(My) Housing Crisis
posted by Miriam Cherry
This past spring, I almost found myself homeless. Yes, I have a Harvard Law degree, a stable career, savings, and credit. What’s the stereotype, oh, yeah, that I must have substance abuse or mental health issues. I have neither. After leaving school, I never would have thought in a million years that I would experience such stress or instability in my life or my housing situation. But when a landlord is entering your apartment without notice, turning off your heat, harassing you at work, and putting down rat poison where your dogs might eat it, any educational or financial advantages you might have rapidly fly out the window. I couldn’t move immediately – it was the middle of the semester – but friends helped and I found a convenient hotel. Within a month and a half I had cobbled together a rental arrangement with a colleague, and in the meantime had shipped the dogs off to a dogsitter to keep them safe.
I didn’t think to look up my landlords on any of the legal databases before signing my lease – seemed like overkill. After all, the apartment seemed to be well-maintained, and that, the location, and the price were what I was looking at, mostly. After the abusive behavior started, I learned that the landlords had been sued close to a dozen times by their tenants – and they lost every time.
Unfortunately, my experience leads me now to believe that for those who rent, housing instability is just one bad landlord away. This is not necessarily based on the tenant’s financial situation, although slumlords and conditions of disrepair typically tend to go hand in hand. (Of course there are plenty of people who live in very modest situations, but who have good landlords). It’s common to bash landlord-tenant law as being over-protective of tenants, and you hear people complain about tenants who don’t pay and how difficult it is to evict a tenant. Let me tell you that I was grateful and appreciative of every single one of those legal protections when my housing troubles began. It’s the abuses, the hard cases, that the system is designed for – because housing is a necessity - and that was exactly what I was up against.
My housing story has a happy ending. But I was lucky – to have the support network and resources to fall back on that others might not. What I learned is that housing instability can happen to anyone, and that our “safety net” is made of gossamer.