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 grâce, 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.

And Just Like That, I’m Back Home

I haven’t posted on here in well over a month – not a matter of writer’s block or dearth of content, but the fact that we moved. Back home. Not to the home from which our landlords cruelly and callously terminated our lease at the beginning of the year (after years of dutifully paying rent monthly in full and on time, and taking prodigious care of their home as if it were our own). But a few blocks away.

In our temporary rental, nearly 45 minutes from the city my kids have always known, the situation went from bad to worse in such a rapid and bizarre fashion, for a brief moment amidst it all I legitimately believed I was going insane. There was just no way that conditions could be that bad there. We had mold, water leaks, floods, more mold, sagging floors, crazy neighbors, and – in the final hours – a family member of our landlord rifling through the mail. For one of our last weeks there, my children and I were displaced for an entire week due to a mold remediation. And in the last shower I took there, the floor began to sag, water came gushing from the ceiling beneath me into the garage on the first floor, and mold began to appear through the paint pealing off the walls.

When we terminated our lease prematurely, and provided a letter for the landlord citing a breach of warrant of habitability, the letter had 26 pages of attachments providing evidence. By any and all standards: it was bad.

Possibly in a moment that was serendipitous, but more realistically just sheer, dumb luck, a home became available in our price range, in our old neighborhood, while all of this was going on, and the rest is history. Now, we are unpacked and settled in. And just like that, I’m back home.

Much of the last few weeks has felt like putting the pieces of the puzzle of our lives back into place. When we moved away months ago, we had to significantly downsize; now with more space and almost an identical floor plan to our old home down the street, we’ve pieced it back together, all the while cognizant of everything that has happened. Our temporary rental had no real functioning kitchen to speak of, just a broken oven and about a foot of counter space to work on, so we’ve also caught up on eating at home. I feel more like myself today than I have since the day our lease was terminated – now 7 months ago; and my kids are finally letting down their guard, no longer afraid that something else would go wrong after months of seemingly every day having a problem.

And that’s the thing: this situation – being a comfortable, middle class family with the security of a roof over our heads, suddenly being thrust into insecure and unsafe housing during an unprecedented moment in history – well, it changed me, it changed us. I didn’t just find myself in the position of privilege to simply empathize with people struggling in the housing and rental crisis, I was forced to live it myself.

45% of Californians are renters, this nearly half the state has been subjugated into a class war that stereotypes them as unworthy, an undeserved other. Ironically, this group of people are the sole reason people in the landlording business are able to do so. A landlord’s livelihood is entirely dependent upon having tenants to pay the bills. And while I don’t typically like to turn things into a conspiratorial bigger plan, after living the consequences of insecure housing for several months, I understand now the bigger societal problems that are created by this wing of late stage capitalism run amuck.

Availability of Housing

When I ran for city council, something that struck me as odd was the fact that there was a clear and certain need for housing, but very few city council people seemed to have any real understanding of how urgent the need was. As time went on in my campaign, and afterwards, it became evident that they do understand. Their donors – largely property managers, realtors, and personal landlord investors – just have control of these local politician’s votes.

In my county, there is 1 housing unit for every 1,348 middle income families. This is on its own an astounding figure I myself did not think could be topped, until just this week when I learned that my county also has the most severe metro area housing shortage in the entire nation. The slow walk to development in my community is so profound and – frankly – unbelievable, until you consider that it is in their best interest to slow walk development, because this allows the prices to rise exponentially, unchecked.

So availability of housing is not an issue in a vacuum, rather it creates a backchannel of issues like housing affordability, temporary rental availability; it even has a negative impact on the tourism industry because of the number of hotels filled up with vagrants, and the simple fact that a tourist-centered community loses its appeal when every corner has someone homeless, someone pan-handling, or a car parked with a mattress on top of it and a person sitting inside shaving their armpits.

But to the people that own the politicians? The people in the real estate and landlording industry? They don’t care. With 1 unit for every 1,348 middle income families, and a housing market that sits at a median home price above $800,000, this is simply their opportunity to cash in. To be clear, this is the fault of every local politician of the last several decades – Democrat, Republican, Independent, you name it. Will they be held accountable? I find the prospect unlikely.

Conditions of Living

As I mentioned, our temporary rental was an absolute nightmare, and we were fortunate to have the ability and means to get out of it. Not everyone is as lucky, and at some point shortly before we moved I obtained a list of all the rentals our landlord owned.

To say I was shocked is an admission of my own naivety: one of the rentals had a Port a Potty outside, another had a tarp for a roof. I’m sure people that have rented from the slummiest of slumlords will sit and nod their heads in understanding, but for me this was an absolute dereliction of what I imagined such a profoundly small number of people could subject upon nearly half the state. Our landlord, himself, lived (lives) in a 4 million dollar mansion on a 23 acre farm, overlooking his peasants. I’m sure a working toilet and completed roof isn’t an issue for him; but being bathed in his own privilege does not excuse that he legitimately believes people should live without those things.

Even little things you don’t realize until you live in it become an issue when your conditions are reduced to semi or unlivable. As I mentioned, our kitchen was a broken oven and a one foot space of counter. At the time we rented the place, we had absolutely no other options; and I figured I could make it work. The reality, though, with a family of six, was that I could not, so it was take out most days, sometimes multiple times, and a lot of quick things that didn’t require the appliances or equipment we had to store, or the counter space needed to prepare.

In other words, for months, we ate like absolute shit. (While being exposed to toxic mold.)

We of course see this all over the country, with landlords providing substandard conditions for their tenants – mold, rot, unworkable appliances. But what isn’t often talked about as well are the conditions of the community that is predominately renter-based: roads in need of repair, no easy access to healthier food options, a lack of public transportation. Some states, including California, have requirements about affordable housing in proximity to big box stores; however these ineffective policies are easily skirted, and do not address how a community deals with the situation when politicians slash budgets for public transportation, or when stores close down due to new developments in other areas of the community.

But again: will anyone be held accountable? I find this unlikely.

The Class War Is Real

For now, the dust has settled and I’m plotting my next moves. Not housing moves, though; what I have to do about my community members who continue to suffer under this absolutely unfettered, hyper-localized, class war. While I thought that the Democrats and Joe Biden’s abject failures had radicalized me and my politics, I suppose I was not even remotely prepared for where this experience would take me. Perhaps most worthy of note is that this year, at 40 years old, my idealism about reform from within is finally gone. The only way I see this being fixed is for the entire system that perpetuates this to go along with it.

So where does that leave me? Well, I’m back home, and it’s an election year. Not a single thing will change if people do not start running for office that will rid our communities of the corruption that has infiltrated every level of government. But this again runs along the belief system that people can be elected and reform things from within. Can they? AOC faking handcuffs at a Roe rally, or Bernie kowtowing to the party line suggests otherwise. Maybe I’m wrong, but for now it seems that there has to be another way.

In local elections, it’s becoming harder and harder to find candidates anyway; nobody wants to run. Why would they? As a former candidate myself, you have to not just have a tough skin, but sometimes a bulletproof vest. If your personality isn’t in line with the identity politics of either the Left or the Right, you’re as good as a lost cause. Of course election reform could fix all of that, including comprehensive campaign finance reform; but then the people that would have to reform this will never do so because the system itself benefits them.

But I think it goes deeper than that. People aren’t just not interested in running because they aren’t interested. They’re too busy working and struggling to survive to do – literally – anything else.

In our temporary rental, it was profound how much time was spent just struggling to survive. Between the kitchen, the conditions, the health issues that started to crop up from the mold, or having a leak one day, a toilet back up the next day, and a flood in the backyard over the weekend, our time was consumed dealing with problems that people not in this subjugated living situation ever have to spend their time on.

This is the real point to the class war. It isn’t to keep people in their place. It isn’t to have people to pay your bills, and provide you your services. It isn’t to keep them sick and dependent, or hungry and available to work for low wages.

It’s to keep you so busy you can never change this system of capitalist oppression.

I’m sure, in the end, I’ll change my tune. At least that’s what family and friends say. Maybe I’m just spouting a tangent after arguably the most traumatic experience of my adult life (and that’s saying a lot). Or maybe I really did go insane and this is all some lunatic’s fantasy and ranting.

Whatever the case may be, this change of thinking was a long time coming. As I said, I’m now 40. It took four decades for my eyes to be opened to the real hardships that exist, in all our communities, and even so I still make jokes about it. But we all do, we all joke about the abject horror we are seeing in front of us – memes on Facebook about tyrant landlords, viral videos on Tik Tok about completely absurd living and working conditions. “Anger and humor are like the left and right arm. They complement each other. Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to oppression, and humor prevents them from being consumed by their fury.”

I never considered myself poor, we are by all standards well off. But that didn’t stop us from living through what we lived through the last seven months, my family. So I guess even the definition of poor needs be revised. And I suppose the day to take it all seriously – the class war and the people most impacted by it – will be the day the jokes stop.

Anger empowers the poor to declare their uncompromising opposition to oppression. If there is one thing I feel when I think back to everything that has happened this year, it is a little flame of anger shrouded in disbelief that it actually happened. The days plug along and we grow further distant from that hellish situation, and the disbelief fades leaving just that tiny flame of anger and disgust for a system that is designed to harm.

And just like that, I’m back home. But who returned is wholly different and forever changed.

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?

Housing Situation Update

This is starting to feel like a diary of my demise, these housing situation updates. If you’re late to this glamorous party, here are some links to get caught up… don’t worry, I’ll be right here when you get back. Stuck. In this hell.

Link to my post when we first came to our temporary rental home HERE.

Link to my article about the housing crisis in California, including our part in it HERE.

Link to my post about how we are managing in our temporary rental home (grimly) HERE.

Link to my commentary on landlords in general HERE.

You can see that I waffle between incredibly personal updates, and ones that are simply more general or not specific, rather speaking to the crisis at large. That’s because I want to share my story, while also discussing the very real and certain reality that millions of Californians – actually, no, Americans – are experiencing at this moment.

If you don’t know about, and/or have empathy for, the situation for renters of this country (in my state of California, roughly 45% of the entire population), then you honestly have absolutely no soul. When my husband and I committed to renting, we did so in a time that renting was a luxury: it was a matter of being able to lock up and go whenever you want, be free of property taxes and exorbitant costs of maintenance, and it ensured we didn’t get into a position of being in over our heads. Now, the script has flipped, and after our landlord terminated our lease that fateful day in January (the 4th, to be exact), we have been thrust into the position of being in insecure and unsafe housing.

(I’ll get to the insecure and unsafe part for us in a minute.)

Last week I watched a fantastic documentary on the homelessness problem in Los Angeles on my local Fox News station. I’m not a fan of Fox, but this is the local one (Fox 11) and they tend to be more balanced, moderate, and local… a lot of news reports from the zoo, and quirky local weather forecasts. That kind of thing. What struck me in the documentary, though, was the emphasis on mental health. People tend to think that mental health and addiction issues are the reason for homelessness, when the truth to the matter (just reported recently by the LA Times) is that less than 30% of people that fall into homelessness are mentally ill or addicted to substances at the time they go to live on the streets. But what was stated in this documentary, and to which I understand fully, is that for that 70% – the ones that just fell on hard times: once people are thrust into insecure housing, a series of events and lack of social support happen that affect them so profoundly there is just no way their mental (and in some cases physical) health will not decline. It just won’t.

I see myself cracking around the edges, as well as my children. We’ve now been here for just over three months, and my 14 year old now is having what appear to be panic attacks. We’re roughly 45 minutes away from where she is to go to high school in the fall, but we still don’t know if we’ll even be able to get back before then. She’s enrolled, registered; but as the cost of gas rises, I am now spending over $800 a month just to take the kids to the school groups, tennis lessons, doctors, and friend activities. When school starts, we don’t have some magic fund from which we can draw to pay $9 and $10 a gallon that is being projected to keep driving to and from our old home every day; we can’t even sustain the $6 we are paying now. And anyway, as I’ve addressed in previous posts, with two other kids and absolutely no consistent and regular support system, I just cannot even say now that I am going to be able to make that happen. Of course my older and younger kids are both stressed to the maximum too, the oldest affecting her menstrual health and endometriosis that is now warranting emergency room visits, the youngest affecting his sleep and overall learning and focus; and – well – the fact that I’ve had a sinus infection for 4 weeks, and now my entire body is covered in stress hives sort of speaks for itself.

… so at least for the kids and I? The ship seems to be going down. Fast.

Compounding this is that the longer we stay here in this temporary rental, the more boils to the surface.

  • Several parts of the wall, ceiling, and baseboard around the house of our temporary rental are bubbling out with moisture;
  • We ran a mold kit both up and downstairs and black mold was detected in the dust in the air;
  • We purchased a moisture meter and almost every room in the house sounds the alarm;
  • One window upstairs and one window in the downstairs bathroom actually opens, no other windows in the home open;
  • Both sliding glass doors to the backyard were installed improperly, making the emergency exits difficult to open, at times impossible;
  • There are roots in the sewer, it has so far backed up twice, one of the times in a dramatic moment of raw sewage spraying into my 5 year old’s face;
  • The circuit breaker is old and in need of updating, it has burn marks on the rubber around the edge and the landlord refuses to repair or replace it;
  • The neighbor next door is psychotic, which we’ve discussed in previous posts; but moreover, the neighbors on both sides smoke cigarettes within 25 feet of our backyard making it impossible for our children to use;
  • The sprinkler is broken, and while this isn’t exactly dangerous – per se; the HOA refuses to fix it, nor to turn it off (we have no access to the controls), and in a drought this is going to result in a hefty water bill of wasted water and fines;
  • And more…

At this time, the landlord has refused to address these issues. I could certainly call the area housing authority, or the fire department, about the clear code and safety violations. And also, we have sought legal counsel that has assured us our warrant of habitability has been broken and we can legally leave at any time with no penalty to us. But then what? At that point we’d likely be given notice to leave and have absolutely nowhere to go.

Our search for new housing has been going on since January 4th. So many people have criticized us for moving here, but what other options did we have? Exactly one: an apartment in the ghetto, where a methamphetamine lab was recently busted by the area sheriff’s department. Not exactly the best area.

Otherwise, it was this, or living in our cars. Or a hotel, if we could find one that would rent us three rooms we could all cram in, plus a storage unit for all of our things, for the price of rent we pay per month. Most local motels have largely filled up with locals that are in a similar situation, though, and remember we live in coastal California: ie, tourist area, so hotel room pricing peaks at this time as is. Again, we could have joined the renters that have strapped their mattresses to their car roofs, driving around and sleeping in parking lots. California has such an exponentially worsening situation in this space, they’ve set up entire lots with security, port a potties, and toaster ovens with picnic tables for people’s safety while they sleep and exist. I don’t know, it might get to that at some point.

For now, this was all we’ve had as an option. When our lease termination was closing in, we had to take what we have been offered. And to be fair, we tried to be positive about it, but it was hard after just a couple of weeks. Every week is effectively a lifetime in this place: a lifetime of worsening mental and physical health, exponentially rising financial costs, and more of a casual drift downward into the place these landlords and the housing crisis has subjugated our family to be.

This became even more clear to me this past weekend when a realtor friend of mine helped us find out more information on our landlords in this temporary rental. To call them slumlords is a woeful understatement of the situation. We cruised by a few of their other rentals, and considered ourselves fortunate that black mold and possibly dying in an electrical fire in an unescapable home in the middle of the night is all we have to deal with. One of the rentals they manage has a tarp for a roof; another a port a potty in the front yard. Given our experience with their refusal to do maintenance here, it makes sense; of 20 rentals they own and manage, maybe they just got in over their heads on investments, right?

Wrong. My friend also managed to get us details on the landlord’s property as well – you know, the one he lives in. I figured it must be a scummy, slimy home too… he just has his tenants live in the type of conditions he himself finds acceptable. Right? … right?

While I won’t dox his address or give any details, I will leave it just at this: his mansion is worth $4.9M and sits on 20 acres of farmland that he also owns and operates. Like a castle looking down upon his peasants, this man is bathing in $100 bills for leisure.

And his tenants just don’t have any choice.

What’s heinous about it is that since January, we’ve now applied to 30 different rentals, all of which we applied to only after we were overwhelmingly sure we were more than qualified. Why not just shoot for the moon? Well, we have four legal adults that have to apply, which comes to about $30-$40 non refundable fees per application, per person. Back of the napkin math? We’ve spent over $3800 just to apply to all these rentals, of which we have been so far offered this one and a meth lab apartment.

People have told us to make more income, as if this suggestion is not preposterous enough as is, that would be all fine and good if only they knew that in most cases we make 4, 5, and in one application even 6 times the rent. The requirement is 3. The problem isn’t the credit scores or the income or the number of people. There are simply not enough houses, not enough apartments, and absolutely no local representation for tenants. At all.

I keep trying to remind myself to be patient. We’ll find a new rental eventually. But will we? And at what cost? There are physical and financial, and at some points mental, costs to this situation at this point, that I cannot see us withstanding for much longer. At some point we have to pull the plug and stop the faucet on the application fees; at some point we have to make choices on our children and their futures and education. What I do know is that we have utterly failed them, and when I watched that documentary on my local Fox station – the one on homelessness, the crisis and its tolls – I could see what this shame and hopelessness of failing your children, no matter how hard you’ve tried, does to a parent.

And when we do pull the plug on this house search, and accept our lives amidst sadness and hopelessness? Then what? I honestly have no idea.

Landlords Are Literal Scum

Of course the irony of me calling landlords “literal scum,” is that many of them actually view renters in the same vein. And, in both cases, there are likely a whole scale on which you could plot individuals who either landlord or tenant. Some are probably genuinely good people, just using their starter home as a way to make a little extra income in their retirement; and in the case of tenants, most are simply middle or working class people that find themselves the product of capitalism run amuck. There are always going to be slumlords, of course; and there will also be your occasional renters that burn cigarette holes in the carpet, and mix meth in the bathtub.

This is no different, though, than your average home owner. For every slumlord that expects others to live in mold and grime, I’m sure there are just as many voluntarily doing it themselves. And, well you know, people that make drugs actually are often homeowners, because — duh – who else can afford a house in this market?

If you are a landlord, this is of no offense to you. I’m sure you’re a nice person. But, if you continue reading this and see some of your own behaviors in what I am about to describe…

… well, it’s time to start evaluating your behaviors.

As many of you know, we’ve been looking for a new rental home for what feels like forever. In January our lease was terminated so that our landlord’s friends could move into the home we had rented and taken care of as our own for years; and because they callously refused to give us a little extra time to find a new rental, we wound up 45 minutes away from our home and community in a temporary rental that is looking less and less temporary by the day.

The process of finding a new rental has been less than desirable.

Security Deposits

It’s common knowledge, now, that a security deposit is really just a tip or a bonus that your landlord nickels and dimes to death at the end of your tenancy, so as to never have to give you a penny of that back. And say you are able to get some of that money back… Well your landlord put that in a bond, cd, or savings all those years and earned interest… and you? Well, you’re not going to see a penny of that (the interest earned on your money).

What’s absolutely bananas now, though, is that while people purchasing homes are getting into bidding wars over house prices; renters are now getting into all out bidding wars over rent, and security deposits. We’ve had several rejections now that were as simple as the other party was able to offer upwards of double or triple the security deposit.

Back of the napkin math, at the prices and the security deposit limits in California: that’s people offering $10,000, $13,000, in some cases even $18,000 for the security deposit, alone. Just to get the edge over other applicants. And while laws prohibit what a landlord can require, nothing stops them in any amount that they are allowed to take.

Maintenance

Maintenance is tricky in a rental because, while required to provide you with a habitable home, the definition of habitable is very subjective. When you sign a standardized lease, it’ll say something to the effect of: you accept the condition of the home as is. But most of the time, if the landlord even takes the time to show you the rental, they want you in and out in a matter of just a few minutes at the viewing.

We just attended a viewing of a home we did not get selected for last week, and the place was not only limited in the amount of time the irritable property manage let us look at it for, but it was a complete disaster. Had we been able to even see the counters, we may have uncovered major cosmetic issues; or holes in walls, or missing essentials. It was just that much of a pigsty, the previous renter being a real estate agent herself who apparently didn’t think renters deserved to actually view the condition of the floors or sinks. We left at the point when we needed to measure the room that our California King bed would go in, and the door wouldn’t even fully open because there was so much stuff on the floor. I guess to a landlord, if your bed doesn’t fit you should just sleep on the concrete tile.

I took some heat for complaining about this over on Facebook – busy mom, you should worry about the home itself not the mess. Well the issue was that the mess and the rush of the viewing made it virtually impossible to see the home itself, and potentially major maintenance issues. And maybe that was the point. Major maintenance issues often can’t be noticed until you’ve lived in the home for a while. At the temporary rental we’re in now, after spending just over two months here, we’ve discovered:

  • Mold and moisture in the floorboards
  • An electrical problem through the entire house
  • No working garbage disposal
  • Roots in the sewer line
  • And quite a few more minor things that are inconvenient, not dire, but for the amount we pay should be fixed

The problem with maintenance of course is several fold. First, it’s common knowledge that landlords retaliate for major maintenance issues, especially appliances that have to be repaired. In our prior rental, we suspect that at least part of their decision, or the way it played out, was retaliation for the fact that the oven broke and had to be replaced just a few months before they terminated our tenancy. Retaliation is – of course – illegal; as is outright refusing to make repairs. But what are you going to do? Go to court? Sue them?

Some states have laws that protect you, that allow you to claim what’s called warrant of habitability. You have several options, legally, at that point: you can move out without notice, repair and deduct, refuse to pay your rent… But under any and all circumstances, you’d better be prepared for attorney retainers and a court battle.

Back to the rental we are in now: we’ve already had one maintenance issue outright refused, and another blamed on us simply because they didn’t know about it until someone moved here. Bottom line? Landlords are literal scum, and expect their tenants to live among that which they leave in their trail.

They’re Doing You A Favor, Ok?

The most pervasive, and the same time backwards, attitude that I have come across over the last year is that landlords are doing us a favor by letting us live in their homes.

First of all, many landlords (again, not all; but many) are actually major corporations or big time, locally owned, commercial property management companies. These are not their personal homes that they lovingly cared for over decades and just grew out of, and decided to rent out instead of sell to help fund their retirement. Even single property owners that have no personal history with a home are becoming more prevalent in the rental market: it’s a money maker, after all.

At our last rental, the one we got booted out of, the owners had 10 other properties around the county, and had purchased the one we lived in and immediately turned it around to rent out without ever stepping a foot into the house.

But the idea of ownership is so uniquely built in to the fabric of our society… They’re doing you a favor, ok? If they didn’t own the home, you’d have nowhere to live. Right?

Wrong.

In California, as just one example, approximately 45% of the state identifies as a renter, which – obviously – is almost half the state’s population. But the issue isn’t that without ownership we’d all have nowhere to live; it’s actually that the owners (again many of whom are mostly just investors, property management companies, and large corporations) have an absolute death grip over municipal and county governments, and their lobby has profoundly limited even the amount of housing that is built for anyone – rent or buy. Have you ever looked at the campaign finance disclosures for your local elections? It’s typically one realtor and broker, property manager, and property investor after another that donates to local candidates, as well as the local and state real estate PACs that have the explicit interest of keeping the market hot in mind. Their sway – the NIMBYism, or practice of not wanting to build more and adequate housing in a timely manner, has created such an unprecedented crisis of housing availability that its effects are a little much to even wrap your head around: they’ve not only driven up rental prices, but they’ve created this environment of competition that leaves middle and lower income renters with few options, filling up short term rentals, local motels, and side streets with entire families living in their cars (or worse) simply because there just is not enough housing to go around.

Of course the irony is that were it not for renters, these types of corporations – the Blackrocks of the world; the small time property management companies and commercial investors; the realtors that are in the rental game too; and, single or limited individuals that have a extra property they do not need to use personally, so use it to help fund their retirements, vacations, or… whatever…

… well while they’re of the opinion that they’re doing renters a favor, the reality is that none of their profit margins would exist were it not for renters paying them on the 1st of every damn month.

And that is, ultimately when you get down to it, the rub of it all: that landlords and tenants both think the other is what they themselves may very well be. Delinquent. Doing you a favor. Scum.

But as a renter, myself, who has neither the money nor the interest in owning a home in this country, and this economy, I have to side with the underdog on this. Landlords are absolute scum. Maybe it’s unfair to paint them all with the same brush, but then that’s what they’ve all done to us. Two can play at this game.

The Newsletter: Issue #11

Don’t you love how every time I say I’m going to try to get back into writing the newsletter every week, and then I – like – say I’m going to really and truly hold myself accountable “this time,” I then disappear on the newsletter-front for about a month? Or more? Every time?

Well anyway…

Around the World

So how about that monkeypox?

What an absolute shit show this world is. We have Russia continuing to hedge the world closer and closer to World War 3, an ongoing SARS2 pandemic that is just being made worse by incompetent public officials and capitalist governments, Roe is about to be overturned, and now we have monkeypox, aka mini small pox.

So if you aren’t following BNO Newsroom on Twitter yet, I highly recommend you do so. They post about a number of news items, including a tracker on COVID and now, I guess, monkeypox. What’s so scary about monkeypox I think is actually that it’s spread much more widely and rapidly than in previous outbreaks, which implies that something about it, or us, may have changed; and the fact that its closest relative in small pox can spread 9 miles through the air. While they know what to do, how to deal with it that is… I think the trauma response from the last two years of absolute clusterfuck that’s been COVID is just rearing its head.

Know how to deal with it, or not, I just have no interest.

Beyond pandemic disease, the ongoing climate crisis (which I, personally, believe the pandemic disease stuff is a part of), and all the other shit going on (war, economy, gas prices… you know…), it’s election season. If you’re in California, it’s time to get your ballots in. And while I don’t know the schedules of all the other states, I do know you need to vote, even if it’s just writing yourself in because practically everyone else in public office or politics right now is a piece of shit.

(There, I said it. Someone had to. And yes, I wrote myself in on at least one spot of my ballot.)

What’s interesting about the primary election is that it’s happening as COVID is surging, and so – like it or not – I think this is profoundly impacting both people’s votes, and pandemic policy.

As we see cases of COVID in SoCal, and hospitalizations along with them, rise rapidly, officials still hold their trigger fingers on bringing masks back – even in notoriously mask-friendly Los Angeles. Personally, I understand keeping them off in places like movie theaters and restaurants – those are totally optional entertainment venues, risk takers beware.

But now it’s spread (that mask-free life, I mean) to pharmacies, grocery stores, and doctors offices, which is just insane. People don’t have a choice to stay away from them, so of all the places we should have masks it’s there. And yet, we have no policy, which makes me believe that the election is – once again – swaying health policy. In the words (or word) of Donald Trump: SAD!

Apparently at least a few people agree with me; late last night I posted a Twitter poll and almost all respondents believed that the election is at least partially influencing mask policy.

Around My World

Welp, we’ve been looking for a new place to move to. Again. I know, I know. We just moved, but we know how to get out of our lease easily, and legally; and so we’ve been looking for a new spot back home and out of this remarkably bad, potentially dangerous, situation.

The whole experience of finding a rental in California is so strange. On one hand, 45% of Californians rent, and so you would think that there would be some basic understanding that renters are people too. In my county, this constitutes roughly 400,000 people – that’s no small number of people, and they rent for a variety of reasons, including convenience.

Yet still, you come across so many people that consider renters to just be the absolute scum of the Earth, which is rich when you consider the fact that if it weren’t for that so-called scum, landlords would not have so much extra money from which to avail their own lifestyles.

There is then, of course, the whole matter of going to look at places, only to be confronted with the conditions that they present.

Earlier in the week, we visited a house that was literally crumbling apart. I mean the wall was crumbling to the ground during the viewing. The owner had marked the price so ridiculously high for the amount of square footage she was offering, and admitted in the course of the tour that she was simply trying to recoup her expenses from repairs she had to do before renting it out.

That’s not… how it works…

Then yesterday, we visited a home that was being rented out by a property management company. The home was previously being rented by a couple of real estate agents that had moved to the area and rented while purchasing their own home; they said they were moving out in the middle of July.

So we showed up for the open viewing, which meant about 10 other people showed up as well. We all waited and waited, for no one to be there. Someone finally called the property management company and – apparently – the realtor that had been living there had agreed to show the home. Well she wasn’t there, so she lied; so this man from the management company came over to let everyone (that remained) in.

I’m surprised anyone could get in the front door.

This. House. Was. Trashed. We are talking garbage all over the floor, on the counters. A white board piled on top of their kid’s highchair. Counters covered in products; laundry baskets everywhere, Target bags all over the floor. It looked like a literal tornado had come through the room.

While I completely and 100% respect the struggle of a family with young kids, if you’re a realtor yourself and you (a) do not show up when you say you will, and (b) leave the house in a literally unshowable condition, you’re a dick. You’ve treated your peer in the field (the property manager) and his clients with total disrespect. And you’ve made it nearly impossible for prospective renters to actually see the condition of the home (upon further reflection, I really wonder if that was the point).

It’s also a violation of a standard lease in California. I went back and looked at our last two leases: both state quite clearly that in the last 30 days before moving out, you agree to have the home available and in a clean condition for viewing.

Again, I sympathize with being a busy parent, but that’s not what was going on here, and for us it made it difficult to even assess if the home would work. Many people walked in, saw the mess, and just walked out.

We have some furniture that requires space, so we needed to be able to measure a couple of spaces to make sure it would all fit. There were rooms we could not even get in to. The doors would not open. How could we possibly make the call to take that rental under those conditions? Surely someone will accept that kind of shit, just as in the case with the crumbling home from earlier in the week; but just because someone will does not make it right to expect them to. And that fails, on top of everything else, to recognize that you are responsible for the condition of the home, even if you’ve accepted it as is. This is to say that as a renter, if the house is crumbling, you take responsibility for that – including, when it comes time to return your security deposit.

I think this speaks to a bigger issue: of thinking of renters as people that should just take whatever they can get. When I posted about it on Facebook, naturally several people came after me and said that the mess was not an issue, that I should be more sympathetic (I deleted the post shortly after putting it up, because – honestly – I just did not want to hear about how many people in my personal life are cool with professionals disrespecting each other, and treating renters like they don’t deserve to actually inspect a home they are planning to spend a significant chunk of their lives in). What about sympathy for renters that need to check the home though; for the ones that came to that showing today having taken time off work (there were at least two, that I could tell)?

Perhaps a bigger issue: why is it that we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when the facts tell us that in this instance we should not?

The only thing that will resolve this is hard and fast legislation and public policy that develops more housing to address both the needs and rights of the middle and working classes. Until then, it’s Target bags, and crumbling walls. If your furniture doesn’t fit, or the trash was covering holes in the floor… well you’re SOL.

You Can’t Unsee This

Today my kids were making collages with this amazing collage book my 14 year old has, and I decided to grab all the election mail trash I received and make my own. It sums up well what I think of most of our local electeds and politicians.

It’s called “Welcome to the Nothing Will Ever Chance Circus: Sorry About the Dilapidated Tent, In This Economy It’s All We Could Afford” The cost of admission to the circus is a $50 campaign contribution, and a blood oath to Big Oil. There are several candidates featured, one has a bright red clown nose, one has a number of supporters that are racist so I made his head pointy and have him saying “My head is as pointy as my supporters’ white hoods.”

In the foreground is our State Assemblywoman. She’s a real thorn in my side, because in 2020 when I ran for city council, she – a Democratic woman – endorsed my opponent – a misogynistic Trump Republican – and even sent out mailers against me – also a Democratic woman. At a candidate’s event she and I were both in attendance, she made perhaps the stupidest comment I have ever heard a candidate make, so I immortalized it in my collage. She says “At the 2020 Islamic Center candidate forum, I was asked what I would do for the Muslim community of Ventura County if re-elected. I didn’t plan to do anything, so I responded “I enjoy your food.””

True story.

STFU Fridays

I don’t have many to say shut the fuck up to this week, but I do still have one in me for a handful of the people that had the audacity over the last couple of days to tell me that candidates should not be judged by their donors.

Only an insipid clown in the show at the Nothing Will Ever Change Circus would think that campaign finance does not have a direct correlation to what a candidate goes on to do, or more often not do, while in office.

To them, I say shut the fuck up. Real hard.

And for the rest of you, if you happen to be local to me, this was in response to a voter guide I posted just outlining some of the highlights from the local races and their campaign finance reports. I don’t usually post these kinds of hyper-local things on this blog, but it seemed an important election to do so. If you fall in that group, you can find that HERE.

Have a good weekend everyone. Rest up, you just don’t know what’s up next in the roller coaster that is 2022.

The Newsletter: Issue #10

So much is going on in the world, and in my world: it’s a little bit of a whirl wind. I’ve been trying to post more in general, keep up on my social media following; and to keep up on this newsletter too. So let’s get to it.

Around the World

Somehow I got sucked into the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial. I’m never into these types of things – like ever – but then I see it streaming live on my For You page on Tik Tok, and I’m hooked.

One thing I think that I’ve noticed above all the details, the commentary, the cutting off the middle finger thing – all of it; is how authentic Johnny Depp is. Between his clarity on specific details of conversations, his bizarre hair dos, facial hair, and attire/accessories, to his remarkable pride in having quit using opioids, Depp – in all his weirdness and classically Depp deadpans – is unapologetically himself. Does that make sense? Regardless of the trial, or how it all turns out, that is what I take away from this.

Of course the other big obvious going on in the world is that COVID is going masks off-balls out, and yet the government is scaling back its efforts and funding in ways we probably never saw coming, no matter how bad things have been. (Just remember: it can always get worse, right?)

With variants upon variants cropping up that are just, to many of us, terrifying, it’s hard to really know what to believe. And yet, the doctors of Twitter and the mainstream media seem to have also flown the coop. Some, like Leana Wen from CNN, have gone batshit crazy, blocking major figures in public health, and even Marked by Covid (the largest national advocacy and lobby group for survivors and families of victims from COVID 19) from viewing and reacting to her comments on social media, all the while accusing the world of bullying and harassing her for having unpopularly eugenic views; while others, like Jeremy Faust, have decided it’s time to monetize.

I find the latter to be, frankly, stunning. This guy started writing a newsletter less than a year ago, and has fewer email subscribers than little old me, and yet he’s still thinking it’s a good time to grift. For $5 more a month than your favorite 99 cent game app on your iPhone, or regular emails from WaPo, you can get, as Faust describes it: “…after I publish, I realize that there are more considerations worth sharing for people who want to go deeper…”

Whenever I criticize this, people say “running a website isn’t free, Heather.” Sure, yeah, I definitely know that. As evidenced by the website I run, here. But if you are doing something for the sake of public health, monetizing a website that can be thrown together, maintained, used to host your email server, and give you a unique domain, for around $100 a year or less, when you’re a doctor that also makes high dollar media appearances… well, I don’t know… monetizing your very important medical information and advice seems sort of grossly capitalistic.

But America is a capitalism, and our healthcare is for those with the means only, right?

One more thing that is absolutely bananas to me going on in the world, of course, is this:

Around My World

It’s a bit of a shit show in my personal life. We really are not adjusting to the new house well at all. My kids and their entire communities are around 30-45 minutes away from home (depending on the day and traffic). This isn’t a situation where we are like the military, where moves and changes are expected and a part of life. We will continue to get our kids back to our old city to be with friends and their sports and social stuff, it’s just … really really stressful to juggle it all (and the cost of gas doing so).

Of course you guys all got my email yesterday about Hello Kitty Toaster coming back for a pop in.

Meanwhile, at our new house, I’ve recently discovered that across from our house is a home that I am 90% sure is occupied by squatters.

The people that own the home live in Texas for the bulk of the year. They just keep this home to use casually when they visit their adult children in town. Now we’ll save the fact that people that own multiple homes only for one to sit empty most of the year, while the rest of us scramble for any slum we can find to pay 46% of our monthly take home pay to live in, are making me more upset by the day, because these types of practices (their right, or not) have irreparably harmed my family, I still feel something of an obligation to … at the very least investigate.

I’m finding myself become more and more like Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs, by the day. I’ve camped out on the living room couch for about two weeks now, waking up in the middle of the night, taking photos of the lights on, searching around the gated and upper-middle income community in which we live for any signs of something amiss… I even considered buying binoculars.

I’ll keep you guys posted.

You Can’t Unsee This

Presented without comment:

STFU Fridays

Again, with the masks.

I know, I know, but hear me out: even if you don’t give a shit about masks, you only care about yourself and what you feel in terms of protection, and you are just done with this whole pandemic…

… you could still keep your fucking mouth shut to those that still mask.

Monday the mask mandate for travel and public transportation was lifted by some dumb-dumb judge with no public health experience or expertise whatsoever, and the world cheered. (I wrote about it HERE.)

Within a day, accounts of people being shamed and bullied for still wearing masks cropped up.

The highest profile person I saw post about it was Trump’s Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, who has – oddly enough – become the voice of reason these last several months. You really know things are bad if any of Trump’s folks are the voice of reason, but we can save that conversation for another day. Adams went to board a flight, and a Delta pilot made some snarky comment about how he should take off his mask and breathe the fresh air. Adams posted about it on Twitter, and the anti-maskers went WILD on him.

Really? Just shut the fuck up. The fact that these people got what they wanted, but did not stop it there, indicates – at least to me – that it was never really about freedom or their personal choice. It was about an ideology and what the masks represent: weakness, fear, and probably a little bit of racism towards cultures in which face coverings are the norm.

Gross.

So to them, I say: shut the fuck up. Just shut your fucking mouth, and cough all over people all you want. You won! At least for now. We’ll all still be there to empathize with you when COVID bites you in the ass, because the data doesn’t lie on the promise that sooner or later, it will.

One more thing…

If you haven’t signed up yet, please subscribe for this bitch to be sent directly to your inbox:

Happy Weekend!

So We’re In a New Home. A Rental Home.

After the traumatic experience my family of 6 has lived through over these last few months, I hesitate to call anything a “home” anymore. More than 5 years into making our place in Camarillo our home, our landlord decided to “go in another direction,” after spending years calling us the best renters they’d ever had. We are renters by both choice and necessity, so I guess this sort-of comes with the territory; but prior to now I lived in a world (in my head) where people didn’t do things like this to good, hardworking families.

Lesson learned. More on all of that later.

So we’re in a new home. A rental home. The sad part is that we’ve had to move our kids to another city, out of their element and community. That was the only community any of them had ever known – we lived in apartments, townhomes, and the single family home we just left over the years. Our kids have done school, sports, and all of their social lives there; friends and family. When our landlord terminated our tenancy at the same time landlords all over California were doing the same thing to flip their investments (1 listing for every 1,358 middle income families looking in my county), in many ways they threatened to destroy our family.

But it’s close enough that we can still drive it daily, and remembering that these situations are actually not as permanent as we would have liked them to be, it is likely we’ll be heading back in a year or two anyway.

Some photos and important points:

So we have French doors now, which is cool. That’s always been a life goal of mine and made moving in a little easier. We also have a whole host of animals that hang out in our yard, including a number of Dark-eyed Juncos and a dove. Both have nests (the Dark-eyed Junco moved his to the wreath on our front door).

This is the thing about where we live now: it’s kind of out in the middle of nowhere. We’re in an unincorporated middle ground between two cities, with a lot of open space around us, golf courses, and just up the hill from our house you can see the Reagan Library glowing at night (the driveway to go up to it is directly across the street from our house).

We lost a lot of backyard space, which is unfortunate because my 5 year old has very little room to run out his energy. Couple that with the fact that the community is gated, and in an HOA (read: they want children to be seen and not heard around here)… well, I’m going to have to come up with some solutions to that pretty soon here.

But, the owner of the house told my oldest daughter that she could do whatever she’d like with the back, and we also gained a courtyard in the middle of the entire house, so I think it all evens out in the end.

Of course the kids now have the coolest room, something I worked incredibly hard at ensuring to make the unexpected move (and all the stress and trauma that came with it) more tolerable for them. The house also has all new appliances, new flooring, fresh paint… it really was move in ready.

It’s just new and unfamiliar still, and away from our community. This, in the end, makes it hard for all of us. Right house, wrong ‘hood I think.

Probably what will drive us out sooner than later are the values of the community. We are in an ultra-conservative area, so much so that this sign is on my neighbor’s lawn.

The same day that we discovered this abhorrent sign, the person living on the other side of the duplex rang our doorbell at 11:15 at night because she heard us doing dishes through the wall. Our house was almost all asleep at that point, making this a little crazy; but I suppose I should have expected it, because the first day we moved in weeks ago she came over, introduced herself, and asked if we’re “generally quiet people.”

So we’re just over here getting settled, tending to our mental health amidst all this chaos, getting used to the neighborhood, and trying to keep our heads level so that we can plot a way forward.

And like I said… more on what brought us here later.

Things I’ve Learned When Moving. Again.

We moved again.

We’ve moved so many times in the last five or six years, I’ve essentially lost count. I mean I could figure it out, but it’s not like most people where they’re like “oh, we’ve moved once in the last five years” or “oh, we’ve stayed put for twenty.” Nope, not us. It’s been like six times.

Such is the life of a Southern Californian.

(Disclosure: I am not a Southern Californian. I’m just married to one.)

Renters forever, we found ourselves with no home again this spring when we received our lease renewal, and it came packed with a whopping $485 a month rent increase.

Yeah. Fuck that. I would highly recommend to you, oh faithful blog followers, that you avoid Avalon Bay Communities at all cost (they are, in fact, national).

So we moved on June 1st, and don’t even get me started on all the frustrations that led up to it. The short version of the long story is that my husband, his brother, and their parents own a condo that they bought pre-us. At first, my husband and his brother lived in it with some other roommates, then it eventually turned into a rental unit for a family friend. Fast forward to now: we received our lease renewal notice, and decided it was time to ask that the family friend be given notice so that we could occupy the condo.

So here we are. It’s bigger and more spacious, which is OK (until it’s time to clean, which I’ll get into in a minute). There are definitely some major maintenance issues that have gone unattended to for who-knows-how-long. But it’s a place to live, and we didn’t have to move back to Los Angeles (which was ultimately what we’d have to do if we didn’t move here), so we’re all content. For now, at least.

This move was the real kicker in the pants for me, though. Mainly because I did about 98% of the work for it. I’m talking the packing, the phone calls, the house projects, the moving day stuff, the unpacking, the handy work…I’ve done it all.

As a result, I’ve learned a few things.

A Double Vanity Means Double the Sinks To Clean

11150471_834275553493_5566020635756346406_n

The bathroom in my husband’s and my bedroom has a double vanity. We’ve never had this before; quite frankly we’ve always been sharing a bathroom with at least one person, so this is a real upgrade. To have our own bathroom, free of kid’s toothpaste gunk in the sink or my elderly father’s Groom and Clean hair gel scent – well, for a while it seemed like it’d be heaven.

That was until I realized how much more work it is to clean. Not only does our bathroom have the double vanity, it has a huge soaker tub and a standing shower. If you’ve ever watched those house shows on HGTV, you’d know this is called an en suite bathroom, and it’s great and all… If you have a maid.

If you have just me, it’s terrible and a lot of work.

I should also mention that I went from cleaning two bathrooms to cleaning three and a half. This is essentially double the work for someone that can’t stand any of it.

In That Same Vein, More Square Footage

= More Vacuuming

I just really hate cleaning, and it seems like I’m doing it every day.

It seems like? What a crock of bullshit that is. I do clean every day. Every. Single. Day. Of. My. Miserable. Life.

The smallest place we’ve ever lived in was 850 square feet. We now have a whopping 2000, and I’m finding myself pining for those days that I only had 850 to vacuum.

Sure, we were basically piled in like sardines in a can, and you couldn’t do a single thing in the bathroom without the entire apartment hearing you. But it was all worth it now, as far as I’m concerned, to not have to vacuum so much.

Renters Don’t G.A.F.

Nope. Nope, they don’t.

Renters don’t give a fuck. Not. A. Single. Singular. Fuck.

Family friend or not (quite frankly, I don’t even know the guy), the guy that was renting this place from my husband’s family ran this place into the ground. Like a fuggin’ pile driver digging for the center of the planet.

Everyone keeps arguing that this is just normal wear and tear. Just the standard course of affairs for an older home.

Um, first of all this is not an older home. Second of all, no. Just…no.

Destroyed carpet requiring an emergency – and expensive – carpet cleaning is not normal wear and tear.

The smell of rotting flesh and sulphuric eggs wafting from the washing machine is not normal wear and tear.

A broken hook rack on the back of the bathroom door, literally dangling from just one, rusty screw is not normal wear and tear.

A ceiling fan falling out of the ceiling, with tape hanging from it – as if some dumb fuck actually thought that masking tape would hold the thing into the ceiling – is not normal wear and tear.

Holes in the doors is NOT…normal wear and tear.

WRITING ON THE FUCKING WALLS IS NOT NORMAL WEAR AND TEAR.

There’s only one conclusion I can come to here: renters don’t G.A.F.

Having Your Kitchen Back Means People Expect Meals Again

11377346_833984112543_3608787117151082658_n

I packed up our kitchen maybe a month before we moved. We had other plans, vacation, and I just wanted it done.

What I’m saying is that for a month before the move, and for about a week afterwards, we ate nothing but crap. Total crap. We’re talking fast food. Take out. Frozen pizzas LIKE WOAH.

In a few words: it was heaven for this lady that hates to cook. I mean, I knew I was destroying my body and the bodies of my family, but my disgust for cooking overruled that. I kept telling myself it was temporary – which it was – so everything was spectacular.

Now that I have my kitchen back, though…it’s another story. Everyone wants real food.

No, I don’t mean real food like those losers on Instagram that incorrectly refer to whole fruits and vegetables as “real food” – as if Cheetohs and Cocoa Puffs aren’t something real I am putting in my body. I just mean three, square, home cooked meals. Every damn day.

With snacks. Homemade snacks. And desserts too.

Now that everything with the move has settled down, and I’m on my way to finishing the last of the house projects before settling back into my old routine of cleaning, cooking, and  acting as a chauffeur from tennis event to tennis event, I’m certainly glad it’s over.

But we’ve moved so many times, I just feel the next one breathing down the back of my neck. On one hand, my husband works in film, so it’s unlikely we’d have to move out of the area – which is the only situation under which I could see myself agreeing to ever move again. But on the other, you just never know.