Updates: Even MORE Roommates From Hell!

Good morning Sunshine!

It’s 9:30am here. I’m working tonight from 4:15-9:15pm (weird shift, I know. But I take what I can get), and have been up since around 4am. Hooray for coffee! I didn’t get to bed until around 11pm last night, and the new roommates were in the kitchen LOUDLY cooking until around midnight, making it hard to sleep.

That’s right new roommates!

So for those of you new to my scene, here’s a quick recap of my living situation:

My ex-boyfriend and I lived in this house together for years (even after we broke up) with a few friends and a few random people. His parents own the house. He moved out, and Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend moved in over the summer. It’s a 5 bedroom house, with the two of us using up two of those bedrooms (one for our bedroom, and the other for our office/hidey-hole snuggle cave). The landlord/my ex-boyfriend’s father puts ads on Kijiji to rent out the other rooms. For months we only had Downstairs Gal living here (a MA. Social Work student with a husband and kid living a few hours north of here), and she leaves to move back home the middle of next month. Oh, and her husband is staying with us for most of this month, too.

We’ve been showing the house to people for months, and randomly two guys moved in over the weekend. Downstairs Man is only here for two months, and is on contract for his job for that time. Upstairs Man is a student (I think), or a recent grad (possibly), who is studying for a test that he’s taking soon (maybe?) or in like 18 months (no clue). Oh, and his girlfriend is a student, lives nearby, and is over often.

Ok, so that’s a big and sudden adjustment to make (did I mention we didn’t actually KNOW that these guys were moving in? Landlord forgot to pass that message on to us). But I’m used to this…..kinda. I mean, I’ve been living with random people for close to a decade now. I mainly hole-up in my room, hermit at the computer while I job hunt, write, and watch Netflix, and then I go to work. I talk to the roommates when we’re in the same room, like when we are both making dinner or grabbing snacks. But it’s not like I’m poking my nose into their business all the time.

Well, this is the beginning of Day 4 of our new living arrangement here, and people are already close to murder. DG likes to park her car in the middle of our driveway, leaving no room for anyone else. If someone else is parked in the big 4 car driveway, no matter how much room they leave her, she goes and spends 10 minutes trying to parallel park on the street, and then comes up to the house to demand they move their car so she can park. This wasn’t a big problem until UM moved in, and his girlfriend started parking here while she visits.

Now, this is all secondhand information since I was at work when this happened, but AABoyfriend and Awesome Neighourhood Mama both told me pretty much the same version of events:

DG had her car parked in the driveway, and was sitting in it, like she was looking for something she had left in there. UM’s girlfriend showed up and parked behind her. While she was in her parked car, she took off her seatbelt and started gathering up her books and purse and such to come in the house. Suddenly, DG turned on the car, threw it into reverse, and slammed on the gas before quickly hitting the break. She stopped less than an inch from UMG’s front bumper. UMG didn’t even get out of the car. She backed out, went around the corner, and parked in the street. She was so shaken by this woman almost slamming into the front of her car, that she didn’t want to come in the house. In fact, she didn’t come in the house until DG had left. After that, AABoyfriend and his Totally Awesome Co-Worker helped UMG park her car on the far side of the driveway, where DG SHOULD have been parking all this time.

As our Awesome Neighbourhood Mama said: “Shit, home girl needs to learn pull up. If she don’t move her car, I’ll come out and move HER!”

This is not the first, nor will it be the last, incident here involving driving. DG has pissed off the neighbours all around us by parallel parking in front of their driveways. UMG is over daily, too, giving those two plenty of time to clash.

And not all of our problems are limited to the driveway. We are each given one cupboard to use for our food. AAB and I have cupboard connected to each other, since we share all our food. DG is supposed to be sharing a double cupboard with one of the new guys, but seems to be refusing. She insists that she NEEDS the extra space since her husband is living her (rent free) and she needs to cook for him. She refuses to let a paying tenant use the space he’s paying for, so that she can have extra space. So I’ve been cleaning out cupboards, re-arranging spaces, trying to find space for everyone.

And everyone cooks ALL THE DAMN TIME! It doesn’t matter if it’s 4am or 4pm, there is someone in the damn kitchen cooking something. The whole house reeks of curry, cloves, burnt toast, and fish. I have no clue what all these people are cooking, or why anyone would need curried clove fish on burnt toast at 4am, but it’s driving me nuts. The smell is so strong that I got a headache the second I opened the bedroom door this morning. And no one cooks quietly, either. They have to blast their music, clang all the pots and pans, turn on the fan and all the lights, and talk on the phone ALL at the same time. I had no idea one could very loudly make a ham sandwich, but I’ve learned that is entirely possible.

I’m not looking forward to the Thermostat Wars that have already begun heating up (and yes, pun TOTALLY intended). DM thinks the house is too warm…… in the basement, which is usually cold. UM thinks the house is freezing, in the room with the most natural light and heat. One wants the thermostat set at 60, the other at 75. I came to a compromise at 69……… and have to constantly keep checking to make sure no one has touched it. I feel like the dad from all the termostat dad memes. I awoke from a dead sleep the night before last just because the room felt a little too warm and I needed to make sure no one had touched the thermostat (they did, it was at like 75).

The worst part of all of this is that this is reeking havoc on my anxiety. It feels like there are walls around my heart and they’re closing in, while my head just keeps spinning. Between that feeling and all the noise and temperature stuff, I’m barely sleeping. I can feel panic setting in, but the attacks just don’t come. I stocked up on my easy comfort foods (sandwich fixins, soup, bagged salad), and made a cleaning list to work on (to occupy my mind and body a bit), but even thinking of that stuff right now makes me want to vomit. AAB and I are already putting plans in place to start saving up to get out of here, but between both of our consumer debt and my student loans it’s hard in an area where credit checks for shitty apartments are the norm. Thinking about that makes the anxiety worse, but not thinking about it just gives me no way out of here………. yeah, I can see a breakdown coming on before the end of the year.

So Sunshine, I’m going more than a little nuts here. Hopefully this whole hermit-dom thing I’ve been doing will mean more time on here. I keep writing down post ideas, but never get around to them. And with this being NaNoWriMo, I’m usually more motivated to write anyway.

Reading and Understanding Your Lease

A lease is a legal document. Legal document. That means that once you sign it, you are bound by it. So you would think people would read through these things before they sign them, wouldn’t you?

After getting burned by a bad lease once (they sold the house out from under us and forced us to move out with less than one month’s notice, which was perfectly allowable under a clause in the lease), I’m a little pushy when it comes to leases. I think everyone should not only read through their, but have to read through it with their landlord there to answer any questions or concerns. You need to make sure you understand what it is you’re signing, before you go ahead and sign it.

Now, before we get into specifics of your lease, there is one thing you need to know above everything else: you need a copy of your lease. No, I’m not being a smart-ass here. I mean after you read through it and decide to sign it, you legally have to be given a copy of your lease for your own personal records. And you damn well better keep that thing, too! You may need it if things go sour.

Finances: Your Basics

There are a few things you absolutely need to have included in your lease, such as how much you are responsible for paying each month, and when you move in. Most places will have you give them a security deposit, which is usually equal to one month’s rent. Legally, if the place is in good repair when you move out, you get this back. It should state all of that right in the lease.

Now, what you pay each month should be in there. What is your monthly rent? Does it include utilities? Right now, I’m lucky with the lease I have. I am renting a room in a house (currently have 3 other roommates, with room for one more). For around $400 a month, I get my room, all my utilities paid for, basic cable, unlimited internet, on-site laundry, on-site parking, a backyard, and some of the furniture here is also included.  Most places are not this amazingly great, though. Always check your lease to see what, if any, utilities are included in your lease. You may have to pay for your own internet, or electricity, or for all your utilities separately.

Also, you need to know any and all penalties in the lease. Some landlords throw in a charge for bounced checks, late payments, damages above and beyond the security deposit, or other such things. I knew one person whose roommate got hit with a heavy fine for smoking in his room, when the lease clearly said there was to be no smoking in the house.

Length

So just how long is this lease for? In college and university areas, many landlords have an 8 month option and a 12 month option. If you’re only going to be around during the regular school year, make sure you’re not signing a 12 month lease! Even if you move off site before the lease is done, you are responsible for the payments.

You should also see if the lease mentions what happens after the lease is up. Some landlords make you sign a new lease for a full term. I’ve known others who automatically transition the lease to a month-by-month lease, meaning you can move out any time you want with only one full month’s notice.  Know which one your landlord requires, in case you like the place enough to stay there multiple terms.

Boundaries

This is one part of the lease a lot of people don’t pay enough attention to. After getting burned by our previous landlord, my then-roommate and I made sure to go through our lease with a fine toothed comb. There were some things in there that made me laugh, which apparently had to be included after bad experiences with former tenants. No storing tanks of butaine, propane, or any other highly explosive or flammable gases in the apartment. No waterbeds. No keeping of fireworks on site. No creating compost piles in the livingroom. I shudder to think of the reasons why they had these rules!

There were also a few things in there that were really, really important to know. If we wanted to leave before our lease was up, we were not allowed to sublet the apartment to anyone else, and would be held responsible for all payments. We were not allowed to have any pets at all, not even a goldfish in a bowl. There was even a clause about the number and frequency of overnight guests (which is a long story you will probably hear about involving our upstairs neighbour and the grow-op).

When Things Go Wrong

Sometimes, things go wrong. Pipes clog. Stoves catch on fire. Homes get vandalized or broken into. I can remember a few years back, on my damn birthday, I was living in a basement room in a house. I could hear something hitting the back window, and young voices outside. It turned out to be two local teens (15 years old), who decided to draw all over the back of the house with a giant Sharpie and dig random holes in the backyard. I called the police, and listened while the boys were questioned (“Why were you drawing on the house?” “Duh, we were bored. And like, we didn’t know people live here.” “What about the car in the driveway, and the for rent signs, and the lights on in the house?” “We didn’t see any of that. Can’t we just go?” It was comedy gold). Afterwards, I had to contact the landlord. Thankfully, it said right in our lease what to do if something like this happened, since our landlord lived a few hours away. I took pictures of the damages (why do young boys like to draw dicks on everything?), and sent an email to the landlord, telling her what happened, showing her the pictures, and giving her the information from the police that I was asked to pass along. We were able to get the house cleaned up and everything taken care of in a matter of days.

Your landlord should include some sort of contact information in your lease. In larger apartment buildings or dorms, you might have on-site management who can take care of things right away. In other situations, you may have to make a few phone calls or send a few emails. Either way, how to take care of things like this should be in your lease.

Now that you know all of this, go take a quick read-through of your current lease, if you have one (and you kept a copy of it). And the next time you rent or lease some place new, you’ll know a little of what to look for in that document.

Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent, Pt.2

Last night, I went over some of the things you should be doing before you start actually checking out places to rent. Once you’ve gone through all of that, you can start actually going on walk-throughs of rooms/houses/apartments. When I started doing this years ago, I basically just walked into the place, checked to see if the walls were still standing and the windows were intacts. I, admittedly, did not do any of these things.

I also have a long list of horror stories about my past living arrangements. Someday, I’ll tell you about the night I had to call the cops and guard my apartment door with a giant butcher knife because some drunk guy was puking in the stairwell and trying to kick in my upstairs neighbours’ door. Yes, it’s something funny to tell now, but it was not fun then. And most of the things that I came across in those places, while they make for great stories now, were just hell to live through in their own little ways.

So, here’s a few things you can do to try and find the best quality place for your money.

FROM THE OUTSIDE

First, take a look at the property itself. Is it well maintained? Are the neighbouring properties maintained? What is the parking situation like? You can tell a lot about a place from the first impression you get before you walk in the door. A well maintained property outside means that the owners are more likely to maintain the inside as well. If the grass is overgrown, there’s weeds everywhere, the bricks are cracked and pieces are falling into the parking lot, and the windows are all cracked, they really don’t care about the place. These may be the types of landlords who will wait months to fix leaky pipes, or a leaky roof, or busted appliances.

Also, are the neighbouring properties looking the same? If all the buildings in the area are looking a mess, then maybe this isn’t the best place to be moving into. If no one cares, then there might be worse problems they have to deal with than long grass and weeds, like crime or neglect.

Parking is another thing you should be looking at. I got rid of my car the beginning of my second year of university, and have just never replaced it. So when I looked at places, the parking situation wasn’t high on my list of priorities. Even if you don’t drive, though, your friends and family might. You should know the parking rules for the area, whether it’s a parking lot or street parking. Some areas only allow street parking with a permit. Other places are strictly parking meters. Some lots only allow a certain number of visitor parking spots, or will not allow visitors to park in a resident’s spot (even if that resident has no car). It’s best to know what the situation is before you decide to go signing any documents.

FROM THE INSIDE

Once inside, you need to get your sleuth on. First,,,,,,,check for obvious signs of damage and neglect. This includes mould, cracks in the walls and floor, stains, water marks on the ceiling, peeling wallpaper or paint, peeling floor tiles, burn marks, rodent droppings, bugs, and random people who have taken up residence in a vacant apartment (don’t laugh, I’ve seen it). If a landlord can’t even cover up the bloodstains on the wall from the previous tenant (knife accident in the kitchen, blood sprayed the wall, I later found out), then they’re probably not going to come take care of the roaches or mice or mould you find later.

Next, you’ll want to start looking for the electrical outlets. Make sure there are a bunch of them, and they are conveniently placed. I’ll never forget the apartment that had more than half a dozen plugs in the hallway, but not a single one in the bathroom. Make sure every room has outlets, and make sure they work. It’s best to bring along a cheap night-light (you can get them at the dollar store), and use it to check each and every outlet you can find. You would be amazed at how many non-working outlets my old apartment had (hint: it was more than half of them in the whole place!).

Next, go take a look at the windows. Check for signs of damage (water damage, warping, peeling wood, mould) and, if possible, feel for drafts coming in from outside. In the summer, this may be pretty damn hard to do, but those signs of damage can usually indicate some sort of draft. Next, see if the windows open. I once had a place that had no A/C, in probably the most humid city in Canada, and most of the windows were painted shut. I could not sleep in my bedroom, and instead had to sleep on an old broken loveseat in the livingroom under one of the few working windows.

Now, you’ll need to start opening things. Check in the kitchen and bathroom cupboards for anything wonky. Often times, landlords will put the roach and ant traps there, so they’re effective but not obvious to potential renters. You’ll also be looking for signs of damage. A landlord may replace the cupboard doors after a kitchen fire, but won’t repair the damage inside the cupboards. Also, doors that fall off them you try to open them are a huge red flag.

Closets are the next check. Open all the closets, not just to check the size (but definitely DO check the size). Again, landlords may neglect to fix or cover-up the damage in these areas, and would just close the doors instead. Also, make sure the closets are as big as they seem. My current closet looked pretty darn big when I first looked at this room. I can’t possibly fir all my clothes in there (and I’m not a huge clothes-horse or anything) and have to have two dressers to keep most of it in. The problem here is with the set-up of the space. You’ll want to check the rods and hooks (which are oddly placed in mine, giving me less space to work with), and look at any shelving. Also, if it’s a large closet, check for lighting. And if the ceiling is high, check out the top corners with a flashlight. This is where bugs will sometimes hide, and it’s best to catch them early.

And finally, talk to the landlord about the appliances in the apartment. Here in my area, appliances are usually included with the place. I’ve seen times when this is not the case though (Jenna Marbles talked about having to buy her kitchen and laundry room appliances in her last newest HouseTour vlog). If they are included, make sure they work. Like, the whole appliance. I’ve seen fridge/freezer combos with only a working freezer, stoves with only one working burner, and dryers that take three full drying cycles to dry a small load. Ask the landlord about all the appliances, and check them personally whenever possible.

ON THE WAY OUT

After you’ve taken your tour of the place, see if there are any neighbours around you can talk to. I don’t mean go knocking on people’s doors trying to talk to them. Maybe walk around the immediate neighbourhood a little bit, see if anyone is outside. Introduce yourself, tell them you’re thinking of renting in the area, and see what they have to see about it. Not only will this give you a bit of an idea of what the area is like, but it also means you’ll know a few neighbour if you choose to take the place.

So these are just some of the things you should be doing when looking at a place to rent.  While it’s not an exhaustive list, it’s the things I most regret not doing before moving into some of the places I’ve lived. There are a tonne more lists and resources out there for anyone who feels like playing with the Googles. One great resource I found was the blog How To Grow The Fuck Up. They have a four part series on how to rent an apartment, but this post here has a great list of things to look into when you’re doing your walk-throughs and tours.

So, I hope this helps a bit. See you all again tomorrow, Sunshine!

Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent; Pt. 1

Not that I have actually done most of these things. No woman in my family had ever moved out of the house until they were married, so no one was really forthcoming with advice for me when I announced I was going to move out. So, I basically thought it was going to be easy. I looked at a few places with different friends, and then decided to move into a place with my best friend (and her fiancée, and her mother, and their 6 cats, and their ferret). I moved a few more times in the years after that while in school, and am currently starting the long journey to FINALLY moving into a place that is just mine (no roommates other than my cat). With each new place, I learned from my mistakes. And damn, were there ever a tonne of mistakes.

So, before you actually start physically looking at places, or touring places, here’s a few things you should be considering (which I probably did not):

1 ) What is your budget?

Now, this will be different to figure out, depending on your income. For people who work a set amount of hours every day/week/month, this is simply figuring out how much money you make, and how much you can spend on rent. Many experts recommend looking at your budget as a whole, and working from there. Gal Vaz Oxlade (from tv show Till Debt Do Us Part, and the infuriating to watch yet amazing to gather tips from tv show Princess), has some great worksheets in her Resources section of her website ( http://www.gailvazoxlade.com/resources.html ) to help you do different types of budget and budget analysis.

One of the sheets in this resource section deals specifically with students (the Student Lump Sum Money Worksheet). For many students, the majority of your money for each semester is given to you in one lump sum through your student loans, bursaries, scholarships, and grants. This worksheet can help you work out your total budget for the semester, and break it down into a monthly budget.

Basically, you need to look at your money situation to make sure you can afford the place you want to live in. What would happen if you rented an apartment for $600 a month, but only had enough in your budget to afford $380? That’s $220 each and every month that you would have to make up for in some way, or risk being evicted.

2 ) Pick you basic location

This doesn’t mean “find an apartment building”. This means “look at the area you want to move into, that is most convenient for you”. For students, this is most likely in the immediate area of their school. Take a look through this area and take a good look at the housing situation. Are there more apartments, or private homes being rented? Are things run mostly by rental agencies? Is the area safe? What is around this area?

I know some of this sounds stupid, but hear me out. In apartment buildings, you’re more likely to be able to find a one bedroom or bachelor place, where you can live totally by yourself without any roommates. There’s also the option of a two bedroom place, that you can share with a close friend. House rental could mean renting an entire house with a group of people, or renting a room in a random house that has other random people living there. Also, there are more likely to be things like house parties at houses (obviously) than apartments, meaning there are more likely to be loud nights at your neighbour’s place.

Safety should be a huge concern for you when looking for a place. I don’t care if you’re not even 90lbs soaking wet, or the 350lbs linebacker for the school’s football team: you need to worry about your safety. Many local police websites have a section where you can look at crimes and crime rates throughout the city. Now, no area will ever bee 100% free of crime. It is always a good idea, though, to look at what you may be getting yourself into. Is that nice apartment building you saw surrounded by drug busts in the recent past? 27 murders in the building last year? Or is the worse you would likely see around there probably a loud party, or bike thief? It’s always better to know these things ahead of time, than to just take a place and find out the hard way.

And what is around this area is a HUGE thing you should be looking at. Obviously, if you’re trying to stay close to school or work, they will be near your chosen area. But what else is there? Things you should look for are grocery stores, laundromats, bus stops, restaurants, shopping centres, hair salons, banks, and any other type of business you would need in your life.

3 ) Know what you want.

Now that you know what’s in the area, and the types of places around, and the amount of money you can spend each month on rent, you can start looking at what you want in the area. I suggest looking at ads for a variety of types of places first (rooms for rent, bachelor, one bedroom, two bedroom), just to see what the prices are like. Sites like Kijiji often times have pictures of the properties, so you can see the size and condition of the places you are looking at. Also, they tell you if things like utilities (water, electricity, gas) are included in the rent, or if they are extra. This is SUPER important to know before renting a place, because it impacts your budget hugely.

Now, you can decide what it is you want. What do you want more: privacy, or a cheap place to live. I always went the cheaper route, and didn’t look into things that I now know are essential to me. I would rather give up a little bit of my privacy, for example, and have a roommate if that means I can have A/C in my place. I live in one of the most humid cities in all of Canada, and suffer from eczema that is made worse by sweating in the humidity. I spent one horrible summer in a dingy little apartment with no A/C, because it was an apartment and I only had to have one roommate while I was living there. After that, I moved into a house with 6 other random people just to escape the heat and to live in a basement room with no A/C controls (meaning it was absolutely freezing all year). Right now, I have my A/C and I’m down to 3 roommates (all males) in my current house, plus my cat. While this is not ideal for me right now (I miss being able to watch TV in my underpants and sing in the shower), there are certain benefits to it (A/C, utilities included, everyone loves that cat, house is in good condition, no infestations of any sort, no mould, and I get my own private bar fridge in my room for my wine, cheese strings, and candy bars). I know that I cannot afford all of these things if I were to move into an apartment right now. You need to know your necessities, and where you are willing to compromise. Some people don’t need A/C, or are so frugal with their utilities that they don’t mind paying them separately (many places offer cheaper rent if you will pay your own utilities).

And remember, if you decide you don’t need something, make sure you are really ok without it. If you opt for a place that does not have on-site laundry facilities, for example, you damn well better make sure you have a laundromat nearby that you can easily get to. There is nothing fun about carrying a month’s worth of laundry and sheets on the bus to get to the laundromat that’s too far to walk to.

4 ) Start looking

Now that you know more about the area, what you can afford, and what you are willing to compromise on, you can start seriously looking at places. I’ll have a whole other post on what to do when you’re inside the place, checking it out. Right now, you’re just looking at a bunch of possible places.

You’ll want to look at places that fit your budget (obviously), meet your standards of privacy, are clean and infestation-free, and are in the general area you’re looking in. Don’t get too narrow of a focus (can only look at one-bedroom apartments on the 5th floor or above with a balcony, A/C, and in-suite laundry, for example), but don’t make it too broad either (somewhere, anywhere, where there isn’t a tonne of mould and the neighbours aren’t running a house of ill repute, for example).

Also, you’ll want to look at some rather specific things. If you have a pet, make sure the place is pet-friendly before you decide to go see it. If you have issues with mobility, you would want to make sure the building and apartment/room are accessible to you. Basically, you need to make sure you can actually live in a place before you try to live in a place.

So that’s the basics for part one of Things to Look For/Do When Looking to Rent.  In my next post, I will be going into what you should be doing once you actually pick a few places to look at (yes, you should look at more than one, just in case the one you have your heart set on turns out to be a bust).