Saturday, May 21, 2011

Update for the Week: Mostly Me Venting About Our Rental Woes

First, the good news. The baby is healthy and active. We had an ultrasound yesterday and saw the little jumping bean squirming and somersaulting away. What a relief--a couple of days before at my physical the doctor was unable to find a heartbeat. With everything else going on, I was a wreck.

So now, on to the bad news, AKA everything else going on. The job continues to be a drain. On Thursday, Jeff and I both called in sick and we went to Spiny Gooseberry Shangri-La with our dog and a dog we're taking care of for a week and had a very nice hike. So that was great--we both needed it.

The big issue we're dealing with is the problem with our house's owner, which I described a little bit here. To sum up: she's convinced our cats are destroying the only carpet in the house.

She has now declared that we were dishonest from the beginning because we knew there was a chance a cat might pee on it. We made the mistake, a few weeks ago, of saying that we deliberately chose the bedroom with the carpet to discourage that from happening--our cats don't pee where we sleep. She interprets that to mean that we knew one of them, who does tend to pee outside his box (like a foot outside his box, where we've put down two sheets of thick plastic, lynoleum, and newspaper), would pee on the carpet in the bedroom. She insists that the smell of cat pee is coming from the bedroom in such concentration that she can smell it in all other parts of the house. She's hired this guy, ostensibly to handle the rental, but really to handle pushing us out, and he also claims to smell the awful odor of cat pee, and he says it's so bad he has to hold his breath. Meanwhile, Jeff and I sleep in this room. We've checked all the walls and all the visible parts of the floor: no stains. We smell no cat pee. Jeff's mom smells no cat pee. So anyway, the owner is now claiming we are in violation of our lease and she has the right to evict us. She says she doesn't want to do that. She's convinced she'll have to tear out the rug and the floor boards underneath, and probably the floor under that, in order to rid the house of the alleged smell. All of which, according to the lease we signed, we'll be financially responsible for.

Why is she doing this, you ask?

She needs to sell the house, desperately. Last fall she got laid off and her partner of 27 years, who was still employed, died. It's awful. We felt terrible for her (although I confess, at this point my sympathy has dried up). She owns two houses here in Mount Shasta, one that she lives in, the other that she rents to us, and she must sell them both and move back to the Bay Area where she has a chance of finding employment. Her fear is that with the pee smell, this house won't sell. In reality, there is no smell, but the house won't sell because there are plenty of houses in this neighborhood in foreclosure. They are listed for substantially less. Also, people are moving away from Mount Shasta. There are few jobs here and it's still fairly expensive to live here. Our enrollment at the schools is decreasing so drastically the superintendent is in a constant state of panic. So she's not going to sell this house any time soon. However, she's convinced that if she can get us out, she'll make the renovations necessary, and sell it over the summer. So the fact that our lease would take us to July 31 is unacceptable to her.

She and the man she hired to strong-arm us insisted on coming over yesterday (we agreed before we learned that they can't insist on any such thing, also we didn't know yet how pushy they were going to be--we won't be agreeing again). They were patronizing from the beginning and I nearly lost my temper. By then I had read up on our rights and I was not buying in to their apparent conviction that they were coming from a place of strength. They wanted a "drop dead date" for when we'd be out of the house (previously they'd tried to get us to sign an addendum to the lease saying we'd be out by June 13--three days after school gets out, and as a result totally unrealistic for us). I told them our drop dead date was July 31--they didn't like that at all. They claimed to be being very generous by not evicting us, because clearly we were in violation of the terms of our lease, etc. etc. They kept insisting that we sign something in writing saying we'd be out at least by June 30. This went on for nearly an hour, until I told them I had already consulted a lawyer and we wouldn't be signing anything. They didn't like that either. I thought for a few minutes they would refuse to leave until we signed, and I considered calling the police to have them removed as trespassers (you can do that--I looked it up).

I did in fact call an attorney last Monday and while I'd like to avoid things getting nastier than they already are, I think I'm going to set up a time for a consultation. My father-in-law thinks we should make a list of everything wrong with the house (there are several things) and demand that it all be fixed. That way if she tried to take us to small claims for the cost of the bedroom renovation, we could counter with everything we've been living with. I'm just not sure I want to give her any reason to keep coming back to the house and harassing us. So at this point I want to find out from the lawyer what is in our best interest, legally. I've found in the past that what makes sense to me doesn't necessarily work with the law, so it's best to get a lawyer's advice. My in-laws don't want us spending the money and I admit it's a painful choice, but at this point I think these people are trying very hard to manipulate and intimidate us, and I just don't know enough to make a path through this minefield.

I'm also furious. I don't want that to cloud my judgment and it's possible resorting to a lawyer comes out of that fury. What would you do, if you were in my shoes?

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