2022: The Year of the Slumlord

Those of you that have been following along for this entire year know that my family has gone through some… well, insecure housing. I will sum it up here, but will also link back to the other posts, in case you want to do a deep dive. The insecurity is of no fault of our own – my husband has a good job, and a side gig; we are responsible, pay our bills on time. We do not make unreasonable requests. Just. an average family, a part of the community. And yet none of this has spared us from being treated like renter scum, along with the other half of California treated much the same, and – I suspect – much of the country that tenant’s another person’s home.

The good news is that I now feel panic attacks are well-deserved.

The bad news is that our housing situation is no more secure now, at the end of 2022, than it was at the beginning when we entered it.

House #1:

I wrote about the housing crisis in California HERE.

After years of living at the same home, caring for it as if it were our own, and diligently paying rent in full and on time, we were callously booted from our rental home. I say callously because we wrote a letter to them after receiving the termination of our tenancy (that’s putting it nicely: it was an eviction without cause), begging them to let us stay until summer so my 18 year old daughter could have endometriosis surgery we had been planning for the entirety of the pandemic, that spring.

They said no. Her surgery was canceled.

This was going on at the same time that thousands of other people across California were suffering the same fate: with the market booming, and looking like it was about to bust; and the eviction moratorium lifted, property managers and owners that wanted to get out of their investments jumped at the opportunity. At the time we entered the market, there was 1 unit available for every 1,789 families in our county looking. So we had quite a hard time finding a place, which we did only for it to be an absolute disaster as well, for other reasons (we’ll get to that next).

The kicker in the pants of all of this is that not only did they cheat us out of our security deposit, trying to charge us for routine maintenance and upgrades to make the house improved above and beyond standard wear and tear, was the fact that: they evicted us unlawfully. As it turns out, California has pretty strict laws about the reasons that a landlord can evict you without cause, not included is that a client of yours needs a rental home. Your landlord cannot, under any circumstance, evict you to just let someone else move in. Unless they are a member of your immediate family, this is a violation of California law.

And yet still, it was the reason we were let go. So a client of our landlord could move in.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, just a few months ago we learned the insult to this injury (one we are all still recovering from): the new tenant is somehow related to our (now ex) sister in law. Tons of people in my husband’s immediate family and friends are mutual friends with these folks.

These folks living in our old house. The one we were unlawfully evicted from without cause.

House #2

I wrote about it HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

And HERE.

As I mentioned, we moved in a time that thousands of middle income families were put in the same position. And, we had a limited budget, still recovering ourselves from pay cuts and increased costs associated with the pandemic.

Nevertheless, we eventually found the only place we could afford, in the timeframe we had to get there. It was 45 minutes away from our home, and in a matter of short time (actually, the problems started the first night we moved in), it became evident that this place was not going to work out for us.

Beyond the commute to school, sports, and social activities for our kids, the toxic environment in the HOA, and the smallness of the house were untenable. And then, after we resolved to find a way out of our lease, one presented itself, with a host of maintenance issues and the exposure of water leaks and mold through out the home.

Once we found a new place, back in our old community (actually the same general neighborhood as House #1, where we had lived for years), we were able to easily pull the implied warrant of habitability and get out of our lease. The last day I took a shower at this house, I could see mold peeking through the walls; and shortly after, we discovered the owner had gotten an appraisal only to find over $500,000 worth of damages.

(Of course we’re still arguing with them through the District Attorney to get our security deposit back, but that’s another blog for another day.)

House #3

I wrote about it HERE.

I wrote about landlords HERE.

So now we’re in House #3 for the year. We have moved twice, spent over $40,000 – in total – to move between the three homes, put our children through an enormous amount of trauma, suffered temporary illness from exposure to the mold (more than one night close to hospitalization for breathing issues for me, as well as my son), but figured – hey – we’re back home, we’re back in our community…

Fairly early on, though, it became evident that the property manager of this new home was very inexperienced in being a property manager. He always seemed confused, would flake on showing up for maintenance things, and after moving in July 1st of this year, as of today – December 13th – he has yet to complete the items on the move in walk through.

The gardeners written into our lease have shown up approximately 4 times (they are supposed to come every two weeks, which would be 12 visits at this point). The front lawn, completely dead, has drawn the ire of neighbors, and complaints from the city, so much so that we ended up having to invest $300 to cover it with more attractive mulch just so the neighbor kids would come ask our son to play.

In 5 months, we put in one maintenance request for a broken fan, and after a 100 degree heat wave and months of waiting and never getting any answer, just replaced it ourselves.

Then, a few months ago (just before Halloween), maintenance people started randomly showing up to do maintenance not requested or included in the move in walk through – without any notice. One person showed up one day to “repair window screens.” (No window screens needed repairing.) He took them and never returned. Another time the same person came to repaint the front door. He slopped paint all over the place, and painted the door so many layers that it now doesn’t open or close properly.

The coup de grĂ¢ce, though, of this whole affair is that 3 days after paying our 5th month of rent (now December, almost a year after our foray into insecure housing began back at House #1), the property manager texted my husband saying effective immediately he would no longer be the property manager. Another company – un-ironically our old company that allowed our landlord to unlawfully evict us without cause – would be taking over. This would in effect nullify our lease, so we started scrambling to get some legal advice only for him to contact us the next day and say “just kidding, never mind it’ll still be me.”

Okay…

Then today, upon entering our tenant portal, we discovered a couple of weird things. One is that our landlord never actually signed the lease. Two is that our security deposit had been zeroed out. My husband again contacted the new-old-new again property manager, who explained all of this but then… texted him again and asked to come over and take photographs of the home in “a few minutes”…

Again… um… okay…

California law is very strict about these things; it’s one of the few protections 45% of the state that rents has. Property managers and landlords cannot legally enter the home except for emergencies or routine maintenance, or if the house is being sold. Otherwise, inspections are illegal, unless you’ve written it into the lease or are a recipient of state assistance (neither of those apply here). By definition, a 5 month “check up” to take photographs of the home and our personal property with absolutely no notice is both illegal, and a violation of the tenant’s (our) privacy. This, coupled with the previous maintenance folks showing up without notice? And the other maintenance requests and gardening included in the rent ignored? Well… it all qualifies as harassment of a tenant.

We decided to go ahead and call the property manager and be amenable to this quick walk thru to try and get a better idea of just what is going on here. He comes tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve done some poking around, only to find – to my dismay – that the landlord and his wife have a number of mutual connections with me, and – this is where it gets crazy, and a little sad – his adult son recently died stepping in front of oncoming traffic. Very tragic, even crazier though is that our landlord was apparently on the hook for $420,000 in bail he had forfeited on that son’s behalf, who was about to go to prison on three strikes for felony car theft.

Obviously our landlord is in a state of grief, and trying to control what he can, and possibly recoup some of that lost money. But, all understanding and empathy aside, this does not make what is going on here okay; and moreover, leaves us wondering just how much we’ll have to tolerate before moving on to House #4.

Fundamentally, renters are very oftentimes folks just trying to live their lives peacefully. In California, as I mentioned, 45% of the state lives as a renter. That is almost half of the state, nearly 20 million people. And yet, time and again we become collateral damage for the poor decisions and lifestyles, the problems and personal issues, of our landlords. There is a sense that we are not people, just a paycheck; that we are nothing more than financial capital in the form of humans that can come up with the money to be so. This Class War, it is personal to me, and so many others of the middle and working classes. Personal because it calls into question the very conditions upon which we are able to live or even survive.

Christmas is just 12 days away, as a mom I should be focusing on the magic of it all – wrapping presents, checking all the experiential boxes; all while taking care of my kids, going to school myself, and just… living. It’s hard to see how people can live under these conditions for so long, though. Every morning I wake up in a panic, wondering what problem will come next, how our housing will become even less secure. I’m trying very hard to hold myself together right now, for the sake of my kids. But I’m also just about done. Today, for the first time in all of this, I very seriously thought about putting the kids in the car and just driving. With no idea what that meant, or where we’d go, all I could think of was that anything would be better than suffering under this cruel system where some of us are treated like subjects to be controlled and used for a paycheck, until there’s no more need for us and then we’re just thrown out with yesterday’s garbage. But renters, tenants – we are human beings too.

We, as a family, have a lot going on now, having thought that we were through all this insecure and crazy housing stuff. Big stuff, little stuff, plans we thought we were safe to make because things were supposed to settle down. We had rescheduled that endometriosis surgery for my older daughter, and just learned my younger daughter will have to have a minor procedure for a meniscus problem we planned for the beginning of the year as well. I don’t see us being able to tolerate all these problems and chaos and just *dealing with* our landlord, and navigate all of that at the same time. As a renter, are we really ever beyond that sense of insecurity, into the safety of settling down? Are we ever able to live life like everyone else?

If this Year of the Slumlord has taught me anything, it’s that the answer to all of that is a resounding no.