Subletting Woes, Part 1

Cleaning homeThroughout the entirety of one of my recent sublets in Oakland, my focus repeatedly settled on a book on the bookshelf entitled, “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”. I never picked the book up, but every time I read the title, I wondered about Sonja.

I should have listened to my gut.

When we’re looking for a sublet, sometimes we’re a bit desperate. When I met Sonja, I could see she was eccentric and she took the term ‘neat freak’ to a new obsessive level. In retrospect, she was not the ideal person to do business with – more specifically, she wasn’t the kind of person I should have given a security deposit to. But security deposits are an inevitability in this scenario. I know, having sublet my own apartment. It’s scary to let a stranger come into your home and use your things. That security deposit acts as a safety blanket and you think, “Well, if they break/steal all my crap and trash the place, at least I’ll have that.” And on the other side of things, if you are the subletter, you think, “I’m a responsible person who will take care of this person’s home and we have it in writing that I gave them that money, that its purpose is to cover any damages to the home and belongings that happen while it’s under my care, and that I will be getting it back aside from that. “ And as I’ve shared in previous posts, finding a place to lay your head in the Bay Area is HARD. So here we were.

I should have insisted on a cleaning fee option.

When I have written up sublease agreements and left my home in the care of strangers, I’ve included a section about cleaning that stipulates that the cleanliness of the apartment should match the state in which it was left to the subleaser, and that if it does not, a $70 fee will be removed from the security deposit for cleaning. The two times I’ve sublet my place, it hasn’t been an issue. The first time, I came home to a spotless apartment. The second time, the guy acknowledged his lack of professional cleaning abilities and chose to pay the fee. No problem.

In Sonja’s sublease, it merely said, “subtenant will leave apartment in good and clean condition.” Why oh why did I not discuss this option with Sonja when I secured my most recent sublet? Well, because she made it clear that it wasn’t an option. It was clear through our conversation that if I couldn’t convince her that her apartment would be as meticulously clean when she got it back as it was when she left it to me, that she would be finding another subletter who could. She was too busy to deal with it. I should also share that she left a very detailed, weekly cleaning schedule for me to follow with her roommate while she was away.

I am by no means a slob. At the same time, I will admit that I didn’t follow the cleaning schedule – mostly because the minute the roommate and I were alone, she said, “We’re not doing that, by the way”. It’s true, when I left the apartment at the end of the sublet, it was not as spotless as it was when she left it to me. I’m talking about some dust under a bookshelf and on window ledges, and yes, I forgot to check behind the bed and I left a deflated inflatable sword back there. Oops. (That was embarrassing!)

So, the question on everybody’s mind – what happened? When Sonja got home and discovered the dust and the lack of discipline of her tenant, what ever did she do? When faced with the fact that she had chosen a LAZY subletter to sleep in her bed! She had let a miscreant use her cooking utensils and her toilet. First she called me and told me that the apartment wasn’t clean, and that she would need me to come back and clean it more.

I should have handed over the apartment in person.

I did not like this idea. By the time my sublet was over, I had had enough of this woman. She e-mailed me quite a bit over the course of the sublet, being unduly demanding, condescending, verbose, etc. A little bit of drama even went down that’s not worth getting into, but the point is I lost any and all desire to please her and on move out day, I was in a hurry to get out before she returned because I just didn’t want to see her. I should have stayed. I realize that now. I should have sucked it up and I should have cleaned deeper than I’d ever cleaned before to avoid the ordeal that was inevitably to follow.

I came back to help her clean. I interrupted her condescending complaints about what a terrible job I’d done and asked her to tell me exactly what she wanted me to do, and how. I stayed for an hour and forty-five minutes and did exactly that, re-cleaning things I had already cleaned and leaving when she wanted me to take apart the stove and clean its depths. Nope. Buh-bye.

And now? I got my security deposit back, minus $250. $50 was taken to pay for missing/broken items, most of which I know nothing about (remember, I was not the only one using these items during her absence) and $200 for 4 hours of labor at a price of $50/hr which is the amount of time she claims to have spent making up for my “shortcomings”.

Did I get my money back…stay tuned until my next post.

There was nothing in the sublease about this, so I decided to fight it (result of that coming in another post soon!), but the moral of the story? First, if you can avoid it, don’t give your money to people who give you a weird feeling. Second, if you’re going to give someone your money, you are at their mercy. This scenario gives the term “taking the high road” new meaning. It’s no longer a piece of moral inspiration, but rather a piece of advice to help you get over your own ego so that you don’t lose your freakin’ money. Suck it up. Have the difficult interaction. Do something you may not want to do.

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Naomi Finkelstein is an educator and an artist of many sorts who has lived in Madrid, New York, Chicago, and now the Bay Area. She's had as many as four roomies and as few as none. A yoga and vegetable enthusiast in a totally non-annoying way, she loves people, places, things and ideas.

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