Rent. Lease. Repeat.

I used to call myself ‘the eternal pedestrian’ since I didn’t get a car until I was 23.

Now I call myself ‘the chronic renter’ since I’ve never owned property and moved, on average, to a different place every 2 years, with the shortest stay at 2 months (in a converted garage mentioned before), and the longest topping 5 years, when I was first introduced to California by way of San Jose.  After living in 7 states, I joke that “I can’t commit to a state, let alone a man.”

I am a transient.

In an area where demand usually outstrips supply, and money unquestionably overrules integrity, I’ve gotten very good at forcing the landlord’s hand.  I’m like a rat that, in this case, will chew through the landlord’s leg, in order to get something fixed.

Every time I’ve moved, from the first shared apartment with my sister in Nashville, where we converted the living room into a bedroom in order to split less rent, to this last house in Novato on a quiet, tree-lined street, I’ve learned something new in how to evaluate a rental:  like put a little ball in different places and see if it rolls – that will tell you how level the floors are.  Turn on the shower to check the water flow.  Turn on the sinks, too.  Flush the toilet.  Check the furthest reaches of the cabinets for droppings of any kind.  Drive by the house at different times of day, especially in the evening, to see what kind of cars (and people) live in the neighborhood.  And for god’s sake, don’t move in the middle of winter, because neighborhoods change in the summer.  It’s a different feeling when people are ‘hanging out’ in the sun. ( I learned that in north Oakland where I met a guy on the corner ‘looking around his territory’.)

One of my favorite apartments of all time was in Oakland; not a nice neighborhood, per se, but I loved the rundown place.  It is there I learned about THE CODE.  In a long 3 year stint, I couldn’t get the landlords to fix 3 cracked windows.  Eventually, I found the Civil Code and within 30 days, was able to “deduct and repair”.  It was like Christmas.

I had recourse!
I had rights!
I could chew through his leg and set myself free!

I’ve used the code now 3 times.  And it never fails to piss off the owner/landlord/property manager.  More than pissing them off, it ruins the entire relationship.

In the hills of Oakland, I used the code to delay moving from a house the owner wanted to tear down…just enough time to find something I want to move into, not have to move into.  He wasn’t happy, but I had the law.

At my current rental, a nice little house in the ‘burbs with a backyard, front yard and lanai off the back deck, the relationship with the property managers has been destroyed.  I used the code last year when rats found a way into the attic and her response was “maybe I should board up the garage because she didn’t know what to do about an infestation.”

Honey, she didn’t know what she just did!  My Pavlovian response kicked into gear.  I heard bells and whistles and foghorns.  I heard, “Fight!”  Within one day of quoting THE CODE, I had a real pest control company crawling under the house, a garage door repair company measuring, and a plumber to fix a leak that the pest control person had found.  It was a blur of activity.

Of course now, when I do call, I hear venom.  But I like to say “I err on the side of right”.  If owners treated their rental properties as their own abodes, I daresay housing in the Bay Area would be quite different.

In a state where we’ve ‘recalled’ an elected official and chewing gum might be against the law, we love putting everything to a vote.  I’d love to see an initiative where potential renters could stay in the apartment for a night before committing to a year.  I’d love to force owners to stay in their own properties before they’re allowed to rent them out.  I’d like an ‘exit survey’ provided to prospective tenants, or a yearly inspection requirement forced into all agreements.

When I lived in Ohio for a year, a millionaire slumlord was sentenced to live in his own projects until he improved all of his properties.  Yea!

At this stage in the economy, experts highlight the freedom of mobility in a tough job market, the reduction of housing prices, and the advantages of being a renter.

Yet I’m disgusted with people who think they can determine my standard of living.  If I owned my house, I would have no one else to blame for a decrepit garage door opener from the 50’s.

Whether I rent or buy, whether it’s someone else’s house or mine, I still expect the white picket fence.  It’s just a matter of who has to paint it.

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