5 Mistakes You'll Make The Next Time You Move
Most people think that moving to a new apartment is a wonderful experience: You pile into a car with all your friends, drive for a few hours, get a hotel, and then spend three days dropping acid while riding roller coasters. But, sadly, that's a common misconception: What I've just described is "taking a trip to Disneyland." In reality, "moving" is when you pack your entire life into boxes, drag those boxes several miles (or several hundred miles) closer to your ultimate goal of being dead, lose half the boxes, spend all your money, stub your toe really bad, and then fall asleep on your box springs because you locked your mattress and your keys inside the U-Haul.
But, don't worry -- moving is balls, and I've done it enough (the longest I've ever lived in one city is 2.5 years; I did it from 2011-2014 in Seattle, and I moved six times during that period, and I'm moving again right now) to where I've figured out what the big pitfalls are. The big mistakes. The big "Life Un-Hacks," if you will. Oh, you won't? "Mistakes" is fine, then.
Trying To Get Back At Your Old Landlord
Listen, I've sung several verses in the "Song of Slumlord Sorrow" before, so, when you share your stories, I sympathize. We've all had landlords who refused to fix broken ovens, didn't care when sewage erupted from our kitchen sink at 2 a.m., refused to replace the window that a meth addict broke in November, and kept "forgetting" to turn the heat on or, ya know, have it installed. I've battled ant colonies big and advanced enough to have their own rudimentary currencies, and I've had fistfights with rats the size of rottweilers for dominion over the bathroom. And the whole time, I blamed the landlord -- because it's his or her goddamn fault.
I probably should've picked up on some hints.
By the time I was moving out of this particularly crappy basement in Seattle, the concept of cleaning the place up to get my deposit back seemed ridiculous. The place was cleaner than it ever had been because the simple act of living there had kept most of the invasive species out. "So, now I'm supposed to clean it up more, just so this asshole can have an easier time renting it when I'm out and not give me my deposit back, anyway?" I said. "To hell with that."
This is a trap, and it's exactly what landlords want. The thing most people don't realize is that the owner in a lease agreement can't just return or keep a deposit on a whim -- there are laws in place to protect renters (more on that in a moment) -- and even though those laws don't usually get followed, they do end up mattering because, just like you, landlords are trying to avoid a big hassle. They want to keep your deposit, but they also don't want to end up in small-claims court. And they know that the more effort you put into cleaning up your home, the more likely you are to go that extra mile. Sure, scrubbing down your entire home with bleach and a toothbrush until you're bleeding out the tips of your fingernails isn't fun, and it's also not a guarantee you'll get your whole deposit back -- because some states are less protective than others and some landlords are the walking malignant butt-hole tumors who weird dark lawyer magic to ruin the lives of everyone they come into contact with. But, if you really need that cash -- and the more likely you are to have a shitty landlord, the more likely you are to need that extra check -- it's totally worth the effort.
So, mix some toothpaste, water, and vinegar together in a bowl to make homemade Spackle, and smooth it over all the holes left from the tacks holding up your Jem And The Holograms posters (I'm not here to judge!). Or, even splurge by going down to the hardware store and buying some real Spackle, as well as a Spackle-applier-thingy. You know the tool I'm talking about. It costs like $3.
My point is, you can be shitty at tools and still clean up some drywall.
Even if you don't get your full amount back, then at least you fucking went for it, man. At least you gave them hell.
Not Realizing How Many Rights You Have
At first glance, the whole "leasing" game seems explicitly designed to screw us renters. All the pressure is on our side, after all: Landlords are the ones doing credit checks and demanding deposits and picking from all our desperately upstretched hands, while we're the ones rushing around town filling out as many rental applications as we can to escape the looming spectre of homelessness. Then, after we've signed that blood-contract, any issues with our new home immediately become our issues: No electricity? No running water? Colony of spider-creatures living in your shower drain? Too bad, sucker: You signed a lease, and they own your soul now.
There's a serious blood-magic problem in the housing industry, but that's for another article.
Except that's not really true. There are all kinds of options available to you, and, actually, tenants have more rights now than they ever have had in human history. In California, for example, if your home becomes "untenantable" and your landlord doesn't fix it when you ask, you can just stop paying rent and leave with no repercussions. Landlords may not have to fix minor issues like peeling paint, but they do have to fix carbon monoxide leaks and an invading army of street-snakes. Sure, your rights are usually written in what appears to be the Language of Mordor, but if you're curious about whether or not your particular problem is worth ditching your apartment, then look into free legal clinics (here's one in my old hometown of Seattle I've heard good things about) that can explain your rights. And if shit gets real bad, you can hit up small-claims court, where you don't even need a lawyer.
The hardest thing to do is to convince yourself it's worth the time and effort to figure this shit out, and that's what the landlords are counting on. They like how everything's written in confusing legal jargon, and you need a lawyer to figure anything out because that always gives the wealthy an advantage over the poor. Their dice just has more sides than yours, and, also, your dice are blank, and you thought you were playing an entirely different edition of Dungeons & Dragons than you really were. Even in the best case scenario, figuring all of this out is an annoying time commitment. But, if you really need your deposit (and again, if you have a slumlord, you probably do), then you have a better shot than you realize, and it's worth taking it.
Forgetting That Every Problem You Have Is Already Solved
Did you know that you can get all your mail forwarded from your old place if you ask nicely? Seriously, just go right here. It's like a dollar. And if you're just made of cash and decide to pay $18 a week, you can even have it sent by Priority Mail to you anywhere. It's not perfect, because nothing is, but it gives you some extra time to get all those addresses changed (like, a straight year). Plus, each letter that gets forwarded comes with a helpful yellow sticker saying, "Hey bro, remember to change this address."
Hey bro, you forgot your dog.
The thing is, missing bills and payments don't just screw you, they screw everyone: the people you owe money to, the people who need you to do your job, your landlord -- silly bureaucratic nonsense isn't a problem isolated to you. It's an inefficiency in the system. And even though it feels like the system is evil and broken and working against you, it actually does want to maintain itself -- even if that means helping you out. So, yes, there's a good way to fix your address change.
Even when you can't find a form to sign or a government-funded solution, then -- unless you're moving into a shack in the middle of the desert -- you'll still have neighbors, and it's super useful to ask them for help. Trying to figure out which of the two possible Internet providers is better? How to get your bed up that narrow flight of stairs? The best place to score weed? Ask your neighbors because they've already done all that, probably multiple times. Regardless if they can't physically help you out, they'll probably be happy to answer the question because a lot of human beings are actually pretty rad folk.
Not Looking At Enough Places
Look at lots and lots of places. Places slightly too expensive for you, places slightly too cheap, places too far from work, places underneath nuclear power plants -- it doesn't matter, just check them out (if you have the time) because apartment hunting is a different game in every neighborhood and you need to learn the rules.
For example, in LA, apartments don't come with refrigerators. As a functioning human being who has lived in civilized society, that is the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard, and I blew off a lot of apartments because I thought they were scamming me or trying to rent to robots or something. And between zip codes, rental prices have insane variety: In (one of) my hometown(s) of Helena, Montana, I can get an entire house for like $800, but, in parts of LA, that gets you a cardboard box and a half-empty tube of toothpaste.
And a fine layer of soot over your entire body.
"But, I'm moving within my hometown, so this doesn't apply to me!" Wrong, fool! The vast majority of people move because of a new job or a desire for a better living environment, and, in both those cases, you're entering a whole new world with new rules. Once you set your budget, it might take you four or five apartment visits before you can know for sure if prostitutes knife-fighting in your front lawn is something you'll be able to avoid or a perk. Can you expect unbroken windows, or is the simple fact that windows exist a freaking miracle? Should you be bummed this place makes you pay for electricity, or rejoicing that it actually has electricity? You can't know until you've put in the time.
Remember, new-home hunting is always a race against the clock, and the closer that date gets, the more willing you'll be to settle. Because the alternative is using your belongings to build a crude hut, shoving a knife between your teeth, and spending your nights fighting off overgrown rats and comedy writers.
Forgetting To Be Fucking Cool About Shit
You sign your new lease, and it's rad. Assuming you do everything right with your new apartment and remember to talk to your new neighbors about how loud your new place is and take pictures of every dumb flaw, there's still one very important step: Be Fucking Cool About Shit. I cannot stress enough the importance of Being Fucking Cool About Shit in every possible situation.
For example, you're going to have unexpected problems your first few nights. Maybe meth addicts get spun under your bedroom window, maybe there's a 2:30 a.m. train that runs through your kitchen, or maybe you have ants. Be fucking cool about it. Scare the meth addicts with a flashlight, commit an act of domestic terrorism against the train, and buy TERRO ant traps because those are the best. Just be fucking cool about it.
Like this guy.
Or, maybe your neighbors run a mushrooms-and-noisy-sex cult. If you're like me, your first impulse is going to be to strip naked, press your dick against their window, and stare them all down until they make you their king and agree to be quiet -- but, that's not being cool about shit. Instead, just ask them to be quiet or figure out some kind of trade-off. I've had apartment mates who would give me free beer when they expected to get loud, and I was fiiiiine with that, man. Because I was 22 and didn't need sleep or care about my job, but the point remains: You gotta be fucking cool about it.
Or this guy.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be fucking cool to your landlord. Yes, I know that they are all a bunch of twattlefucks, and some of the best punk songs ever are about murdering them, but hear me out: You gain nothing by picking a fight or even by making it clear that you aren't to be fucked with. I can't guarantee it'll always work, but I can guarantee that it can work. Which is the most lameass guarantee ever, but, like I said, this game is rigged, and all you can hope to do is not get fucked too bad.
Anyway, I've been writing "Employed by 'The LA Times'" on all my rental applications, so I need to go figure out who their editor-in-chief is and bribe her.
JF Sargent really hopes he has somewhere to live by the time this article runs. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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