Podcast Fatboy

Commercial sweetheart who's chewing the fat and trying to lose it.

To Rent and to Own

Hi, I’m Matt. I’m a renter. I’ve been a renter for about 15 years. (Crowd breaks into applause or crowd sighs so fucking heavily that the lights turn off).

Just like an alcoholic who attends AA for the first time, most renters (like myself) feel a certain profound degree of shame. As we approach our mid-30s and 40s, those friends who got lucky with family help or spent their 20s living at home with their parents and saving, start to slightly judge your predicament. They also enjoy blowing like a geyser of relief every once in a while, politely reminding you that they’re so happy they don’t have to “throw their money away” any longer.

Well, it’s all relative. You’re always gonna be throwing your money away in some way, whether it’s mortgage interest or condo fees or investing in renovations that don’t end up breaking even. The market also fluctuates, economies collapse and recessions are started, home valuations drop. Money will be thrown away by everyone.

If I put $12,000 away a year, which is pretty impossible for most people, it would still take me a decade just to get a down payment on some shitty, decrepit home on the outskirts of Acton, Ontario.

I currently am in a renters’ quandary that I’ve never experienced before. What we’ve known for years is finally coming into fruition; the house that we rent is for sale. My landlord died suddenly and tragically a few years ago, afflicted with the same condition that ended John Ritter, and also afflicted my abnormally resilient and invincible 88-year-old Irish grandfather.

At the time of my landlord’s death, his wife was back home in her native country building a home. It was apparent at that time that she was preparing to possibly move back there. So really, the selling of this house was inevitable. It was coming whether we liked it or not.

My landlord’s wife came back to Canada and was way over her head after my landlord died. She never had to deal with any of the tenants or properties, and now she was stuck with finding ways to sell all the properties and navigate life coping as a widow for the first time. I felt bad for her. It was overwhelming and she was pretty alone, even though she had a son who liked to store his tires in the garage (that’s about all he did). If we had any chance of keeping her from selling, I had to step up and help out.

That’s just what I did. I cut the lawn, I put out the garbage, I helped her sell some of her dead husband’s possessions and get his old, junker cars picked up and taken to the wrecker. When she needed a pallbearer at her husband’s sparsely attended funeral, I stepped up and slid his casket into the wall. I even bought his motorcycle that he got off the set of the television show CHiPs and gave it to my stepfather for Christmas. I’d say the ratio of me doing favours for our own benefit compared to doing it because I felt bad for her was about 75/25. The rental market in Toronto had gone completely mad and I was gonna do everything possible to avoid having to be thrust into it again.

My efforts got us an extra three years without her putting the house on the market. But something happened, something that is totally fair and expected and, well, fine: She met someone new. As soon as this new guy started lurking around, I knew it was only a matter of time before he started whispering in her ear, “You should sell this place, you’ll get a fortune.” I thought my landlord’s wife and I had built a rapport and even began to trust each other a bit. I was under the impression that she would tell me if she were planning on selling and not slew-footing me with the news after she already purchased a new home. Well, I guess you can tell that the latter happened.

The tenants across the hall from us decided they were ready, (with a lovely touch of family help), to buy their own home. I think this is what really kicked my landlord into gear making her ready to sell. Upon hearing my neighbours’ news that they were moving out, my partner and I became excited. Maybe we would move over there into the bigger unit or we had the opportunity to move in a friend. With my “great” relationship with the landlord’s wife, I could maybe even get her to keep the rent the same.

We decided to pass on moving over to the bigger unit, but had a friend who was living in a less-than-great one-bed. I could get him essentially the same price for the two-bed across the hall. The landlord’s wife was down with it, and I could hear in the tone of her voice that she was happy to do me a favour. We had a good thing going, after all. Then her “new man” got involved, and that’s when I started to notice something was off.

Our friend really got thrown through all the loops, and these loops came from this eager new guy in her life. Remember, at this time, I have been told nothing about her intentions to sell. Our friend had to show bank statements, give references, practically pass an interrogation. She was being so unusually thorough. I was a mix of annoyed and happy because, on one hand, I thought she trusted me a bit more than this, but on the other, she means business so she must want him as a long-term tenant.

During this time, my stepbrother was getting married. I was the best man and I had a lot on my mind relating to it, so I wanted to get our friend in, signed on a lease, so I could approach the second half of the summer with some peace of mind. I brought him up to meet the landlord’s wife, and what do you know, the new guy, a real buffoon, is sitting there in the corner. As my friend started to be interrogated by my landlord’s wife, dummy boy in the corner said something that was a complete tell: “Do you even want a lease?”

I squinted my eyes and stared at him, wondering, “What is he talking about? Why the fuck wouldn’t he wanna protect himself with a lease?” My friend got his goddamn lease, of course. Let me explain why this asshole asked such a stupid question. The landlord’s wife had already bought a new house. Two weeks after we signed our friend to a lease, she sat me down and told me. She had moving trucks there a day after that.

So after making our friend give notice at his previous apartment, getting him excited about his new home, the landlord’s wife’s new idiot wanted to try and trick him into not signing a lease, so the new owner could toss him out much easier.

I was seething. I was upset. The entire time that our friend lives at this place was going to involve countless open houses and showings put together by the landlord’s wife’s dopey real-estate agent. I have a long memory. I don’t forget and forgive easily. I wish I did. Now, I’m in survival mode, and I’m no longer feeling bad for my landlord’s wife. Well, 95/5.

Touche, though. It looks like we were both operating on the 75/25 ratio, which is pretty normal for strangers, I guess. She has every right to sell her home, whenever she wants for whatever she wants. It’s complicated to get tenants out, I know that. But she should have given me a heads up before our friend first requested to see the place and let me know that she had already purchased a house. He should have been able to make that choice if he still wanted to move in, and even prepare himself for the horrible storm that was coming.

Today, the house has been on the market for five months. It’s had one hidden price adjustment and still no buyers. The house is in bad shape, and being priced over two million with tenants on leases is a huge turn-off for the near-100 potential buyers who have peeked through the house. Squirrels live in the walls, the electricity isn’t grounded and the roofs and brick are a stone’s throw from probably collapsing. There’s also no air conditioning. I am writing this post in the “2nd bed” described in the listing which is actually a porch converted into an office, my feet freezing from the non-insulated walls and floor.

The house had been mocked on BlogTo as a “House of the week” back in September during the infancy of the listing, we’ve had one interested buyer who got a building inspection and then, upon its conclusion, DID NOT MAKE AN OFFER. That tells you something. Most people come in and treat it like they’re walking through a fun house at the Exhibition; half having fun looking at all the weird and different rooms, half terrified that it’s gonna collapse on their head and kill them.

I’ve never lived in a rental space where this has happened before. I’ve lived in five places over 15 years and have been at this one for almost seven. It really gets to you mentally. Because you know that the far majority either don’t want to keep you as a tenant or they want tenants to pay what the inflated market price is at now. I keep telling myself that the endless showings are the price you have to pay for fantastic and reasonable rent.

As soon as the landlord’s wife told me that she was selling, I got her to sign us to another year lease, which really benefits us both. If I wasn’t on a year-lease, I would feel the urge to look for a new place right now, pay the extra insane rent that we’re bound to pay in the near future, and leave her in the lurch with an empty apartment and a hit to her income. But it also hinders her, because she doesn’t want to offer us a buyout and neither do any of the potential buyers, so here we sit until September, at least.

It’s hard to be grateful, but I am. If this is the year where I have to engage in the long-honoured renters’ tradition of having to rent elsewhere, then I’m ready for it. I look forward to this chapter closing, to never having to see or hear from the landlord’s wife, her doofus boyfriend or her useless real-estate agent. I miss privacy. I hate being paranoid and having to hide valuables. But we live in a world now where people depend on making a profit on another person’s shelter, so this is the game you have to play sometimes. All I can do in the meantime is keep playing the game and leave you with this:

There are squirrels living in the walls.

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