Recently I moved again. This morning I tacked up a map and grabbed some push-pins and determined that this will be the 19th place I’ve lived in Santa Cruz County. Even serial killers don’t inspire maps with that many pins. And now with all those holes in my wall, I’ve probably violated my lease.
Not that I’m a bad tenant. I pay on time and I’m considerate and I can fix stuff and I only bark when fire engines go by. But when I meet potential landlords with whom I want to make a good impression, I feel the same kind of nervousness I get on first dates or job interviews. I struggle to think of just the right thing to say.
“No pets? Do bedbugs count?”
See now, right there, that’s a good example. In these situations, in what my therapist hand puppet says is an attempt to defuse discomfort with humor, I channel my inner sitcom writer and think up loads of sort of funny but inappropriate comments that I struggle not to say.
“Sure I can take care of the lawn. Round-Up works great.”
First impressions are so important.
“My old basement just couldn’t possibly hold another body.” Again with the serial killer.
The implied joke is, wouldn’t it be crazy if somebody said something like that and they were serious? But they just met me, they don’t really know if I’m kidding, and it just comes off as weird. So I’ve got to use half of my brain to stifle the comments the other half of my brain is compulsively generating.
The landlord asks whether I have any kids, but I don’t really hear because the little devil on my shoulder is suggesting I say, “Hey, fire sprinklers, meth lab goes there!”
I do, and follow up with, “Will unmarked bills be OK for rent?”
“Yessss!” says the little devil.
“Um.” says the landlord, who suddenly remembers he already promised the place to a registered sex offender.
Some landlords deserve it, though. I’m talking about the ones who log on to craigslist and post ads filled with outlandish lies about their property.
An aside to greedy landlords and sleazy property managers: The landing at the top of the stairs is not a “deck.” A unit is not “sunny” unless solar energy actually penetrates the interior; roofs don’t count. “New” carpet generally applies to a whole room, not the mismatched color patches applied where burns or major pet accidents occurred. Upper Ocean Street is not “the desirable Seabright area.” An “ocean view” should not involve standing on a table. Two miles does not rate “WALK TO BEACH,” and furthermore, when you say “beach” most people assume you mean the ocean, not Loch Lomond. Anything called a “bedroom” should actually be larger than a bed. If the front door is 10 feet from a busy street and buses literally shake the windows, I’d like to know that before I waste both our time actually visiting the property. Why the con job? If you establish yourself as a liar from the start, why on Earth would I want to enter into a contract with you? Oh, and P.S., if the place is already rented, take down the damn ad instead of being all cranky when I call. You’re as bad as people who leave their Yard Sale Today signs up for weeks.
Yes, I still have some bitterness. My therapist hand puppet suggested I role-play what I wish I’d said to that one evil slumlord in Live Oak:
“OK, hmm, this is nice, yes, almost no windows, that’s perfect. I’m sick of prying neighbors, know what I mean? They can take their little petitions and … whoa, nice bookshelves. I’ve got quite a library of renters’ rights books, this will do nicely. Hey, they had faucets just like this in the joint! Sturdy stuff. How about the plumbing, is it copper? Good to know. Ah, I’ll make this the dogs’ room. I’ll need to plywood over that window because we do NOT want them getting out again … those poor kids. Hey, you want a puppy? A couple of them might be pregnant. My car can go there, right? Do I need to bring my own blocks or do you have some? I’m just yanking your chain man, I don’t even have a car. But my customers would appreciate the convenient parking. Speaking of, I’m gonna have to owe you for the first month.”
In the end, I lucked into a nice place and I have a great landlord, and to all of you out there in the process of looking, try not to get too stressed. And remember they’re just as afraid of you as you are of them.
Sven Davis knows what you’re thinking. Confirm it at [email protected]