When you’re moving to another country for a couple of years or more, you have to find a place to live. Renting is often the only alternative, so you look for a nice house in a good neighborhood and school district, but often forget to do a background check on the landlord. This may turn out to be a mistake.
The first time we lived abroad everything went well. In St. John’s, Canada, we had a temporary apartment while waiting for our house to be finished – a brand new house in a new development, with a professional landlord. But how long was Adam in Paradise?
The second time, which was the first of two stays in Rio de Janeiro, we lived in a hotel apartment. We didn’t get the apartment we had agreed upon, but hey, the one we got wasn’t that bad. After a couple of months, however, while I was in deep concentration for my journalism exam, I suddenly heard voices from the living room and rushed out to see. There I found the receptionist standing with our TV in his arms, talking to a maid.
-What are you doing? I asked.
–We need this TV in another apartment, he replied.
I exploded and told him to put the TV right back where he’d found it. I guess he hadn’t seen an angry Viking girl before, so he did as ordered.
I told some fellow expats the story, and one of them said they used to live in our building and when coming home from dinner one evening, their nice looking table lamps had disappeared.
–Whenever the owner wants to style an apartment for potential renters, he takes whatever he needs from the other apartments, she explained.
At least we were prepared when we returned after a trip back home, to find an ugly and bad smelling bed in our bedroom.
Water leaks in Texas
The second time we moved to Rio, we got a nice apartment and a cool landlord; a self-made man, born in the jungle, as he liked to say. He became our friend and used to come over for a chat or a drink from time to time.
When we moved to Houston in one week’s notice seven months later, we were not that lucky. We were in a hurry to get our daughter into school, and in the US you need a permanent address to get your children enrolled into public schools. You even have to show the signed lease agreement. Since we arrived in February, only the shelf-warmers were left.
Of course we didn’t get the house we wanted and ended up with a big house with lots of rooms. The good thing was that we could see the school from the kitchen window – a huge plus for Andrea who had to change continents and schools in the middle of the year. The house was poorly maintained and we had problems with the electricity, the heating system (and we did need heat – it was the coldest winter in 60 years!) and water leaks in the kitchen.
Typically, these problems always occurred while my husband was traveling, and the landlord was not service minded at all! Yet we could live with these incidents, until one of the toilets broke and we woke up to 5 cm of water on the main floor. We shoveled water in buckets for hours, while waiting for the landlord’s not so handy handyman. He brought two white plastic fans to dry the tile-, wood -and carpet covered rooms – and the result was of course mold underneath the carpets.
Nothing was done about it, since the landlord just waited to deduct the “damages” from the deposit. In the end we had to seal off our daughter’s bedroom, yet we stayed there, because we were going to move to Alaska. Heehaw! Little did we know…
Six police cars
When we met our new landlord in Anchorage, he was cleaning the house and had been sleeping on the floor in one of the bedrooms for several nights. Kinda’ strange – or only in Alaska? Two days later his ex-wife-to-be showed up and tried to scare us into moving. We soon found out that they were going through an ugly divorce, and unfortunately we had ended up in the middle of the battlefield!
Shortly after, the landlord asked if he and his six youngest kids could move into the basement apartment for two weeks every month. He even offered to clean my part of the house. I just froze, looking at my husband, who amazingly managed to laugh and say: –Hah-hah! Wouldn’t that be something, pretending it was a joke. It wasn’t. The ex-wife-to-be lived in their other house with her new boyfriend, and the landlord lived in his RV (recreational vehicle).
From then on I jumped every time the doorbell rang. And it rang a lot, because debt collectors came to my door all the time. They weren’t looking for me, but sometimes I had a hard time convincing them.
When we were in Norway during our summer holiday, we got a phone call from my husband’s secretary:
-Your neighbor called us and we called the police, because your landlord is trying to break into “your” home!
Luckily we had changed all locks – or so we thought. Unfortunately, we had overlooked the one he tried to get through. I guess he could smell trouble, because he left seconds before six police cars arrived, according to my neighbor.
Next spring, the landlord would not extend our lease for two months so we could stay until school ended, because he was going to fight for custody of his six kids and needed a permanent address. The last weeks in the house, someone was watching me from a car across the street for days. Was it the ex-wife’s boyfriend? We had heard their other house had been sold by the bank, so I guess “our” house was the only asset left to fight for. Now I really got scared, so we moved to an apartment as quickly as we could, waving the white flag while leaving the battlefield.
At least I cannot complain about my expat life being boring! Better luck next time?
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun-Sunde, June 2014