When Will My Rent Become Too Much?


raising the rentThis post originally appeared on xoJane.

On the second day of January, my housemates and I came home to find a notice pinned to our door. In 60 days, it read, our landlords were going to hike our rent up, making our monthly bill almost a thousand bucks each. Welcome to the Silicon Valley, suckers. Happy New Year.

I mean, we kind of knew it was coming. Rent prices in San Francisco have skyrocketed 14.7 percent in the past year; in 2012, the average asking price on a one-bedroom was over $2,500 a month. My neighborhood, according to publications like the Wall Street Journal, has become increasingly desirable to the masses of young’uns who work at the Internet Giants 40 minutes south of here. Google even has a shuttle pickup station down the street from us.

A month ago, a Sidewalk Juice replaced the boarded-up CA$H FOR GOLD storefront six blocks away. Woody Allen filmed his new movie smack in the middle of my running route. In our area, things were definitely starting to look up economically.

Meanwhile, our landlords — who a year ago gave us tequila whenever we paid the rent — stopped returning our calls. After a string of local robberies, we tried to get the locks changed on our broken front door, which any half-drunk jerk with a credit card and a good shove could open. No response. To us, the message was clear: suck it up, pay more, or get out.

Our sink choked on hair and died, so we replaced the drain system with a bucket. Our pilot light stopped working, and we burned our thumbs on matches trying to put the kettle on after too many glasses of wine. Our dishwasher, always a luxury at the best of times, started to require actual heaving to get into place, and even then only ground the existing food further into the cracks of ceramic plates.

“Your landlord’s kind of the worst,” my friend Ella, who lives two blocks away, told me.

“Yeah, but it’s worth it for $800 a month,” I said, because it was.

I don’t know if this is true of all cities, but in my circles, people ask, “How much rent do you pay?” at parties with wild, hungry eyes. San Francisco’s only seven miles by seven miles — eventually, survival of the fittest starts to win out. And in this case, “fittest” means “most willing to hand over cash.”

I fully recognize the stupidity of complaining about this round of gentrification when it’s nothing compared to all the non-white families who have been driven out of my block over the years. But I can’t help but feel aimlessly resentful all the same, like my individual grumpiness is going to keep Facebook employees from paying half again as much money for my 10×12 one-window closet/room.

Not that I can blame them personally, of course, because in their positions I’d probably do the exact same thing. Why not?

Aside from the political aspects of the changes, I also just feel sad. I didn’t love San Francisco when I first moved here. I’m a neurotic perfectionist with no patience for condescension, and at first glance, this city seemed perversely full of sleepwalkers and busybodies.

But during the last 18 months, I’ve slipped into a comforting rhythm. I buy arugula and plantain chips from the same bodega every Tuesday; I know the liquor store guy’s kids’ names. From my house, I can walk to six different bookstores, at least 15 bars, three vegan restaurants, and a store that sells nothing but pirate supplies.

The dudes next door, who used to hiss at my housemates and call us dykes, keep inviting me to play chess with them on their porch in the weak winter sun. We have tomatoes on the roof and ferns in the backyard. Every Sunday, my upstairs neighbors play jazz records as loud as they’ll go, and I’ll sit on the couch with one of the dogs and listen to the muffled horns filtering through the ceiling.

I’m a bit of a nomad by nature, but this is the longest I’ve lived in one place aside from the one I grew up in. It’s hard not to walk back in the misting rain from the train at night, look at the yellow light from our living room window, and think, “Home.”

  • Tania

    It sucks being an adult doesn’t it? I don’t mean that sarcastically, I’m 100% serious. We have to make choices all the time and sometimes it doesn’t feel like much of a choice if both options are not desirable but we do have a choice.  We can rent or we can buy, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. We can commute or we can live in a convenient area. We can live in a studio apartment or we can live in a house. We can live in a state with a high cost of living or we can choose to live elsewhere. As a Hawaii resident, the latter is a choice I think about often.

    I’ve heard many people whine and complain about greedy landlords (not talking about you my dear but I have a FB friend who loves this particular topic) and here is my take on it as someone who has owned real estate in the past. Buying and owning real estate is a risk with costs. I do not disagree with landlords charging what the market can bear on their properties because they need to make what they can when they can to cover the periods the property is not being rented out or when they occur large unexpected costs. I used to be an auditor and have seen landlords incur huge assessments on unusable properties from their owners’ association after Hurricane Iniki. If they had only charged enough to cover their costs in the good years, they surely would’ve gone under post hurricane.The mortgage lender doesn’t care whether you have rental income to cover your payment or not.

    That said your landlord doesn’t sound like they are meeting their obligations, you might find moving may be a blessing in disguise. Best of luck to you in whatever you may decide.