead of Rent Control
My argument through this article, is that more and more government control, rules, regulations, codes, is what is actually causing the crisis in affordable housing. The solution to affordable housing is therefore most certainly not going to come from still more control, more laws, more fines, more punishments, and more expropriation of private property. Rather the solution will come from de-control, and a relaxation of building requirements, a relaxation of zoning laws, and a relaxation of regualations on short term rentals as well as any other kind of rental. With fewer regulations on property, particularly less rent control, property owners would be more likely to stick to standard long term rentals, knowing that they can get renters out quickly if need be, regaining the right to no fault evictions. In addition to the abolition of rent control, something else that would help provide more affordable housing, is to make the process of eviction one which no longer involved going to court, or at least eliminated the option of a jury trial. It should be very simple and reduce time and expense, to have tenant and landlord in an eviction case, simply meet with a judge, as in small claims court, and obtain a result in a few days or at most a couple weeks, instead of the 6 to 8 months it can now take to evict a tenant who fights the eviction or requests a jury trial. (In this case it took 274 days for the landlord to evict the tenant, who actually had never paid the landlord a dime since he first moved into the apartment)
Too many landlords have had to spend far too much money just to evict a tenant who isn’t paying rent, or who is vandalizing their unit, or harassing other tenants, or causing other problems. It is incredibly ridiculous that someone could refuse to pay rent, vandalize your property, and then when you move to evict them,they could insist on a jury trial and delay the eviction and cause the property owner to have to pay thousands of d0llars just to remove a deadbeat’s heinie from their property. This too makes landlords less interested in doing long term rentals, when they know that in the case of a problematic short term renter, they can just evict the person without going to court .
People who do Airbnb hosting do not do it just because they like to meet people from around the world. They also do not do short term rentals just because they earn more money this way. They often do it because they are fed up with tenants, or roomates, and the bad attitudes and problems they have with these people who lay claim to their property, and who can cost them thousands to get removed. As well, many renters resent that they are the housing “have nots” and do not have as much as the property owner. This resentment can lead to the “bad attitude” that many landlords report they experience from tenants, a problem that has enough landlords fed up, that they are turning to short term rentals so as not to have to deal with tenants and their bad attitudes any more. If we can create a society in which there is plentiful affordable housing, and in which (as in the first part of the 20th century) anyone who wants to buy a home, (or build their own home) and works towards that, can afford to do so, then we can see less tension between tenants and landlords, because the tenant doesnt’ have to grab onto someone else’s property as if it is their lifeline, and the landlord doesn’t have to be anxious and fearful of taking on a long term tenant, if they will not be imprisoned in a business relationship with that individual.
Housing cannot continue to be both affordable and adequately available, and built to upper middle class values and specifications. Homes need to be smaller, and more building options and choices need to be available. Humans have lived for thousands of years in simple dwellings, and in order to continue to keep people housed, we will need to return to simpler homes. As well as removing government imposed obstacles and costs to building standard housing (environmental reports, feasibility studies, design reviews, zoning hearings, permit expenses, inspection expenses, and more) more standard housing needs to be built, particularly housing which maximizes use of space and is suitable for urban infill. As well, we need to open the way to legally build and dwell in many more simple types of housing — yurts, treehouses, tiny houses, RV’s, one-room cabins, backyard “art studios” without kitchen or bathroom, clusters of individual homes centered around a common kitchen and bath facility, an expansion of lending options including more tenants-in-common home purchases, are the direction we need to move in to solve the housing crisis.
Small Private Property Owners are not responsible for solving the housing crisis
It’s my view that draconian regulations on short term rentals, often emerge from the misguided view that private individuals, property owners, even small property owners who only own one property (which may have 2 or 3 units) are responsible for providing affordable housing, or long term housing. I strongly disgree with such a perspective, and I hope I have done something in this article to explain why I believe our housing crisis is owing more to government regulations, than any other cause. First, the government creates obstacles to development in the form of the costs for studies, reports, planning and zoning meetings, permits and inspections, all of which add up to 25% of the cost of construction, and then it creates even greater obstacles in terms of severe restrictions on the type of housing that may be built, and where, and imposes upper middle class values and requirements on those who cannot afford such housing and may not even desire it.
Secondly, the government responds to the housing crisis its own bureaucracy has created, by passing rent control laws, which in effect constitute a partial seizure of private property, by the government, for its own purposes of housing people. Through rent control, government expropriates private property, imposes harsh and unrealistic limits on rent which do not keep up with increasing costs of property owners, and essentially imprisons property owners into business relationships with individuals they may have long since ceased to want to do business with, by prohibiting them from evicting tenants. In some cases, property owners are actually unable to move into their own home and live in their own home, or must pay enormous sums to do so, because the “right” of the tenant to housing is deemed greater than the owner’s rights to their own property. Facing such ominous and indeed sometimes terrifying restrictions, many property owners understandably seek ways to avoid being subject to rent control, being imprisoned in relationships with bad tenants, and being unable to move into their own property when they wish, and consider doing short term rentals instead.
Third, the governments then pass short term rental regulations, which prohibit property owners from conducting the type of rental with their own property that they wish to conduct, insisting that these private property owners help solve the affordable housing problem that government regulations created. And so the tale of government overregulation and nannying finishes its hideous cycle, with property owners enslaved into government labor.
I realize that it is not likely that in regions with the politics (and the housing crises) we see in San Francisco or New York City, that property owners will be allowed to rent out any number of apartments they own, as short term rentals — particularly the large landlords who own many buildings or large multiunit buildings. I am not so concerned about restrictions being placed on these large landlords. What bothers me are the restrictions placed at the same time on the small property owners, who may only own one or two buildings. I feel that such small owners, should be given the liberty to use their property as they see fit, and not regulated into duty to the government, to help solve problems that government regulations created.
Affordable housing is, after all, not just a need that renters have. Property owners too need affordable housing, and one of the ways that they attain this, is by renting out space in their home. Particularly if the live in locales where rent control laws could result their inability to ever recover the space they rent, from a long term tenant, owners who may want to use that space, for themselves or for visiting family, naturally will view short term rentals as a perfect solution both for their affordability needs and their own desire to retain control over their own property. ANd governments should support property owners making their own home more affordable in this way, rather than disallowing this.
Curb population growth
A final comment on the housing crisis — much of it, particularly in the most desirable areas of the country like the coastal areas of California, is caused by population growth. Overpopulation is a serious problem for not just coastal California, but the whole world, and may actually be the leading problem we face in the world today, at the root not only of housing crisis issues, but also a cause of environmental destruction, habitat loss, global warming, extinction and endangerment of species, natural resource depletion, and the increasing problems we will have in the future regarding water supply and availability of fossil fuels.
In the US, greater awareness of population growth and its destructive impacts can be developed, and housing can be better built to be environmentally friendly. This means emphasizing high density construction instead of outward sprawl into exurbs and suburbs, as well as considering the potentials available in urbanizing the suburbs. IT means recognizing the difference between building regulations which curtail environmental damage, and those which simply impose middle class values and protect area property values. It means encouraging home designs which make intelligent use of space, and building smaller homes, reducing the overall space per person required for new home construction.
Problems can best be addressed when we know their causes, and when those who cause the problems are held accountable. In the past, communities and tribes which lived in a given area, would experience the consequences of their own relationship to their environment. If a tribe cut down an entire forest of trees, or hunted all the deer in their region to extinction, then that tribe would be endangered by its own reckless behavior. It is this kind of local accountability of people to their environment that I believe we need to encourage. Communities should be encouraged to recognize and respect the limitations imposed upon them by their own local environments, rather than being permitted to deplete their environment and then migrate elsewhere, presumably to deplete someone else’s environment, or being permitted to live in settings that are not friendly to human habitation, because they are able to import resources from elsewhere to do so. Globalization has weakened the valuable link between community and their local environment, since for instance people can now live in desert regions like Arizona, where there is a scarcity of water, because they are able to import water from other parts of the nation. The population of Los Angeles came to depend greatly upon water taken from the Sierra Nevada, far to the north, something which ultimately endangered the existence of Mono Lake. Similarly, in a world environment where the wealthier first world nations continually come to the aid of the poorer third world nations in emergencies, a dependency is created which mitigates against the ability of communities to live responsibly within their own means. The relatively free movement about the globe offered by immigration, mitigates against people’s commitment to and responsibilty for their own lands and environment, since migration simply allows people to go ever in search of new places to live (and perhaps to exploit), when their current circumstance has become unworkable. When immigration is motivated by environmental degradation or natural resource loss caused by overpopulation, we see a problem trend occuring which cannot continue indefinitely. THere will not continue to be new, unused and available land , housing and natural resources, for ever greater numbers of people.
A recent A recent New York Times article indicates that there are more young people in some parts of the world than previously — unfortunately, the article fails to indicate that this is at root a symptom of the global overpopulation problem. People are having too many children — more so in some nations than others — for the environment and the planet as a whole to sustain. The article does point out that when these children grow, and demand the same things their parents have had — a job, housing, resources to make a meaningful life — the situation will not be pretty when these young people are unable to get what they want or need. We already see the start of this in the squalid refugee camps that refugees from Syria have built along the border between Greece and Macedonia, since Macedonia is feeling too full at the moment and will not allow any additional people in. This problem of where to stick people when the earth is bulging at the seams, will not get easier. If nations dont’ have room now for refugees who are fleeing desperate and intolerable , life-threatening situations, then it is not likely that they will have room for more such refugees in the future.
Living simply will become more necessary than ever — and so we come back to that Airbnb listing, which offers a tent in the backyard, or a treehouse in the redwood, or a yurt or tiny house. And we say, good going, why not. Why can’t people live in the housing that they want to live in — why does the government have to meddle. Stop the Nannying and start solving the housing crisis.
Many of those new to Airbnb hosting and short term rentals (as well as those new to renting out property on a long term basis, as new landlords!!) , express confusion about whether to take a certain guest/renter/tenant. Too often, new Airbnb hosts are under the impression that guests having completed Verified ID will solve all problems and that if a guest has verified ID they will be perfect, will come neatly tied up with a red bow on top. That isn’t quite how it works.
Secondly, new hosts, failing to realize that to be a host means you are now in the property rental business and that the need to SCREEN RENTERS is an essential part of that business, are failing to screen renters and have no idea how to do that. For help with these problems, see some helpful tips here on the GlobalHosting Forum:
Now, let’s get into the matter of some types of guests whom you would perhaps be better off without. All of the following guest types are based on REAL experiences that hosts have had with guests — and some of these are distressingly common guests that hosts have talked about in the host community. So…be careful out there!
First type: Permanent but Flexible (Bad Math)
This guest, let’s call her Leila, presents herself in her initial communication with you, with buoyant confidence that she is about to do you a big favor. She is a traveling businessperson, or perhaps a traveling nurse. She describes what she wants as a “permanent part time” or “permanent flexible” arrangement with you. One variety of Leila, is the businessperson who wants to stay at your home 2 or 3 days a week, for an indefinite period of time. She also asks you if she can have the discounted weekly rate, or perhaps even the evern more discounted monthly rate, pointing out that she will be bringing you regular business.
Another variety of Leila, is the guest who says that she is a permanent resident in your city, but that her job is part-time, for instance only 3 days a week, or maybe only 10 or 14 days a month, so she wants to rent from you, permanently, but only for the days of the month she is actually here — the rest of the time she would like to be free to travel, and not have to pay for a rental.
One or both of these Leilas may drop you the additional benefit, that they will only leave “half” of their things or “a few things” in your room or apartment, during the days that they are not renting it, indicating that then the space would clearly be available for others.
You do not want these Leilas. Why? The place where beginners usually get tripped up, is in making the assumption that any kind of regular business, is desirable. Yet, most people become Airbnb hosts because they are clear they do NOT want a permanent roommate. So when you get an inquiry from a “guest” who wants any kind of permanent, indefinite, long-term, permanent-temporary, or permanent-flexible arrangement, it is a good idea to go back to your original motivation to become a host and remember why you chose to rent on a short term basis, to individuals who would NOT be your roommates.
Another thing to realize, when guests offer you these supposedly wonderful deals of taking your space for 2-3 days a week, or 10 days a month each month, is that these are often arrangements that will cause you to lose money. If someone is taking 2-3 days a week each week, that means you either have to find someone to take the remaining 4-5 days each week, and only those, or you will lose money for that week.
Not to mention that you won’t be able to take ANY reservations for longer than 4-5 days, if one person is blocking 2-3 days each and every week. So you will be unable to accomodate 6 or 7 day reservations, 10 or 16 day reservations, not to mention 21 or 28 day or longer bookings. End result is that this person who is so self-assured that they are bringing you a great deal, which they should be given a discount for bringing to you, is in fact going to cause you to lose quite a lot of money. This is similarly true to some extent with someone who wants only 10-14 days each month. This problem is not as bad, but it still means that you would lose the ability to rent your place for more than 3 weeks to anyone, and those 3 weeks would have to fit precisely around the “regular” guest’s 10-14 days.
Lastly, when considering a longer term renter, take into consideration that vexing and annoying problem of the entitlement attitude that can sometimes accompany guests/renters who either have long reservations, or are “regulars” and thus take on the demanding nature of roommates. They all too often don’t ask for, but start demanding certain exceptions, rights, or privileges that you aren’t interested in giving them.
Second type: “Join the Fans of Roger Fan Club”
This guest sends you an inquiry, and you see that the name on the profile is “Roger”, but the name he signs off with, is “Peace Rainbow.” Or “Dharma Yogi” or something in that vein. As you read his profile, and/or inquiry, you feel like you are reading an advertisement for a New Age product line. Roger-Rainbow tells you that he is a loving, peaceful, compassionate, dancing human being filled with mirth and totally conscious of his white privilege and and working for the benefit of the indigenous peoples of the world, who is also totally in the know about gender fluidity, who produces bath salts and unique-boutique herbal arrangements and custom mixes. He also practices Rainbow Reiki (his own custom brand) and teaches Cranio-Sacral Shamanic Journeying. He offers you a free session. The period of time that Roger-Rainbow wants to stay at your place could vary, from a few days to a few months.
Why do you not want this mirthful, aware and awesome Rainbow in your home? Some may be perplexed as to why one would turn down such a guest. Doesn’t he seem to be living a very healthy life style? The point to carefully notice, is that Roger – Rainbow often presents in an egocentric way that suggests his view that he is Gaia’s gift to humankind. He goes into more than adequate detail about all his eminent qualities and how radiant and super-wonderful he is. It would seem that Roger has had many doors fly open for him just by testifying to his own awesomeness. (Sometimes in reading responses to housing ads, I wonder if many young people think that the mere use of the term “awesome” is guaranteed to be their secret pass to get accepted anywhere they like — for then all the other awesome people shall surely know that he/she is also of the awesome tribe!).
Yes, this glowing radiance is nice, but will he clean the bathtub? Will he put his dishes away in the kitchen? Or is he vastly too special and wondrous to be bothered with such mundane and boorish requirements? What I have found about many New-Age poster children, as well as quite a few political activist applicants, is that when their inquiries are full of self-praise, this is a good clue that they are full of themselves. They are more interested in themselves and how wonderful they are, how correct and wonderful their politics and consciousness are, than in following your house rules. They aren’t really too interested in what your needs are. They won’t necessarily be rude to you, but they are likely to just keep “forgetting” about something that to you is quite important — like taking shoes off in the house, or cleaning the tub after use, or not leaving dishes in the sink. I had one such semi- New Age Poster Child, who when she departed on check out day, walked out the house and left the front door not only unlocked but wide open, so that any criminal opportunist strolling by could have walked right in and grabbed anything. Closing front doors? How trivial I guess, when one views oneself as an important figure in the movement for World Peace through Rainbow Reiki.
The other dynamic to be aware of in this type of inquiry, is that of what might be termed the “values switcheroo.” As a host, you have certain values about what is important to you in your welcoming guests to your home. For most of us hosts, that means our house rules are front and center. We love meeting people from different parts of the world, different cultures, different personality types, love having chats with guests and perhaps dinner with them, and so on, but above and beyond all of that, we want, no, we need, guests who will follow our house rules. That is probably the most important facet of having guests in one’s home — because if that goes wrong, nothing goes right. Hence it is a primary value in hosting.
What happens with the Peace Rainbow type of guest, is that the guest is overtly or covertly trying to pull a values switcheroo. They are interested in downplaying your values of house rules, or any rules for that matter, and playing up the value of being “cool” and “conscious” and a totally awesome human being. In fact, from the way Rainbow is presenting, you can start to see that he is actually waging a propoganda campaign, subtly suggesting that HIS values should be YOUR values, and that being a proponent for indigenous people’s rights, or being a dancing human being, is really much much superior than simply being a property owner with a set of house rules. If you accept Rainbow as a guest in your home, you might find that he radiates arrogance about the importance of his various New Age missions or products, and correspondingly expresses, in small ways, contempt for the comparatively unenlightened values of you asking guests to clean up after themselves in your home, or respect the agreement that they signed onto.
Third type: Oh By the Way
This guest, call him Fred, presents in a polite enough way. He sends a short introduction message, asking about staying 5 weeks at your house. You then ask him to read your house rules if he hasn’t done so already (I suggest asking this of EVERY prospective guest). In this case, let’s say your house rules indicate, as mine do, that your rooms are for one person only, and that guests may not bring visitors/friends to the house at any time, for any amount of time, and that no exceptions will be made. You also indicate that there is no offstreet parking and describe at length the street parking options available. Your rules also make it unmistakable that guests cannot receive any mail whatsoever at your house.
Fred says he has already read the rules, and all is fine, he’s totally okay with them. Then you chat with him a little more about what brings him to the area, how long he wants to stay, and answer the questions he has about how far you are from a certain place he will be visiting/working, and he also asks about bike rental. So far so good, everything seems to be going well, and you are about ready to send him a preapproval. Then Fred sends you a message, saying “one more thing”, and asks if he can have his friends visit, and can he have his girlfriend Becky stay over for a week when she comes to the area. He also asks you if there is off-street parking available. Then he says he will be out of town for 5 days during the 5 weeks he is indicating he wants to book, and asks if he would have to pay for those days, since he will not be there. He says it should not be a problem to leave his one suitcase, since it is small and for the 5 days when he is gone he could easily put it in a closet or something at your house. He then says he will be receiving one package at your house just before he arrives, and tells you this will not be a problem, because it is a small package.
At this point, you should most definitely NOT send Fred a preapproval, and be grateful that Fred has helped you screen him out. Fred stated that he had read your rules, and unfortunately he falls into that increasingly large group of guests who can simultaneously claim that they have read every last one of your house rules, while at the same time saying things/doing things which most clearly indicate that in reality, they have “blown off” one or more of your house rules and/or have miserably failed to assimilate what they stated they have read.
You will now tell Fred that his latest questions indicate that he has actually not read the house rules that he claimed to have read, and that this misrepresentation leaves you dubious he would make a good guest. You wish him luck finding a place to stay elsewhere.
Fourth Type: “Prove it to Me”
Belinda writes to you, saying she is interested in staying at your house, but has questions about the safety of your neighborhood. She states that she has heard that your city is not safe. She means, actually, your whole city. She asks you to please explain in detail about the safety of your area, and she may even require you to put in a paragraph of self-defense about your city.
Why is this guest not desirable? Aren’t safety issues fair questions to ask ? While it is certainly fair for any guest to inquire about area safety, it is quite problematic when a guest is putting you on the defensive regarding safety in your area — basically putting you in the position that you are being asked to “prove” that your neighborhood/entire city is “safe”. This reveals that the guest is actually already biased against staying at your home, or is predisposed to view your home/neighborhood/city as unsafe. What does “safety” mean to this guest? There have been many threads on this issue. For the most part, the “safety” of any particular place, is not an objectively measurable quantity or quality. This is not something about which one can say, for instance, “Well, there have never been any robberies or instances of accosted pedestrians on my street, therefore there WILL never be any.” Neither can one be expected to produce some comprehensive study on area safety and what that means for any particular person, at any particular time —even if that persons’ view of safety is rational, whereas some people’s view of what constitutes “safety” may be irrational or distorted. (Eg, there have been stories hosts told about how a guest decided an area “wasnt’ safe” because they saw people of a certain race there, or encountered homeless persons/streetpeople in the area).
Another problematic guest dynamic to be aware of, is that of the guest whom you feel is trying to “turn the tables” on you through their inquiry, such that instead of you screening them to see if you fit in their home, you feel they are screening you to see if what you are offering is acceptable. Isn’t this expected, though, you ask? Aren’t both sides really supposed to evaluate each other? Yes, that is true, but the main thing to keep in mind, is that through your extensive listing description, house rules list, neighborhood guide, and your own many photos of your house, and your profile description of yourself, you have already provided a huge amount of information to the guest, whereas the guest is unlikely to have produced an equivalent amount for you to consider. Also, it is really not the case that a renter needs to “Screen” prospective hosts — rather they CHOOSE potential hosts. It’s the hosts who are tasked with the screening. So if you find yourself feeling like you are the one being screened when you should be the one to be doing the screening, pay attention. You may be dealing with a guest who has been rejected already by one or more hosts, and whose inquiry to you is little more than an excuse to put you on the defensive and end up rejecting you. When people are hurt by rejection, sometimes they crave opportunities to then reject others, hoping to find by this means, a restoration to their damaged ego.
I once spent a good amount of time and energy trying to answer just such a guest question about area safety, only to end up having the guest tell me that he had “found out” that my area was not safe, and so he would not be booking with me. What did he “find out”, I wonder? Did he suddenly awaken to the fact that I live in an urban area, and so my area has “urban” type situations? I will never know, for after he summarily dismissed my neighborhood as quite unsafe, he ceased all correspondence and would not respond to my questions about just what information he had gotten and from where.
Fifth Type: Nice 2 meet U can I stay Ur house?
George’s inquiry strikes you as cryptic, not because you can’t figure him out, but because of the many spelling and grammatical errors. You know this is not because George is a foreigner — he clearly lives in your country. He says, for instance, “Hi im Gerge, looking to sty 5 days during my art cless teachinf this fall, Im an outdoro artist, create art on beach usign found materialls. I am 67 years old, I hope wil approve me thank u.”
The reason I can advise that you not accept this guest, is because I made the mistake of accepting this guest. I overlooked his many spelling and grammar errors, and liked his spirit and the fact that he did found-materials art in landscape settings. How whimsical and creative!! I was charmed!! I’m an artist too and love to support artists. But when I accepted George, what I got was a guest who was as attentive to the house rules and terms of the reservation, as he had been to his spelling and grammar. He forgot to remove shoes in the house, didn’t adquately clean up after himself in the kitchen, and 4 hours after checkout time, his things were still in his room, he was nowhere to be found, and did not answer his phone or email messages I’d sent to him. I ended up having to pack up his things and put them in the front hall. He later stated that I should have been patient with him because of his older age.
Sixth Type: Gardening skills worth their weight in Gold
Margo inquires about staying for a month at your house. She says she is moving to your area and will be looking for a permanent place to stay once she arrives. There is one problem, though: your regular rate of $1250 a month is too expensive for her, but she can pay $600 a month and do your gardening chores during her time at your house.
When you get an inquiry like this, there are many questions you should be asking yourself. The first is, “Did I ever say I was seeking gardening services?” Answer = NO. The second is, “If I wanted to get gardening service, would I be willing to pay $650 a month for gardening work?” Again, the answer is NO. The third is, “What would happen if I accepted someone at a rate of $600 a month, who said they would do all my gardening that month, and then they didn’t do the work they said they would do?” Answer = you would be SOL. (You would not be able to contact Airbnb customer service to have them force the guest to do your gardening work, or have them collect additional $ from the guest).
Question four, “If a person who can’t afford the standard rents in my area, moves into my house, and then starts looking around for a place to rent in my area, what is likely to happen?” Answer: It is possible that that person will refuse to move out of your home, saying that she cannot afford to move, as she has not yet found an affordable place. Never set your rates so low that you are essentially inviting people to live at your house, who can’t even afford to live anywhere in your city. It’s a setup for failure for them and potentially for serious problems for you. You may find that once Margo gets firmly settled and wedged into your home, the least expensive place in the entire city, that it now takes some serious tools to pry Margo out: tools like a giant crowbar and a whole can of WD-40, or a court order from a judge.
Seventh Type: Fear of Flies ( and drafts, nature, earth, reality….)
Susie seemed like she would be a perfect guest…at first. She indicated not only an acceptance but an enthusiasm for your house rules. She expressed that she was pleased about the orderliness of your house. She seemed very pleasant, clearly intelligent as she was a research scientist, and coming to town for a conference. You were all ready to send Susie a preapproval, when she sent you a message with another question. She indicated that she had been in another house where there had been ants and flies, and she wanted to make sure your home was free of insect infestations. In your minds’ eye you see Susie battling off a swarm of flies or a wall thick with ants, and ask her some more details about the insect problem she previously experienced. Susie simply says “there were ants and flies in the house.” You prod her further, how many ants and flies, where?
Susie says that there were a few ants by the wall, and then, that there were a couple flies in the kitchen. As you ask more, it turns out that there were no swarms or hordes, just a couple flies that flew in a window, and a few ants, which she apparently sponged up and threw away. You are perplexed as to just how this was a problem for Susie, and you press her to explain. Gradually you realize, by Susies’ inability to comprehend why you don’t see a couple flies in a house as a serious problem, that something is… a little off with Susie. She has amplified these normal situations with a couple flies, a couple ants, into something many multiple times larger than it was. She sees dirt and foulness where there is nature and more nature, and evil where there is innocence. In short, you realize, thankfully before sending a preapproval, that Susie has a degree of mental distortion about the issue of insects, perhaps a neurosis — whatever it is, is not actually necessary to define. Point being you know that you are unable to keep two flies out of your house, or two or three ants, and that the presence of such tiny beings could result in a guest suddenly becoming very high maintenance — could even result in a very distorted review, “…the house was full of flies and ants, it was disgusting…” runs through your mind as you consider Susie.
So you say no to Susie, electing to keep your home free of those who fear nature.
Eighth Type: The Campers
When the campers Joe and Marsha first inquire, you might find them a marvel of self-sufficiency. They are a couple, needing a place to stay for 2 weeks while their house in a neighboring town is being remodeled. Joe and Marsha say that they do all their own vegan and gluten-free cooking. They insist that they won’t need to use many of your kitchen items — as they have their own. They brag that they are low-maintenance and won’t need much from you, that you can just go on about your business and they will be fine. Their photo shows a nice looking, smiling couple in their 30’s, and you are inclined to preapprove them to stay at your house. Then, you get around to asking them a few questions, as you are curious about what kinds of kitchen items they will bring. You find that Joe and Marsha are planning to bring into your house a mini-fridge (to store chilled wine — but it’s okay they say, we will plug it into our bedroom, not in your kitchen), a blender, pots and pans, a coffee press and coffee grinder, a toaster oven, a rice cooker and ” a few other things.” They also ask if they can bring a portable A/C unit as they are sensitive to heat and it would be easy enough to bring theirs. Joe and Marsha also ask if it would be okay if they hung their laundry up to dry in your backyard, because they don’t like using clothes dryer machines. You ask them just how much cooking they plan to do at your house, and find out that they cook each day for several hours.
You realize that these people are “campers”, who dont’ intend to just stay at your house, but to set up camp there.
Like those people who profess to a wish to get away from it all, and stay for a couple weeks in the woods, but then they bring with them a 30 foot motorhome, a large BBQ grill, a flat screen TV, a stereo, a complete set of outdoor furniture, backyard game sets, an inflatable rubber pool for the kids, and an outdoor bar complete with several bottles of hard liquor, and anything else they can squeeze into the motorhome, all the better to enjoy simple life in the woods.
Ninth Type: The “It Won’t be a Problem Guest”
Beware the guest who in her initial inquiries is already telling you what “won’t be a problem” in your house. Keep firmly in mind that as the person who OWNS THE HOUSE, it is not for someone else, particularly a guest to your home, to tell you what will or wont’ be a problem in your house. If you find that a guest is beginning to tell you what you shouldn’t consider a problem, it’s a very good clue that this guest will be a problem. Here’s how things can easiily go with the “It Won’t Be A Problem” guest, IWBAP for short. Many of us have had a series of events unfold in our home, very similar to this one, so wink if you really get it!
Your house rules say no shoes. IWBAP says, “Oh, it won’t be a problem if I wear my shoes in your house, as they aren’t dirty!”
Your house rules say no smoking in the house. IWBAP guest sits inside your house smoking, holding the cigarette up to an open window, and says ,when you Remind them there is no smoking in your home, “Oh, it won’t be a problem, because I’m holding the cigarette by the window!”
Your house rules say clean up after yourself when you use the kitchen, put all dishes away when you are done with the kitchen. Your IWBAP guest put several dirty dishes in the sink, walks out of the kitchen. You go and say, “Excuse me, you can’t leave a sink full of dirty dishes, house rules state dishes must be cleaned and put away.” IWBAP guest replies, “Oh, it won’t be a problem, I will get to those in about an hour, as soon as I finish doing my emails!”
Your house rules say guests cannot bring visitors into the house, not even for a short period of time. You come home one day, and find two strangers in your home, and discover that your IWBAP guest has brought two friends into your house. You tell this guest that this is not allowed, and the IWBAP guest replies, “Oh, it won’t be a problem! They will only be here for about another 45 minutes while we have tea in the kitchen! THen we’ll be off on our merry little way!”
After this series of IWBAP’s, it is now time to send IWBAP guest on her merry way….out of your house.
Tenth type: “Let’s make a deal”
Carla must have grown up in those large open air bazaars, the ones you find in urban centers or country towns from France to the Balkans, but not so much in the US. The bazaars where the price that is written down only means the starting point, and haggling over prices is just the way you buy things. So, Carla assumes that everyplace she goes, she will be able to haggle her way down. She doesn’t care that your prices already reflect two layers of discount: she wants more. So, you have set your rates so that there is a weekly discount, of say 15%, as well as a monthly discount, for those staying a month or more, of 25%. So your monthly price is now $1100. So Carla offers you $700 for the month. She figures you will both haggle and maybe meet in the middle, or maybe she really can only afford $700. I have had those requests — the guest says, “I see your monthly price is $1100, but that’s too much for me, I can pay $700.”
This should be an easy one for you to avoid. Maybe you can say, “Carla, the room is $1100, so if you can’t afford $1100 then no room. But I have some nice Mexican art works from Oaxaca, make me a deal on those and we will see if we can come to an agreement.”
Eleventh type: The Princess
Paula sounds charming when you get her first communication. She is coming to your town for a wedding, and will stay in your house for a week while she attends the wedding and visits family. She seems cheerful, and quite willingly shares with you all about herself and her interests, tells you what her plans will be during her trip, and how much time she expects to be spending in your home. Paula comes across as very organized, and you appreciate that.
But then just after you think everything has been covered and the reservation details squared away, and you are ready to accept her to stay at your house, Paula asks if you could put an extra comforter in her room “because I might get cold.” While you are certain that the standard comforter will serve her well in summer, you tell her that yes, you can add a second one. Then Paula asks if you can provide her shampoo and hair conditioner, as well as a notepad and paper, “since those are things I am used to having at hotels when I stay”. Though those are inexpensive items that you could provide, you don’t normally supply those to guests and are beginning to be a little concerned. Finally, Paula also insists that new linens be provided to her every 2 days, and that you do her laundry for her mid-week, and requests that you pick her up from the airport, “because I can’t trust cabbies.” Now the real picture is starting to emerge, Paula is a Princess, and expects you to be her servant through her stay. Some hosts are happy to offer extra services, but they charge a rate commensurate with what they are providing. You offer budget accomodations and so your rates are not high enough to include many extra services. You could offer Paula these extra services for a higher daily rate, but you are starting to get the picture that no matter what you provide, it won’t be sufficient, since Paula is clearly used to being a Princess who is waited on hand and foot, and you don’t want someone with that attitude at your home. You direct Paula to the local Hyatt Regency, reminding her that she got free shampoo and writing pads there before.
Twelfth type: The Trojan Horse Guest
Bob seems like a great guest initially. He has Verified ID, some previous good reviews, describes himself well, and says that he will be coming with his wife and his brother to stay at your vacation home by the lake, for an 8 day vacation. You appreciate this small family gathering, since you allow no more than 5 guests at your home, and you dont’ allow parties. You look at the photos of Bob and his wife and brother, they are all smiling and looking pleasant, and you accept Bob’s reservation. A few days later, as you are looking at your messages with him, you see his last name on the message, and you feel an inclination to do a Google Search on Bob, something you don’t normally do since it feels to you like spying, but you search him online and find his Facebook page. You go to that page, and notice that there at the top of the page, is an announcement for a wedding. You are shocked to see that the address given for the wedding, is the address of your vacation home, and a photo of your house is depicted there as well. You count the number of people who have posted messages saying that they are coming, and there are 87 so far. You realize that Bob has lied to you, he does not intend to have 3 people over to your house for a quiet vacation, he intends to have 100 or more people over to your house for a large wedding. You get on the phone with Airbnb right away, and you take screengrabs of Bob’s Facebook page, and you get Airbnb to cancel his reservation before it starts. Bob was the classic “Trojan Horse Guest” (so named by Andrew, host community member and leader) and be very very glad that you followed your intuition and managed to avoid the fiasco that would have ensued had he shown up at your doorstep with his little Trojan Horse family.
Fun Fact: this type of Trojan Horse guest situation has actually happened to several real life hosts. The guests lied, stating they would have 2-7 in their party, and then tried to have a huge wedding at the hosts’ home. In at least a couple cases, the host found out about the planned party, by finding the advertisements for it online, along with directions to and photos of her own home.
Thirteenth type: Be My Friend
There are two types of “Be My Friend” guests, — Melissa and Larry — and you dont’ want either of them.
What is wrong with becoming friends with our guests, isn’t that something we would all aspire to? Yes it is, if it happens naturally. With the “Be My Friend” guests, they come assuming that by paying for a place to stay, they are also paying you to be their friend — or more. Things can get messy pretty quickly when it’s not just accomodations that your guests are wanting to buy, so be wary.
Melissa in her first message to you, is asking for a place to stay for two weeks while she “processes some changes.” You talk with her about house rules, use of the kitchen and laundry facilities, and so far so good. But then Melissa sends you a message telling you that she is going through a divorce, and how long she has been married, and how the divorce will be stressful on the kids, and how stressed out about it all she is, and so, how glad she will be to have your quiet house to go to , to get away from it all. You try to overlook the TMI and excessive sharing, but then the next day you get another message from Melissa, telling you how late she stayed up at night, crying the whole time about her divorce. She tells you about how her kids are acting out, no doubt upset about this. She asks if you might understand and expresses that she is looking forward to coming to your house to talk to you about this. Problem is, you are not looking forward to talking about all this with Melissa, and you dont’ recall offering any counseling services in your listing description. And you are starting to feel that Melissa’s presence at your home would begin to make it a depressing place for you.
Larry presents something of the opposite problem — he is in a good mood. He’s very happy. Actually, he’s too happy — that he will be visiting you, staying with you, at your house, and alone with you there — a single female. He’s very, very happy about that prospect. Already in his first communications with you, Larry commented on your appearance, as you are depicted in your profile photo. He said that you were “sweet” looking, which he later corrected, worried I guess that he hadn’t been inappropriate enough, and emphasized that you were “very attractive.”
What is Larry’s ostensible reason for traveling to your area to stay at your house? It doesn’t matter, once it has become clear to you why Larry wants to stay with you. Decline.
Fourteenth type: I’ll Stay for A Week or Maybe a Year
This type of guest is on my mind at present because I just had one of these contact me recently. Call him Mark. Mark sent a message, telling me that he had just sold his home in a nearby city, and wanted a place to stay while he looked for permanent housing. How long did he want to stay at my home, while he sought a more permanent place? He said it could be a week, or a few months, or even longer. What is wrong with this picture? There are several problems with Mark as a guest. The first is, that Mark doesn’t have clear plans. There is a big difference between staying a week as a guest at someone’s home, and planning to stay there “longer” than a few months, ostensibly while seeking permanent housing. On the one hand, a week is a short stay, on the other hand, “more than a few months” sounds like an invasion.
What kind of permanent housing was Mark seeking, I had asked him — did he plan to buy another home, or was he planning to rent a place? Instead of answering that question, he simply stated that he definitely liked my house, that all the house rules were fine with him, and that he wanted to book. Not so fast, Mark. When prospective guests dont’ answer your questions, but brush those aside and keep telling you what THEY want, this is a good indication that if they stay at your house, they will also be more oriented to their own needs, than to yours.
Additionally, most of us who are doing short term rentals and Airbnb hosting, are doing this because we do not want long term “roommates” (see the other blogs entitled “Goodbye to Roommates!”). We have been there, suffered through that, and we have had it up to here with roommates. So we are seeking people who will be staying for a fixed, short or middle term time period, could be a few days, or perhaps a month or two, but never with plans to stay on indefinitely. So Airbnb hosts rarely want a “Move-In Mark” who offers to stay for a week, or a few months, or quite a bit longer than a few months. (What this usually means, is that it definitely will NOT be just a week, and could be up to a year.) Finally, those who are seeking permanent housing, should just look for permanent housing, not try to make a short term rental offering into permanent housing!! That smacks of a presumptuous attempt to appropriate someone’s home and their generosity, particularly in the case where a hosts’ listing clearly states, as mine does, that I do not take reservations for more than X amount of time.
It should be noted too, that it is far easier, and quicker, for someone to book a short term stay in a room or a whole apartment on Airbnb or the like, than it is for someone to go through the standard and much more complex process of obtaining a long term rental — which involves filling out an application, credit reports, interviews, and perhaps more . So, it is quite possible for people who are really seeking long term housing, to try to “sneak under the radar” by booking short term housing in hopes of making it long term. Note too that in many regions, in fact most regions in the USA, those staying more than 30 days, can thus obtain tenant’s rights, meaning that if they overstay their reservation, the host might have to go to court and engage in a costly process (even, possibly, a jury trial!) to get that “guest” out of their home. Hosts should be aware of this and approach all requests for longer term stays with abundant caution.
Finally, I just thought it was odd that someone had their own home, then sold that home, with plans to move into a room in someone’s house. That seems like going backwards rather than forwards.
Fifteenth type: Sally the Scammer
Sally is a very smart gal. She has found ways of getting a lot of things she wants, all without paying for them. Sally is very clever. Because she is clever, she is likely to know how to present herself to appear like the kind of guest you think you want. Which is why it can be difficult to recognize a Sally when she contacts you. She may seem pleasant, she is likely to be forthcoming and tell you about her purpose for visiting your area. She will ask standard questions , and appear cooperative. The one thing that Sally is not likely to have in her presentation, however — is a big, open-hearted, sincere and friendly smile in her photo. She may be smiling, but if you are intuitive and look closely, you won’t see an open heart behind the smile — more likely you will see Sally smiling about her own cleverness. For she is proud of herself. Yes, there is someone and something Sally loves in this world, and it is herself, and her own capacity to pull a fast one on others. Sally, (or Scott as the case may be) is likely to look arrogant in her photo — or perhaps distracted. And if lies could make a nose grow, Sally would have a very long nose.
The first sign that you have a Sally Scammer guest, is the call or text message that you get, which complains of some serious problem with your place — a problem you have a very hard time believing could exist. You scrubbed the place top to bottom and had it professionally cleaned, and Sally is calling to say it is “very dirty, …really uninhabitable.” Or Sally sends you a text message to say, “There are fleas all over the place…I’m getting bitten all over…” and you have never had animals in your home, and none of your guests have had animals. Yet Sally claims there is a horde of vermin in your home. If not insects, it might be mice…or rats, cockroaches. Even hamsters inside the wall, anything is possible for Sally.
If it is not insects or vermin, Sally will complain about heat. There is not enough heat. Or there is too much heat. Or the bed is not as promised, or the oven is broken, or the tub is not draining. Or perhaps the tap water is cloudy, or has sediment in it. There may be mold or a moisture problem in the unit — (perhaps Sally even helped it develop by dumping water on the carpet and letting it sit) Perhaps the problem is noise — your neighbors are having a loud party, Sally claims, she says people have been coming and going — something you know is very unlikely, as your neighbor is an elderly 87 year old woman.
Regardless the type of problem that Sally complains about — one thing will be true — she doesn’t actually want the problem fixed. So if she complains the place is very dirty (“unliveable” , really) , and you offer to send a cleaning company over that very day, she will make various excuses about why she can’t let them in. If the heat is problematic, she wont’ let you send a heating repairman over . No, you can always be sure that Sally is up to her scams, when it becomes clear that Sally doesn’t really want any problem she complains about to be solved. And if you offer to put her up elsewhere, you’ll find that neither is she interested in leaving for a better situation. No, she’d rather stay and complain, while allowing nothing to be fixed. Sally’s planning to submit a claim for a big $$$ refund from you after her stay, and she is also likely to threaten you with “legal action” if you dont’ pay up, because bullying people with legal threats is one of her favorite pastimes, as it is for all malicious sleazebags.
In short, there is no shortage of complaints that Sally might make about your place. Sally is a scholar on scams, and knows that in many cases of renter’s complaints, fiction and baldfaced lies can go a long, long way. The US legal system in fact seems to roll out the red carpet to malicious liars, as it has never heard of a lawsuit worth throwing out. Sally thrives in this atmosphere where lies get you so much mileage, and figures Airbnb renting should be no different. Sally may even have come prepared with evidence to plant at your home, secreting away some bugs in a ziploc bag in her luggage, which she will pull out later as “proof” that your home is infested.
The one type of Sally you really need to watch out for, is the one whose scam is to squat. One of the worst possible things to happen to an Airbnb host or any property owner, is to have a renter who wont’ leave and won’t pay. Laws heavily favor tenants in some areas. , and in such places, tenant scams abound. There are several stories of Airbnb squatters — The ones in Watsonville, and another one in San Diego , another in San Francisco and then one in Palm Springs and then there was a squatting nanny in California as well. (Note that all of these squatters were in California!, and that several of them had previous evictions on their records — hosts can if they want do a superior court case search in guest’s county of last residence, under that guest’s name, to find any lawsuits filed by or against that individual)
So, the various scams that Sally the Scammer may pull, could vary from trying to get a partial refund, to demanding a full refund for her entire stay, to attempting to squat and refuse to leave. Those renting a unit for over 30 days need to beware of laws which make it easier for such renters to squat, since stays of 30 days or more give them “tenants’ rights” , whereby if they refuse to pay or leave, you will then have to go to court to get them out. Since court processes move slowly, this can take quite a long time in some cases, particularly if the renter fights the eviction lawsuit. In this case it took the property owner 274 days to remove a renter who actually never paid rent from day one — much like the horror story about tenants Pacific Heights, the film with the tagline,
“It seemed like the perfect house. He seemed like the perfect tenant. Until they asked him to leave.”
Moral of the story: beware of scammers. It may be hard to recognize Sally when she first contacts you to stay at your place, but look for someone who in some way doesn’t appear entirely genuine or open hearted. Maybe her self-description just seems to have some holes in it. In any case, once you accept her and she arrives, it won’t take long to find out what kind of person you have in your house. Please don’t fall for her fiction, and dont’ cave in to her demands for refunds, and if possible, give Sally a swift kick in the heinie as soon as possible, and boot her out of your home and far from you.
just say noto Sally the Scammer
Sixteenth Type: “Destructo-Dave”
Our last type of guest to beware of, is the guest who can be most costly. For you may not have a problem with them during their stay — they may be quiet, they may be polite– but they will break, damage or stain one or more things during their time at your house. And the damages may be small, (as with Destructo-Dave’s habit of dropping dishes) , or they may be quite expensive. For instance, when Destructo-Darlene enters the house, she forgets to remove her shoes — and whereas with some this may only result in a bit of dirt being tracked in, Darlene has stiletto heels and with each firm step on your shiny, newly refinished hardwood floor, she drills a hole into the floor. So that the traces of Darlene’s route through the house can be mapped by the serial gouges. Darlene has only been in your home one day, but she’s already tracked in several thousand dollars of damages to the floors.
What about that TV in the corner, why is it turned the other direction, not how you left it? That’s because Dave dropped it and cracked the screen, and turned it, hoping to hide the damage so you wouldn’t see it.
How nice of Darlene to offer to strip the bed and load the laundry into the washer before she left, you thought. And you refunded her security deposit pronto as she was so polite, before you realized that the reason she loaded the sheets, comforter and all into the washer before she left, was to hide the damage she did to them…the coffee stains, from when she ignored the rules not to eat or drink on the bed and spilled her Starbucks there…
Destructo Dave is a strong man, and doesn’t know his own strength, so when he pulled on the cord for the curtain, he not only yanked the curtain off the curtain rod but also yanked the curtain rod out of the wall, leaving a bent rod and sheetrock powder spilling out onto the floor.
The kitchen looks okay on first glance…no broken dishes there…but then you notice that there is only one wine glass on the shelf instead of your set of eight…and it dawns upon you that Dave and Darlene broke the other 7 glasses and just threw them away. And what’s this? You pull out the drawer of utensils and find that you’re down to one spoon and two forks, whereas when Dave and Darlene arrived there was a full set of 10 of everything. How can a guest break utensils? You go sifting through the garbage can and find the remaining forks and spoons are all in the trash. Together with one cracked plate. They are smeared with peanut butter or grease, jam or butter…but they are not broken, why were they thrown out? Because Dave and Darlene dont’ like to wash up after themselves.
Why is the bedspread turned inside out? It’s because Darlene left her hair curler on it, burning two parallel black lines into the irreplaceable antique white quilted bedspread.
Why was the extra quilt from the bedroom left folded neatly over the couch arm? Because hidden underneath it are burn holes in the couch — you have a strict “no smoking” policy on your property but Destructos dont’ mind such peevish things and Dave and Darlene both smoked cigarettes on the couch, and their embers dropped around and burned the furniture. Oh, and as you look down, you note– also the carpet.
Destructo Dave and Darlene are not only serial destroyers, but they apparently have long practice with how to try to hide the damage they do. So it’s not until 2 months after they have left that you find the broken CD player, the cracked window and a few other things you correlate to their rampage.
You wonder, as you scour your property for other signs of damage disguised…how Dave and Darlene do at their own home…are they lords of a domain of broken furniture, cracked windows, burned quilts and singed carpets? Or has their place long ago been reduced to a pile of rubble?
Moral of the story: Beware the Destructo-Duo!
Seventeenth type: “Doan Speak Much English”
Our 17th type of guest you would do well to avoid, is the guest from another nation who has mastered the game of being smart and skillful in the local language when it benefits them, and feigning ignorance of local customs, laws, house rules, or the local language when that benefits them.
Doan-Speak-Much-Daria arrives at your house smiling pleasantly, ready to stay for a couple weeks while she completes a short course for her Master’s Level program in Business Management. She is traveling with her Mother and Brother. Everyone is polite and smiling — it appears all is going well.
You return a couple days later to drop off an extra blanket as Daria requested, and when you look inside the house you are disturbed to see that there are 3 extra people in the apartment, and cigarette butts in your crockery on the end table. You tell Daria that she cannot have extra guests. “What mean?” she asks. You’re startled by her naifish prattle, since she communicated in excellent English in her initial inquiry.
You lift up your ceramic bowl, now containing cigarette butts, and frown, “Smoking is not allowed in the house.” Daria gives you a blank look and says, “Sorry, not understand.” You are wondering how on earth Daria manages to get through her workshop in Business Management when she seems capable of only these simple responses in broken English. Did she feign familiarity with the regional language when inquiring, and get help in her initial email communications from a friend?
Just then, you hear one of Daria’s unregistered guests in the other room, talking to someone else in perfect English. You then hear one of them call out to Daria in English, and wait for her to respond saying, “What mean?” but she does not.
You discover that Daria speaks English flawlessly, when she wants to, and that she pretends to not understand a thing in English, when that is convenient for her.
And you then require Daria’s extra guests to pack up and leave, and submit a bill to Daria for $250 in extra cleaning fees due to her smoking in a non-smoking unit.
Being an Airbnb host is often a funny thing. It is a very unique situation — a unique kind of business. Having people come and stay with you in your own home — it’s a very personal, even intimate kind of business. You can end up making good friends with people you may never otherwise have met. You can learn much more about people than you ever would have learned or known, had you not had a chance to learn their kitchen cleaning or non-cleaning habits. You can learn their foibles and idiosyncrasies, as they may learn yours, and you can share their joy and delight and see your own world with fresh eyes when someone from the other side of the world tells you how they are experiencing your neighborhood.
There is another kind of uniqueness to being an Airbnb host, and that is, that we weren’t something that cities thought of.
Cities’ lack of thought about us, seems to be a relatively new forgetfulness, since 100 years ago, 200 years ago, and certainly 500 years ago, many or most people who traveled, stayed in private homes when they traveled. This wasn’t seen as odd. There were no neighbors back then out picketing and complaining and writing to their city council, about how those Airbnb medieval voyagers parked their horse-drawn carriage in front of my home, or smoked a pipe in my cornfield.
Seems we got something right then that we have now forgotten. Somewhere along the way, something called “ZONING” happened, and new things called inns and hotels started taking the traveler business away from the private homes, and cities started cementing this compartmentalization of traveler into increasingly box-like rooms in hotels, via their “zoning.”
Many cities developed regulations about where “hotels” could be located, which kept them in “Commerical ” districts. Airbnb didn’t exist then, and neither did the “sharing economy”, so these regulations didn’t actually address having guests in a private home. They dealt with hotels.
So now, along comes Airbnb, and the rise of home sharing, and the city sees a lot of people starting to have travelers at their home again — just like the good old days! But the city doesn’t remember those good old days. It only sees through a narrow set of regulations, that dont’ even directly address this phenomenon. THe regulations are for “hotels.” Many hosts would argue, and argue coherently, that we are not “hotels.” Neither are the Hyatt Regency or the Flamingo Inn someone’s private home that they have opened up to guests. In fact, though some cities (and some disgruntled neighbors within these cities) insist that we are “commerical operations” if we have guests, a Colorado Court has recently affirmed that having guests in one’s home, is a RESIDENTIAL use of one’s home, and is NOT a commerical use of the home. (See this thread about that — globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/819/colorado-short-term-rentals-commercial )
So we often fall in between the cracks, and cities actually have no existing laws to address home sharing. Or, the laws that exist, are challenged by many to be backward, and to represent a stage of culture that may be on its way out.
Thus, many cities have yet to take up the issue of home sharing and create regulations that are in step with modern times and the reality that home sharing is not going away. Yet in many municipalities, there may be forces that are arrayed against home sharing, which political pressure city leaders may feel obligated to address.
Which brings me back to the title of this thread. How one person creates short term rental regulations for a whole city. Who is that person, you ask? Well, if you are very fortunate, that person is you, or another Airbnb host. Ideally it is the first host in the city who starts working with the city and/or with other hosts to get the ball rolling to develop favorable regulations. But , it may also turn out, and this has happened in some cities, that it is NOT the host who is the one to create short term rental regs for that city — instead it is that hosts’ neighbor.
You see, that host had a guest. Or make that, several guests. Actually it was supposed to be 4 guests, staying at a 3 bedroom home, with a huge yard, and an ocean view, located in an exclusive, upscale neighborhood of a desirable city…but it turned out to be 75 guests, staying at, partying in, boozing it up in, blasting loud music all over, and vomiting in the backyard next to the neighbors’ fence, in that host’s home. Not to mention the police cars that arrived later on and drew still more attention to the whole affair. And then, the person who the city council heard from, and heard from again, and again, and again, in numerous letters and several council meetings in sequence, for several months, was not the host, but that hosts’ neighbor.
You get my point, I hope. It has been made clear in many cities, that the city leaders are far more receptive to one neighbor’s complaint about one hosts’ bad guests, than they are to 400 hosts whose neighbors never complained about their guests. That one party incident may go a long, LONG way towards creating short term rental regulations in that city. Now if the city leaders are reasonable people who are already openminded and aware of the reality that “the sharing economy is here to stay”, this problem may not arise. But if city leaders are less open, and want any excuse to ban short term rentals in their city or town, it is quite possible that such city leaders will seize on that disgruntled neighbor’s lament, the way that a child’s fist clamps down around some delicious candy it received on a special day. That one neighbor’s complaint can go a long way. Particularly if that neighbor starts rallying other neighbors behind him or her. So now it’s not just one complaint –it’s 5. Still, when it’s a score of 5 vs 400 , in a city with city councilmembers tilted to the wrong direction, the 5 will win. And then quite possibly, the city will say no, no Airbnb in our town.
In fact, quite recently, this exact situation came to pass. In the town of Danville, California (a town with only 15-20 Airbnb hosts), one single instance of a neighborhood feud caused the neighbors of an Airbnb host to get so upset at her, that they collectively worked together, and pushed the town to ban short term rentals. The host’s guests in this case actually did not cause any problems, other than that very trivial issue of perhaps parking in front of someone else’s home, but the host had poor interpersonal skills, and intentionally did many things to rile her neighbors and upset them. And so now no one in her entire town of 16,000 can do short term rentals. See more about that situation here: Danville Bans Short Term rentals .
So the moral of the story is — be careful in how you host. Do good screening for guests, have good house rules in place that you can effectively enforce, be in control of what happens at your property, be attentive to your neighbors’ needs, make sure the neighbors have your contact info. And dont let your angry neighbor be the one who creates short term rental regulations for your whole city!!
I have a pet peeve – actually I have several of them but let’s just take one at a time. My pet peeve as relates to many of those who sign up to do Airbnb hosting, is that they approach starting their own small business, as though they were somebody’s baby. Airbnb’s baby. Maybe they watched This dreamy Airbnb video too many times. Or maybe they have never run a small business. Maybe they had no idea they were opening a small business, but thought they were clicking a button to get Santa Claus to send perfect guests automatically to their home, delivering them on a sleigh, one after another, all wrapped up nice and pretty with a red bow on top.
That isn’t how being a host on Airbnb works. I think Airbnb actually doesn’t help as much as it could, to clarify that those who sign up as hosts are starting a small business. So, some Airbnb Babies jump into opening up a small business, with little understanding of market forces. We see many of these new hosts coming into the host community, proudly telling other hosts that they have now opened up their listing and hung their shingle up in Nowheresville, AnyCountry, 60 miles from the nearest city, 10 miles down an unmarked dirt road, and are complaining that they haven’t had any inquiries. “Why am I not getting any guests?!?!” They fail to understand that listing a place on Airbnb doesn’t magically make it into a tourist destination. There has to be a reason why people want to come to your area, because it’s unlikely that the host’s home itself is the vacation destination — unless you happen to have a home with a national park in your backyard, or you own a hunting ranch, or a private zoo, or you offer kayak or float trips on your local river, or something else very special that is going to make guests want to come to your area just to visit you. So as you contemplate becoming a host, it pays to do some research into the demand for short term rentals in your area.
Many find the process of becoming a host and getting their first guest, to be so easy and straightforward, that they are led to believe that they don’t need to be careful who they accept as a guest in their home, or have good house rules that help ensure appropriate guest behavior, and delineate necessary boundaries.
I have noticed that a lot of relatively new hosts, come to the host community, with questions, complaints or stories, which indicate that they did not adequately understand all the implications of starting a small business as an Airbnb host or short term rental operator. To begin with, many hosts don’t understand that it is they, rather than Airbnb, who need to do the screening for people who will be staying in their home. Hosts have one, then two, then 6 or 8 good experiences with guests, and get lulled into the illusion that Airbnb is somehow “vetting” all their guests for them. They have heard that there is a thing called Verified ID, they have heard that there are requirements for people to sign up on Airbnb, and so they figure, quite irrationally, that if a guest has verified ID, this must be a fine person, right?
No, actually, not quite so. Stop for a moment and think how Verified ID, which basically guarantees that someone’s name is what they say it is, or that their phone number is really their phone number, is going to ensure that your guest doesn’t leave the sink full of dirty dishes, or talk back and argue with you, or go into your bedroom and look through your private things while you are gone. Verified ID does nothing to prevent any of that. Verified ID can help to prevent serious crimes, because serious criminals dont’ tend to want to give you their name in advance (but some know how to provide “fake” Verified ID) but it won’t ensure that your guest doesn’t smoke in your non-smoking unit, doesn’t get stains all over your furniture or carpets, or doesn’t have a party in your house where you have house rules that clearly prohibit parties.
So what would-be hosts need to learn, is that when you sign up to be an AIrbnb host, you are actually in the property rental business, and hence, you need to learn the skills of managing rental property, such as how to screen potential guests. Screening guests is not simple, because it requires imagination. The less developed your capacity for imagination, the more trouble you will have in imagining what might possibly go wrong, and hence, the less likely you will be able to set up house rules, policies and procedures, questions and other measures by which to try to reduce the likelihood of having problems. So, give your imaginal skills some practice, and sit down and start thinking of how you want things to go right, and what might go wrong, and how to draw lines to separate these two outcomes, one from the other. And then, depend on your own skills to get good guests, dont’ depend on getting sent guests in packages from Airbnb, all neat and pretty and tied up with a bow on top.
There’s another aspect of the Airbnb Baby. This is the Baby we see who doesn’t screen their guests, doesn’t have adequate house rules, doesn’t realize that renting out a beautiful home to 8 young guys who are in town for spring break might not be the best idea…and who comes out to the host community and cries when they have a bad experience with a guest, who damages their property. This Baby host then doesn’t realize that they have to document the damage and produce evidence, assuming quite irrationally that simply because they phone up Airbnb and say something happened, their word will be considered gold and the guest’s will be mud. They may fail to get the required evidence, or have unrealistic expectations of reimbursement. They then end up whining , crying and screaming, because they didn’t get compensated by Airbnb for all of their damage.
Hosts need to realize that there are two sides to every story, and if any issue gets taken to Airbnb for mediation, this is somewhat like a landlord tenant dispute being taken to small claims court. A judge in court can’t start out being partial to either side — the point is that the judge is supposed to look at the evidence presented, and if you don’t have a good case, if you don’t have good evidence, you can lose, even if you are entirely in the right. Because it is quite possible to lose in court when you are in the right, is one reason why it is best to stay out of court — meaning, run your business in such a way, that you are unlikely to end up with guests doing hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage, which you then have to approach Airbnb to try to get reimbursed for.
So, I’m advising — dont’ be an Airbnb Baby. Airbnb isn’t your Daddy or Mommy, or Santa Claus. Dont’ expect that you can just click buttons on the computer and get sent great guests every time and not have to have the skillset to run a small business. Be in control of what is happening at your own property. I think hosting is ideally for those who actually live at the property where they are having guests. It is more difficult when you aren’t there to see what is going on.
If you are far away from the place where you have guests, you really need someone close by who can pay attention to what is going on there, and intervene quickly if needed — like a property manager, friend or neighbor. I have been surprised by the number of stories of hosts who come to clean up after the guests depart, and arrive to a trashed home. They lament and whine that they had no idea about what was happening. Their neighbors will later be interviewed by the local news station, and say that they saw 50 people arrive to that house the day before, or 3 days before, and were bothered by people partying there all night, and I have to wonder — while the host’s neighbors were being bothered by noise and partiers, where was this Airbnb Baby? Did this Baby think someone else would magically run their property and control it for them? Why was this Airbnb Baby 50 or 100, or even 1000 miles away, with no property manger or not even a neighbor in communication with them? Why are their relationships with their neighbors so undeveloped? Why didn’t their neighbors have their phone number, to call and notify them of problems they witnessed?
Given the number of people who are hostile to Airbnb, who like to scapegoat Airbnb, who think that Airbnb rentals in neighborhoods invariably will bring problems, it does not take many out of control parties at an Airbnb, or trashed Airbnb homes, to have a huge effect on the regulatory landscape of short term rentals in any given area. Consequently, it is better for all of us if Airbnb Babies grow up and start developing some skills in regards to hosting, so that they dont’ ruin other’s opportunities to do hosting in their region, and so that they dont’ come and cry to us over spilled milk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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,
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. This 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
Sometimes 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. Which 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 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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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, was 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.
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,
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.
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. Once 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,
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!?!
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.
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.
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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