Have you ever rented a place, and been very comfortable there, only to receive a voicemail message from your landlord that started like this:
“I don’t know how to say this to you, but I just wanted to say that you’ve been a very amazing tenant…”
Uh oh. Without even hearing the end of that sentence, you just know it sounds like a “Dear John” letter.
And just like that, your life changes. Where you once had a stable living situation, you now have to be out in 60 days. Where you once knew how a few months from now would look, now you can’t quite picture anything.
And here we have a downside of renting. And I’m learning this firsthand, because that is the voicemail I received not long ago.
Luckily, while I can’t say that I was ever expecting this to happen, I knew that the shape of it was certainly possible. And so I was, and am, prepared.
Table of Contents
Renting vs. owning: a review
If you’ve been following this site for a while, you know that I rent my home.
If you have a longer memory, you know that I’ve espoused the unsung benefits of renting for a long time. One of the first posts here was why renting is better than owning. I wanted to push back against the conventional wisdom (or even unconventional wisdom) of owning.
But I never claimed that it was always better. In fact, I talked about the pros and cons in the context of working for yourself or for others. And this year, I explicitly started reevalating the equation.
(Though I still feel that most people aren’t prepared to buy anything right now. Here’s why.)
Renter state of emergency
Implicit in all of those linked posts above is the idea that an unexpected-but-mandatory move could happen to any one of us.
This is certainly a problem in my home town of Portland, OR. The Portland Mercury, one of the local papers, ran a front page article titled “Renter State of Emergency” about how the influx of new (richer) transplants and lax tenant protection mean that landlords can raise rates and kick existing tenants out with impunity. And are doing so.
The article couldn’t have been more timely. (Though before I go any farther, I should state that my landlord is doing nothing of the sort. She needs my space—a non-traditional living situation—for her business, not so that she could find a tenant who could pay twice as much. This is as no-fault a situation as it gets.)
Booting renters out on a mass scale is a big problem, not just for the evicted, but for everyone. This isn’t the space to talk about it in detail, but it’s clearly bound up with punishing inequality and the general economic unfairness of our time.
But putting that aside for now, let us all take a deep breath and accept what we know to be true:
If you rent your home, you can be evicted, and on short notice.
This is not news. It is just a reality.
The Boy Scouts were at least right about this
So what can you do? The wrong answer is to live in fear. Because, frankly, the Big One could hit us at any time, and then we’ll have worse problems to deal with.
No, the important action is to be prepared.
If you know that you might have to move, you want to have some kind of plan in place. This plan is partially financial and partially cerebral.
For the financial side: do you have an emergency fund in place? If you had to sign a lease and pay for a move next month, would you have the money to afford the security deposit? (Credit cards don’t count.) Do you even know where you’d go? Do you know what your plan would be?
This goes well beyond housing. You might be a relatively healthy person, not ever needing to go to the doctor or anything, but do you have a plan in place if heaven forbid something should happen to your health? We design our roads to kill and maim people who aren’t in cars, so your day could end very badly. Do you have some kind of medical insurance?
Do you have dependents or a spouse? Do you have a will?
Do you have elderly parents? Do they have long term care insurance?
What if the power went out for three days. What if you couldn’t drink the water during that time?
I could go on, but I don’t mean to scare you with all that could go wrong. That said, there is a small-but-nonzero chance that these things will happen.
So put a plan in place, keep it up to date, and then be a little bit more at peace. Be ready, and then move on; you’ve done all you can.
As for me, being suddenly without stable accommodation was almost timely, if such an unexpected event could be considered timely.
Because for the past few years, I’ve been preparing for the possibility of buying a home.
I’ve been taking to heart my own lessons on why people aren’t ready to buy a home, and making sure that none of those reasons applied to me.
In short, I was about as ready for this as I could have possibly been.
But that said, there are always apartments to rent (though wow, a lot has changed in the market since my last apartment search four years ago). So I’m not stuck making any one sub-optimal choice.
As always, this is going to be interesting. Stay tuned.
But enough about me. Have you ever been forced to move on short notice? How did you handle it?