I May As Well Live In a Garbage Dump At This Point

I don’t know, things are getting a little harried around here. We basically live in a dumpster. All we need is a fire, and it’ll be just peachy: a metaphorical and literally version of my life since that fateful day, back in January, when our landlord terminated our lease to give the place we had lovingly called home for years, to a friend.

I’ve provided you guys with plenty of updates, the most recent (which contains links to the previous updates on this rental situation) can be found by clicking HERE … don’t worry, we’ll be right here if you need to catch up. Since that grim, and a little nihilistic, update on May 31st – 12 days ago – an absolute shit show has played out at this rental, as we simultaneously continue to look for, get a lease to, and secure a new home.

What seems to be the most stressful about it is that the process of renting a home is not streamlined or – essentially – standardized. Anywhere. You go through one person and they make a decision at their discretion, which I guess is their right (it’s their home after all), but it’s also wide open to discriminatory practices that, well, who can prove? You then go through a property management company and they have a different way of doing things; go to a realtor who is managing a property, there’s another process. All different, all distinct, none that make this anything less than a full-time job. There’s also security deposit bidding wars, realtors and brokers in the mix, the timing of things being different at each location… it’s a real mess, to be frank.

So now, in the last week and a half or so, a complete disaster has unfolded at the rental we are in now. To be clear: this home was never going to work as a long term solution for our family. We took this because, at the time, we had no other option. When our landlord at the old place issued us our termination of tenancy,I knew that it was going to take a considerable amount of time to find someplace to go. So I wrote them a letter, practically begging them to give us at least until the summer. My reasoning was sound: our kids needed to stay in the school system, our daughter had surgery scheduled that would have to be canceled if we were in the middle of a move; and we were willing to pay considerably more in rent to allow us just two or so extra months. Callously, they said no.

In our county, it is reported that there is 1 housing unit available for 1,348 middle income families like us. People are turning to motels, RV parks, renting backyard spaces to tent camp, and their cars, to ride it out until more housing becomes available. We are up against, at times, hundreds of other people, and again – with a difficult timeline and our regular lives of work and kids, and a different process for every single house we apply to, it’s been an unsurmountable task to find a more permanent home that meets the needs of our family. So we are in some sense fortunate to have found this place before we were relegated to the streets, a middle class family with above median income, simply because there are literally not enough places available.

But at the same time, this experience has perhaps caused more harm than living in a hotel for a while ever could have.

So this temporary home, we identified early on, has a number of glaring problems that seem to boil down to: age of the home, neglect by the owner to keep up with maintenance, and some community issues with the water and sewer system. I suppose we should have considered it ominous that within a week of living here, our neighbors to the right of us had a massive mold remediation job done from water damage in their downstairs living room and half bathroom. The process took a whopping two months to complete: evaluation, remediation, restoration, repair, during which time we listened in on an HOA meeting at the pool and learned that two other houses on the other side of the complex were also having some sewer and water damage issues.

Now there are several aspects of this home that absolutely violate the warrant of habitability, so terminating our lease was going to be easy. We just – again – needed to a find a place. I suppose the Universe decided our reasoning on that was not sound enough, because since that last update, a cascade of maintenance crises have flooded this house, including both a literal flood, and the discovery of massive amounts of water damage and mold.

The Broken Sprinklers

Turns out the broken sprinkler I shared in my last post was worse than we thought: all of the sprinklers were spraying directly at the front of the home, and with improperly sealed stucco at the foundation of the home, the baseboards through the entire downstairs of the house had begun to squish.

We started to notice this a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t until we had other water-related issues that someone else identified the issue and the severity of it, which will require a complete replacement of the base boards and, possibly, some of the tile. This is, of course, only after the stucco is sealed, which can only happen after the HOA fixes the sprinklers.

Until then, the water will just spread further and further into the first floor of our 928 square foot rental…

The Great Flood

Early last week, we came home from running errands and picking up our Election Night Pizza (a tradition in this home), to see water coming out of the drain pipe at the end of our driveway. At first, we thought nothing of it – thought it may be from something else – until pizza time was over, and we went to the backyard to discover a massive flood had taken over the entire backyard. We notified the landlord, and rather than send an emergency team, he said the landscapers could come in the morning – leaving water flooding (and running up the bill exponentially) for upwards of 12 hours.

The next day, I awoke on the couch upon which I sleep (remember, this house is incredibly small and my husband works at his desk in our bedroom, overnight) to see a group of men staring at me through the front window, even though I had left the side gate open to allow them access to the backyard as I had been instructed.

They immediately began to dig into the hill at the back of the lot, to uncover an entire and abandoned irrigation system (that the landlord had previously told us did not exist). They ripped it out, only to discover the leak was coming from piping in the foundation. But… they didn’t want to have to rip up concrete, so after the landlord – himself – showed up, they all dug through our trash can to find an old Pringles can and a can of Diet Coke, from which they fashioned miniature buckets. They then bailed water out of this hole in the hill for approximately two hours, returned all the dirt, and – I guess – are now hoping for the best (that the remaining dripping water will just soak into the soil, I assume).

Oh and, of course, this happened, which my 5 year old stood and pointed at yelling “I can see that guy’s butt Mommy!” Repeatedly.

The Coupe de Grâce

After all the hubbub, I was ready to put my chin up and move on. The flood was fixed (for now), everything was fine. We were continuing to look for a rental, we had been approved on one and were just waiting for the lease… we were going to make it to get out of here with the flood hopefully being the last major issue.

So on Thursday – the next day – I got up, showered, and was going to put on makeup for my first time in over a week, when I noticed that my makeup basket, which is stored under the sink in the half bathroom, was soaking wet. All of my make up in it? Ruined.

I emptied the cabinets underneath the sink and almost immediately vomited: a leak in the pipe had been dripping, and this issue was so clearly either overlooked or ignored by the landlord before we moved in, because the damage to the back of the sink was so profound, with mold growing around the edges.

Now remember, a few weeks before this, we had run some at home mold tests and mold did begin to grow in the tests. But this could always mean a variety of things, in California especially – where mold is everything – it simply means you need to keep an eye out. So we did, but I was not expecting the extent of what was going on in that half bathroom, which connects to the master bathroom; which effectively impacts about half the house.

The 928 square foot, temporary rental house for our family of 6.

So now there is a phenomenal amount of work that I am now being expected to facilitate. Be home for the contractors. Be available for the assessors. Be able to manage my 5 year old around the remediation equipment. Make this all work with my husband working nights still, sleeping on the couch, while getting the kids to and from their school and other activities; be available to let people in, schedule all the work, while still cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, taking care of the dogs, grocery shopping, getting my 5 year old to sleep every night amidst the noise and the chaos and a parade of workers coming in and out of the house … while trying to secure our new rental, and packing to move… in the middle of an alarmingly high amount of COVID in the community…

When it all gets spelled out like that, it really seems like the dumpster fire has already been lit. This house is uninhabitable. Though the rental market demands patience on finding a place to go. Like the others, the millions of people in California that make up 45% of the state – us, the people that rent either by circumstance or choice – what choices do we have? What recourse or urgency is there to provide us with safe and available housing? Who is representing us? What politicians will do something – anything – to right these wrongs?

Groupon Is Basically A Scam Now, and I’m The Last To Know (Also Men Wear Rompers Now, So Basically Screw It All, I Give Up)

So I bought a Groupon last week for a local photographer.

Let me start by saying that finding a photographer worth the money around here is tough. The good ones are all working in Los Angeles, taking headshots of Justin Bieber. Out here in the ‘burbs, we have a conglomerate of people either licensed and way overpriced, licensed and trying to break into the Justin Bieber headshot business, or not licensed but owning a nice camera and doing this for fun but making themselves look like a legitimate photography business.

Nevertheless, I bought the Groupon. The reviews of the guy were great – five stars, in fact. I needed someone to take photos of the kids before they get any bigger. A deal seemed the right way to go.

So I bought the Groupon, opened the voucher, and contacted the guy by email, which was the only way the voucher offered.

The email kicked back as not being a valid email address.

I tried again.

Kicked back.

I emailed Groupon and asked what they’d recommend I do, stating clearly that getting ahold of the guy or getting a refund to my account would both be acceptable. I just wanted to get my photos taken I’d paid for.

They asked me to give them a day to investigate…

…let me pause here and say that several years ago we had a problem with a Groupon, and immediately they issued me a refund in funds to my account that would be good for a year. So them saying they wanted to investigate gave me pause.

Still, I responded: sure, keep me posted.

They then responded and offered me Groupon Trade In Bucks. The bucks would be applied to my account, and after I receive the email that the money was applied I would have 24 hours to use it.

This was – in a word – bullshit. I paid good, hard earned money for something they could not guarantee or deliver. Why, then, am I being forced to buy something else I may not be interested in within 24 hours to get my money back?! I had no problem with store credit with Groupon…but 24 hours to use it?!

Sounds like a scam.

It seems as though businesses are more and more getting away with this kind of crap – putting their hands in your pocket and showing no remorse when they screw you over. You go to the nail salon, they act like they are doing you a favor to give you ingrown toenails. You buy fruit at a farm stand, they hide moldy fruit under the good fruit in hopes you won’t check. This newest event with Groupon is no surprise, but being unsurprised does not make it right. In fact it’s as if people are so numbed by this kind of crap happening – money being thrown at services that are never properly rendered – that we’ve been numbed into complacency.

We just expect to be screwed over.

Several months ago, my husband and I ordered a baby changing table online at Babies R Us. It came broken, so we returned it to the local store as the instructions said to do. They ordered us a new one, and low and behold: that one came broken as well. This time when we followed the instructions, though, I said – enough! We’d been waiting for over a month for the table, and we just wanted our money back.

They refused to give us our money back, instead issuing store credit for the clearance price the table was currently marked at. When I questioned that, because I clearly had the receipt, they said it was their discretion. That was it! No more explanation, just their discretion.

I took the store credit and called their 1-800 number, and they gave me the same line but said they’d refund me to my card the difference and the cost of shipping we had wasted.

We never received anything.

Back to Groupon. Still, seeing no other options, I replied and said that I would take the Trade In Bucks. I know you will all be unsurprised to hear: I never got the Trade In Bucks.

Not only that, I emailed them today and they did not respond.

I went to live chat with their customer support, as the site said that was the recommended mode of contact…when I put in the description of what was going on and clicked to chat I got the response: “Sorry none of our agents are available to chat at this time.”

I clicked to receive a phone call, my phone rang once and they hung up (I only knew it was Groupon because I Googled the number).

They then emailed me this:

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Calling me and hanging up after the first ring, then emailing me to let me know you called IS NOT A RESOLUTION TO THE ISSUE.

I emailed again. No response.

So I finally took to Google and found tons of people with the same experience. Groupon is now nothing more than a money grabbing scam site. Millions of people in the last few months, alone, have reported them to the Better Business Bureau and Consumer Affairs.

Then again, I feel like I have only myself to blame – I should have just clicked on the photographer’s website and seen how much this one wreaked of illegitimacy.

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Lesson learned.

This seems to be a greater issue, though. Not only that people just basically expect to be screwed over for things they pay for now, and companies (*cough cough* airlines *cough cough*) thinking they have a right to deny you the things you pay for, while still keeping your money…but there is another question about the legitimacy and transparency when it comes to online funding and selling sites, like Groupon.

Or GoFundMe, which is meant for charities or crowdfunding of a local cause or people in need; and yet people constantly head to it for things like vacations they can’t afford.

Or what about Kickstarter? A site that is marketed as being for innovative companies, and yet is often used for the antitheses of innovation – which people buy into, like the kid that launched a Kickstarter for potato salad. The kid did it as a joke and something like quadrupled his fundraising goal.

There. Is. Nothing. Innovative. About. Potato Salad.

Or the newest Kickstarter-abomination: RompHims. Rompers. For. Men. RompHims not only met, but largely surpassed their fundraising goal, and – like many Kickstarters – wasn’t to start a business, but to simply sell their product.

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Like the people that go on Shark Tank just to get on TV.

I don’t know what’s worse: the absurdity of what legitimately good ideas like crowdfunding and charity sites have fallen to, the scam that deal sites like Groupon have turned into, or the people that handily give over their money to all of it, no questions asked.

Probably the people, but I don’t know. I just want my Groupon refunded. And my family photos done.

3rkbux

Netflix = Capitalism, and other related topics

Photo credit Filmjunk.com

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now:  Netflix has restructured their rates, and a lot of people are up in arms on the way these changes will be affecting them.  Reportedly, over 10,000 posts (most negative) were made to Netflix’s Facebook page this Tuesday after the announcement of the restructuring of the plans, many of which carried some version of the message “I’m canceling.”

And why shouldn’t people be upset?  With unlimited streaming and unlimited DVDs (one at a time) only costing $9.99, a 60% rate hike for the same thing seems almost absurd.

Or does it?

People that have responded to the Netflix rate restructuring seem to fall under a few different camps, all of whom ignore some of the basic, logical facts.

First off, there are those that act like $15.99 is a lot of money.  Sure, a 60% “hike” in monthly charges is pretty drastic.  In light of the fact that $15.99 is less than the average American spends on coffee per week, though, it really shouldn’t be that big of a deal.  If an extra $6 is really going to break the bank, try a Diet Coke instead of that Starbucks Espresso just one day out of the month and the problem is solved.

Secondly, there are those that act like canceling their Netflix will save them money.  Will it?  Will it really?  I think we all know it won’t, unless those cancelers cease watching movies altogether.  A movie ticket at the theater runs about $11.50 (sometimes more, sometimes less).  A DVD or Blu-Ray Rental at Blockbuster runs around $5.99 or more.  A Video On Demand through Time Warner, Comcast, and other similar cable companies runs around $5.99, unless you chose a second rate/nobody wants to watch this movie from the $2.99 or less bin.  About the only way you can watch the same number of movies per month and save money would be to watch 15 or fewer $1 rentals from the Blockbuster Express or Redbox kiosks, but then you can watch no more than 15 movies (if you want to save money), can only keep the movies for one night, and are very likely to get one that is scratched and unplayable.

There’s also the simple fact that changing times mean inflated costs of doing business.  When a small business owner has to adapt to a changing economy, he raises his prices.  When there is a milk shortage, the cost of milk, yogurt, and cheese goes up.  When there is a natural disaster, gas prices sky-rocket.  The inability of Netflix’s millions of users to understand that business costs go up occasionally is astonishing.  Speculators have even suggested that this is the reason for Netflix’s hike in prices:  as the cost of securing online streaming contracts goes up, Netflix has to raise its rates.  Netflix has not officially commented on the reasons for restructuring, but it just makes sense.

Lastly, there is the entitlement camp.  These are the people that are irking me the most in this Netflix uproar:  the people that act as if they are entitled to unlimited movies, in the formats they want, with no change in prices at all, ever.  I have seen so many comments on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIN, and in the news over the last two days from people complaining that Netflix had better make all movies available for instant streaming, or else.  Quite obviously these are the people for whom $6 extra per month would break the bank, so they expect the $7.99 instant streaming to include everything.  If this entitlement camp wants to act so entitled, rather than vent their expectations on Netflix, they should perhaps turn to the studio executives that are making things difficult for everyone in the first place.  LA Times reported Tuesday that studio executives are glad that Netflix is changing their rate structure, claiming that this means through user cancelations their own means of profit through Video On Demand and Blu-Ray Discs will again soar.  The Times further stated that “… four studios prevent the company from offering some newly released DVDs until 28 days after they go on sale in stores. Three others keep their films off the Netflix Instant streaming service until they finish airing on HBO — about seven years after their home video release…”

The moral of the story?  Hollywood is a greedy, disgusting industry.  The further moral of the story?  By taking advantage of capitalism, Netflix destroyed the video rental store industry – or, to put it nicer, it “restructured it,” but we only have ourselves to blame for feeding in to it, and thus creating higher costs for all our other options.  The end-all-be-all moral of the story?  If you don’t like what Netflix has done with their restructure, you certainly can cancel your subscription, but before you do so consider what it’s going to cost you.  And I’m not just talking about the money.  Canceling Netflix on principle, only to play into the hands of more expensive movie viewing options, will just mean less money in your wallet and a cadre of studio executives laughing all the way to the bank.