This Is Just How Things Are Now, I Guess.

Like millions of other Californians – 45% of households, to be exact – we are renters. I prefer it this way. Of course there are some things that come with the territory, but less stress and expense than what comes with homeownership. Owning your own home – an antiquated ideal that is falling more and more out of favor with younger generations, supposedly starting with mine (those dang millennials) – comes with so much baggage and unanticipated expense. And as climate change ravages our communities, and homeowners insurance rates rise with the increased fire risks (we, personally, know three families that have lost their homes in the last 5 years), it’s just not worth it. Home ownership is no longer an investment, it’s a liability.

There’s also something to be said for the ease of getting out with no real responsibility when you want/need to.

But again, with renting, does come some pitfalls..

For one, you are at the behest of your landlord, which is why anyone that rents with half a brain makes sure to always – ALWAYS – have a lease with obligations clearly outlined. The old days of your landlord coming by and fixing appliances together with you over beers are over. Now, with predatory investors – both small, and large – owning the outright majority of rental properties available, the cheapest route is always the one that will be taken. Even if it’s illegal or unethical.

Personally, I prefer apartment living, where they have regular handyman-type staff available during regular business hours. We used to live in the trashiest apartment complex in our entire city, and it was still my favorite because I could text the handyman and he would be there fixing the problem within 10 minutes. (I also had a lot more writing material unfolding before me.)

Now, with a bigger family, and my 78 year old father living with us as well, we live in a home that is managed by a property management company located here in town. We have been exemplary renters from the get-go, always paying our rent on time, taking care of the home and yard as if it were our own, and never once – during the entire pandemic – taken advantage of the legally afforded opportunity to stop paying the full rent when my husband’s pay was drastically cut. We simply cut elsewhere and paid the bill on time.

Every year, there is an annual inspection to make sure the place isn’t loaded down with trash, mold, and the like; and every year, the person doing the inspecting comments on how well we take care of the house. They have literally never had anything to complain about. They have always left commenting how we are an unusual case with no problems and a well kept home.

In exchange for this, in the five years we’ve been here, we’ve put up with a lot of crap. The first night after we moved in, we found out there were over 70 rats living in the attic. There have been a host of maintenance issues, expected in a house this old, though disappointing nonetheless. Earlier this year, the oven broke, and we waited patiently for almost three, full months for them to get around to ordering, delivering, and installing a new one – paying our rent, again, in full, even though we were perfectly entitled to withhold once we learned that for the first month they simply did nothing about it (and, it turned out to be some black market oven that doesn’t even properly work…).

But, it’s a stable home, in a nice neighborhood, and … well, at some point you put up with the BS because the thought of moving – and especially now, in this economy – is worse than fighting about rats in your attic, or a broken appliance in the kitchen.

For several months now, we’ve had an issue at night, when my husband is working and using a considerable amount of power: the lights flicker. When it first began, I took video of the issue, put in a maintenance request, and at some point our management company said they’d send someone out. The guy couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He did, however, replace the breaker “just in case that was the problem,” broke one of our two portable air conditioning units in the process, and went on his way saying to call if the problem came back.

It came back that night.

The Delta variant exploded around that same time, so the last thing I wanted to do was call and bring some stranger into my house again. He had told me he was vaccinated, but how did I know? The problem with the flickering lights persisted, got worse… and then, last week, we started to notice that outlets were no longer working sporadically through out the house.

So I put in another request, and today the management company told me to call that same electrician. In my head, I was already deciding what things I should unplug to make sure he didn’t break anything else, when I called to schedule the appointment. Now, still having one kid in the house ineligible for vaccination – and that kid also has asthma, as the Delta variants blasts through children, hospitalizing them at exponentially increasing rates around the country – I just wanted to confirm after he set the appointment that no one was going to come and possibly hurt my kid. I said: “so I just want to confirm that whoever you send is going to wear a mask right… I still have one kid not yet able to vaccinate?”

To be honest, I didn’t even get the entire sentence out though… in the middle of I still have one kid not yet able to vaccinate, he interrupted. His response floored me:

“Well we can come wearing full body condoms.”

He then went on to say that sure, they’re all vaccinated at his top level electrician’s shop, but they’ll come in masks anyway. Then he hung up. I was gutted.

This is just how things are now, I guess. People just have no filter, and it’s socially acceptable. Toxic masculinity is so pervasive in our society that we just allow it. We make excuses for it: “oh, he was just joking,” or “you know businesses are so understaffed, they must be stressed.” This type of crass, crude, and inappropriate engagement with complete strangers is just… acceptable if we can explain it away, normalize it with a few flippant words and the wave of a hand. Some, even a lot of people, will even come to this guy’s defense: people will call me a “Karen who can’t take a joke,” or they’ll normalize it with “well I’ve never had a problem with them,” or “I wasn’t there so I wouldn’t know.” As if we all just live in these alternative realities, and facts or things people say no longer have any weight to them.

Is that what I, or we, are to believe?

I ran for city council in my community last year, so I have a pretty thick skin at this point. Some of the worst, most disgusting, and outright horrific things were said both about, and to, me. They still are today. But the comment from the electrician – for some reason – it felt different, and I started to cry as I emailed the property management company to let them know that yes, the appointment had been scheduled, but this comment was made and I thought it was wholly inappropriate. I don’t know if it was the nature of the comment, or just how it came out of nowhere. Or, if it was just such an outlandish thing to say in response to a mom explaining that her kid has asthma and she’s scared someone will come into the house and infect him with a deadly disease.

I don’t know what the solution is at this point; the solution to this flagrant abandonment of social norms and common courtesy towards each other. I just know it’s not a world I want my kids to grow up in.

Renters Forever, We Find Ourselves With No Home

My husband and I, we are lifetime renters. We love the perks of renting: we don’t have to deal with maintenance problems, we have the security of living under the wing of another entity, and renting in Southern California is – without a doubt – cheaper than owning. In the volatile market out here, the risks of renting as compared to the risks of owning are minimal. These are all facts.

What is also a fact, though, is that when you rent you live in constant fear that your rent is going to be raised come lease time. It doesn’t happen often, in fact my husband and I have only seen it happen once before when we lived in an apartment complex owned by a big, brand-name company. Otherwise, our rent has never been raised, unless of course it was because we moved up to a nicer community with more amenities. Which has happened a few times, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was of our own doing.

So in May of last year, we moved to what we thought would be at least a semi-permanent place. It has by far been the nicest place we have lived. Nice area. Gated community. Plenty of room. Quiet neighbors. Clean pool. The only complaint we’ve had has been that the parking situation is a little tenuous, but even so we’ve been really happy. Comfortable.

Almost too comfortable…

As our lease renewal has drawn near, I thought for sure they would raise our rents. It seemed a given – the economy has been rebounding in the last several years, and this is a nice place. But then again, the anxiety has always been quelled by common sense. Reason. Rationality – they can’t raise it that much. Can they? Sure, the economy is rebounding, but not to such a degree that we can’t justify staying here. There are constantly people moving out of there, so they must want to keep some people around…right…?

On Friday of last week, we received our letter in the mail. They were “offering us” another year here – oh how gracious of them – and for only a 16% increase in rent.

Sixteen percent increase. That’s FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHTY FIVE DOLLARS A MONTH.

$485 a month. That would raise our rent to $3041 a month for 1400 square feet.

Let that digest for a moment.

Initially in shock, because I had never heard of anything so outrageous in my life, I asked around, emailed the company, and posted on Yelp and ApartmentRatings.com. I thought for sure this was a mistake. I mean, really. When we first moved in, the man who owns the other three-bedroom unit on the other side of the complex told me we were getting “ripped off” for what we were paying as compared to him. He is still here, and I included that in my emails and reviews.

I wanted to be reasonable and understanding, and honestly I didn’t want to leave. We like it here, we are very comfortable and happy. But we also live on the incomes of a freelance writer and a film editor who hasn’t seen a decent raise in his wages in as long as we can remember (in fact, we have lost benefits in recent years).

So I waited patiently, started looking around some more. And I figured that if we didn’t hear by the end of this week we’d have to get more serious about finding someplace else. Finally, after not hearing back from anyone, today I went on Yelp to find a response to my review. Here is the candy-assed response they gave me.

Response

So basically: don’t want to pay our rent increase?? – SEE YA!

Renters forever, we find ourselves with no home.

As the day wore on, the reality of this situation started to really sink in. Not only are we completely unable to pay the increase of rent at our current place, rental rates in the area actually are around the same as we currently pay but there is nothing available – so far – in our time frame. I cannot even wrap my mind around that, let alone how many people I know that rent for cheaper than we do but that are holding on to their good prices for dear life.

It’s starting to sound a lot like New York City. I always knew there was a reason LA and NYC seemed so interchangeable.

We have family that owns property down the street from where we live and rents it out, but they don’t want to offend the person they are already renting to by giving them notice so we can take over the lease.

Let that one sink in a moment too.

So in just eight, short weeks we will have no home. Or a new home, but where or how I have no idea. The other alternatives are equally as terrifying: we move into an hotel until we find a place that is in our price range; or we finally decide that this is time to cut the ties of my husband’s career and move all the way across the country with no home and no jobs to speak of.

Nonetheless, I am left with this more philosophical mind frame of the times in which we live. Where no one is safe or secure. Own a home and the market could crash and you could wind up in foreclosure with nowhere to go. Rent a home and the market could soar and you could wind up on the streets with nowhere to go. No one is safe, the middle class is being squeezed out of existence as far as I can see it.

It’s terrifying, really. We were so comfortable.