Someone said this to me on Tik Tok recently: “Mama always said ‘moving three times is like surviving a house fire.’” I didn’t get it at first, but when I Googled it, I found article after article about how psychologists correlate moving three times in a relatively short period of time to being equivalent physically, financially, and psychologically to losing everything you own in a house fire. It makes sense, and certainly tracks with our experience.
I haven’t been around this blog in a bit, but if you follow me on any social media platform, you know that’s because we moved. Again. For the third time, in exactly one year’s time. To be honest, it came about in a crazy way. Much like the second, and the first, I – at several points – believed I was losing my mind. How can this really, seriously, be happening? And in the middle of an unprecedented, and worsening, housing crisis in California, and historic inflation…
To recap: we have my husband, myself, our three kids, my 80 year old father, two dogs, a guinea pig, and a handful of fish. This would have been an undertaking in even the best of circumstances, and now – now that we are finally in secure housing – I am left wondering how we survived.
The real question is: did we?
On January 4th, 2022, we were notified that our landlord would be terminating our lease. This is a fancy way of saying “evict without cause.” There are reasons you can legally do this in California, and reasons you cannot. As it turns out, they did it for reasons you cannot: for friends to move in to the home, and the kicker was that the friends were somehow family friends of my husband’s now-ex-sister in law. I see photos of them on Instagram at our old house; it makes me physically ill.
Our second move came just four months after we had moved from the first. This house had issues that the manager of the property (the owner’s son) had done well to hide. Ultimately, they couldn’t be remediated while we lived there: black mold, water leaks, sewer flooding – we had to move again, which was fine because everyone was both miserable, and as it turns out sick.
We lasted the remainder of the year since our first move until the third back in our old neighborhood, just a few blocks from that house we had lived at so long and cared for as our own only to be evicted like yesterday’s trash. Everything there was fine, until it wasn’t; and here’s where the story gets crazy.
In November 2022, the homeowner’s son committed suicide by walking in front of two cars in downtown Fresno. A simple Google search verified this, and that it was likely because he was in the middle of a strike elevation case against the State of California for multiple convictions for felony burglary. He had put up several hundred thousand dollars worth of bail over the years, which we will assume came from the owner of our rental. Why assume this?
Because as soon as he was dead, the owner became desperate for us to get out so they could sell the home for its equity.
A series of events after this unfolded, which involved harassment by the property manager, people showing up at all hours, maintenance men banging on the front door and screaming in the window, and someone trying to cut the power to get us to move. They refused major maintenance things at the same time this was all going on, and suddenly every time we used some of the lights in the house, smoke filled the hallways.
People couldn’t believe we were thinking about leaving, but make no mistake about it: had we not started thinking about it after the holidays, we would have found ourselves evicted again when the one year lease was up in the summer.
Finally, by March 2023 (a couple months ago), it became too much for us, and the fear of competing with other people looking for rentals in the summer, with prices beginning to rise again, influenced the decision and we pulled the plug. We found another rental – this now being a third move, a fourth place to call “home” in just over a year. We contacted an attorney, who had absolutely no problem getting us out of our lease, although we were given only 14 days to get everything out.
Because that was the goal all along.
Already, less than two months since we left, the house has been sold. The owner looks to be recouping their hundreds of thousands in expenses they lost to the State bailing out their now-dead son.
And we, well now we’re here.
For many reasons, this place is safer. It’s technically a townhouse, built on three floors and almost the same amount of square footage as our last rentals. We lost the backyard, but gained the security of being managed by a major, national, apartment rental company. They’ve been very good to us, so far. There are no debates about maintenance, we simply put a request in the portal and someone texts to ask when they can come by within a day. There’s security on sight, everything is freshly remodeled, with new carpeting. The security deposit was not thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to some rando with an extra house; it was just $600. And because it’s huge, and owned by a large corporation, they follow the law, and we don’t have to deal with these two-bit maniacal slumlords that have one or two rental properties in abhorrent condition to fund their retirements.
As for the house fire…
We spent over $60,000 in the last year on this housing insecurity. It left us in deep debt, and threatened to leave us homeless at any moment. At the very least, it will take years for us to financially recover from this; though my concern with the way the things are in the world now, in the words of Joe Exotic, my biggest fear is that we: are never gonna’ financially recover.
(I suppose time will tell)
The trauma to ourselves and our kids is probably something that will come out over the coming years. Or maybe we somehow resolved it amidst all the packing and hardship.
We are definitely all guarded, especially after the property manager’s harassment at the last place. When the doorbell rings now, everyone still has a moment of tension before realizing it’s probably just Amazon or a GrubHub order. In the words of our primary care physician: “well, you’re all okay for now, but this has been a traumatic year and so we’re just going to hold some space and some grace for if there comes a point when anyone is… not okay anymore…”
While this has happened, the most eye opening thing has been how others have treated us. Make no mistake about it: we have been “othered.” What happened to us is what happens to “other people.” (The funny part is we used to think with that enormous amount of privilege too.)
Some people have acted like this is something we should be pitied for (maybe it is); others have turned their backs on us, because it makes them uncomfortable about the things they do to families like us (middle class renters). A lot of people simply pretend like it didn’t happen.
The last move, the one just a few months ago, was by far the hardest. It was conveniently timed in the middle of one of the atmospheric rivers that hit California. We had so little notice, and were so deep in debt at that point, that my husband worked at his second job the entire time, while for four days, one day after another, my two daughters (19 and 15) and I did the entire move. We would wake up, go to Starbucks, rent a Uhaul, load it with all of our belongings being soaked by the rain. Unload in torrential downpour. Spend the evening drying things off, distributing them, disposing of the phenomenal amount of things ruined by the rain, and then getting up the next day to do it all again.
My mother asked to help, but I was worried she’d get hurt. So on one day, I had her run all our errands for grocery pickups. Other than that, we learned the hard way where things stand on just about every relationship we’ve ever had.
“Mama always said ‘moving three times is like surviving a house fire.’” And so, it is.
For those that have been asking: some photos of our new place:
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