No one wants to be told to leave their own home. No one wants three and a half years of tenancy to end in a matter of minutes. And no one wants to enter the holidays homeless and thrown upon the charity of loved ones.
But this is exactly what happened to me this Friday. Exactly one week ago, my landlord who lives in a house-share with me had asked if I would be available to meet a prospective new housemate he had selected. I informed him that I would be unavailable until after the holidays due to my final exams, job schedule, and then leaving for the holidays. Osho accepted this explanation and said he would tell her I was busy.
The following day, though, he texted, phoned, and e-mailed, repeating his request. I didn’t know what to say. My schedule hadn’t changed.
When I stopped in briefly to finish my finals and pick up my things for the holidays, he confronted me. Osho demanded that I make time for a meeting with the potential housemate. I repeated my schedule, informed him that I was just headed out, and said I’d be happy to after the holidays. And that’s when he began asking invasive questions about where I would be and with whom.
When I reiterated my unavailability, he said if I couldn’t make time for this, maybe I should find a new place to live.
I suggested he go think about it calmly and then get back to me. I then walked away from the interaction, which had started to feel belligerent and threatening. My hands were shaking, and my stomach was in knots. I had rarely set boundaries with this man, and he had never reacted to them as anything less than a personal affront.
And that’s when he called after me:
“Consider this your 20-day notice.”
It is illegal in Washington state for a landlord to terminate tenancy out of retaliation. But I’m an impoverished grad student struggling to make ends meet. I have neither time, energy, nor money for a case against a toxic man who has grown increasingly disrespectful and controlling over the last six months.
So why is all this a good thing?
Gender and class privilege are for real. Most of us with a lot of privilege blunder about, saying and doing things that not only hurt others but that unintentionally disadvantage or alienate those with less privilege.
That’s not so great.
But even worse is the person of privilege who is aware of his privilege–and chooses to wield it in order to abuse the more vulnerable sectors of the population.
Such people are dangerous, and it was foolish of me to go on living with him after I discovered his eagerness for disputes, his classism, racism, and misogyny. But I hate moving.
That’s not a good enough reason.
My friends who know him have speculated about what could have caused such a tantrum targeting a responsible, courteous tenant. Perhaps it’s unhappiness in his own profession and relationship that made it particularly difficult to see someone his own age completing a novel, returning to school for a career change, and embarking on a joyous new relationship. Maybe he has had feelings for me, and since I have repeatedly backed up his girlfriend, this was his way of hurting me back. Or maybe he is in such emotional pain from his isolating, distrustful personality that he simply lashes out at others if given the chance.
Truth is, we’ll never know. He has cut off all communication with me, even as I seek to arrange my move-out date in advance of his 20 days.
For me, though, the biggest takeaway this holiday season is that I am remarkably fortunate. Not only has the weight of a toxic living environment fallen away–but I am surrounded by friends and loved ones who are willing and even eager to help me through this transition. My fiance and I had already been making plans for our home together. And my amazing man’s first reaction to this was to suggest we consider starting that life together a little sooner.
Nothing could make me happier.
No, the real lesson here is that I am fortunate that this difficult circumstance actually opens upon a doorway to greater joy, freedom, and security. Many of my fellow renters in Seattle also rent from landlords who are retaliatory, invasive, and even vindictive. They, too, lack the resources to defend their rights in court. But unlike me, the homelessness inflicted by a vindictive landlord may not be so temporary for them. For more vulnerable individuals, they may have to choose between meeting a landlord’s unreasonable demands or losing their lease. Osho has a sense of entitlement to my time and private life that, sadly, I have little recourse against–other than leaving. And some tenants don’t have that option.
For more about tenant rights in Washington, visit http://www.tenantsunion.org/