I’ve always sublet, lived in a dorm, lived rent-free (though I think it was more of a co-op experience given the labor that was exchanged) with relatives, or wandered. Though I’ve looked at places before on my own, I’d never had a lease in my own name. Despite having no legal anything, I liked being under-the-radar. I hate moving, but I need the freedom to be able to move around at will.
In my recent search for a place, I’d looked at various classifieds and read through the online ratings on places, being cautious and taking reviews with a certain amount of perspective. I mean, one review of Clemens Place actually says (I bolded the particularly awful parts):
I am sooooooooo relieved to be out of there. I was counting down the days my lease ended from the day I moved in and I will never, ever be stupid enough to move somewhere again based on photos I saw on-line and talking to a management office. (I was moving from out of the area for a job and getting desperate). My biggest issue was the extremely large rats roaming the property. Fortunetly I never had one in my apartment but I worried constantly I would. I feared walking from my apartment to my car because of the rats, which were seriously the size of my cat’s head. Once I left my car in the lot closest to my apartment because of this fear and Clemen’s Place towed it. That was a fun day as was the day I had my car towed by the good old city of Hartford when I misread a sign (printed in very faded letters) in front of my building. Let’s see, another complaint I had was the laundry was not in my building so I had to trudge through the parking lot (and you got it the rats) to get to the laundry facilities. And while they boast of a gym, the equipment is archaic. Hmm, what else’ Well the area is incredibly sketchy and ghetto. I really loved being stared at like I was the first white girl some of these people had ever laid eyes on. I mean seriously. I am not that exotic that you need to stare. Also you should know that I didn’t particuarly feel safe hearing people arguing and loud ambulances at all hours of the night. The only really positive thing I can really say is that the one time my dishwasher wasn’t working Maintenance did fix it in a timely manner.
I wish I were making that up, but you can read more things like that at the review site. This person sounds like someone who has been very sheltered and a bit naive. I am in awe of her ability to think that she was being stared at because of her race. Hartford’s West End is racially and ethnically diverse; it’s not all black or Hispanic. If she were being stared at, it was probably because of another reason, such as looking extremely nervous and uncomfortable.
The racist bit is what makes me want to ridicule her (that along with choosing a place based only one a picture online…but at least she says she’s learned not to do that in the future), but many comments about this place mentioned the rats. Now, I’m not trying to defend Clemens Place. I’m not interested in it, have no stake in it. I should also say that not too many people enjoy being around rats, myself included. But cities have rats. Areas of the city that have lots of restaurants and bars, along with people who litter, attract rats. I’ve seen rats in my former parking lot, though not too often. I’ve seen rats in the West End and in Downtown. They’re wildlife, though I’d rather see deer or bears. Rats happen, they probably won’t bite you, and if you keep your own living space clean, they have no reason to come join you.
I was not surprised by some of the racist comments that I read online, including others that blamed bedbug infestations (okay, now that’s gross!) on “internationals” or “foreigners.” There was also one very ironic comment:
If I am not wrong Indian population is around 99% and when ever you cross the apartments to reach urs,you can easily predict what the dish is getting prepared.
Uncultured Leasing Officers and hopelss Maintenance guyz.
No, what surprised me were the comments made to my face that had were overtly racist or seemed to be a little off. The first place I went to was very clean, but the kitchen was way too small. I was trying my best to be polite and make small talk with the landlord. I was commenting on the neighborhood, because it’s quiet and safe, and asked him about noise in the building. I might have commented on how one of my previous neighbors (not in building, but in a nearby building) likes to have loud parties that go until the cops come at 3 in the morning. He asked me if they were black or Hispanic. I think that my shock at being asked this was evident because he tried to backpedal. Just because I’m white does not mean that I am going to be sympathetic to those kinds of remarks! My decision about the place never even had to be made on ethical matters because that kitchen had already broken the deal for me.
One place I looked at was like the freakin model of racial and sexual harmony. Too bad it had other strikes against it (still small, really old carpet [and I'm sensitive to smoke, etc.], and in a neighborhood dominated by large apartment complexes). Really, I just adored the landlord and management. They knew everyone there by first names, and residents actually seemed friendly toward each other. I’ve visited the artist buildings many times, and never saw this level of community in those places. If you are reading this, need a place, and can overlook bad carpeting, write me and I’ll give you the name of this place.
I included that last part to avoid being overly negative.
One place that I was totally excited to look at (good price, good neighborhood) was ruined by a few things. When I got there, I had to wait around for awhile, but I understand that people get busy. I thought I was going to be shown a one bedroom, but it was a small studio. I asked if there were any one bedroom apartments in the area, and he mentioned a few. There were two streets he mentioned in the part of town I was interested in moving to. He said that I would probably not feel comfortable (code for “safe”) on a certain street, so he showed me one on a street that has a good reputation. Now, I agreed to see it because I know at least two people who live nearby, and thought it’d be cool to have friends in walking distance…but I could not get over the implications of his remark. The street he assumed I would not feel safe on is one that is similar to the neighborhood that I just moved out of. I had not said anything to him about safety being a concern of mine, because let’s face it, I don’t worry about that as much as I probably should. How he could determine my comfort level from looking at me, I don’t know. He wasn’t much of a talker, so there was nothing I said that he could have based this on. Now, the 1br that he showed me was nice, and I thought about it for a minute. But this time I did have to make a decision. As much as housing is necessary, living my beliefs in necessary. There is no way that I was about to give about a quarter of my income to this man and his company every month. I don’t need to encourage that kind of garbage. After the fact, I found out that the rental agency he is with made headlines a few years ago for racial discrimination.
I know that there is a stereotype of white females being irrationally cautious and timid. Maybe there is truth in that, I don’t know. What I do know is something I have said and written many times already: I am more likely to be harmed or injured by someone I know, and not from a stranger. While I am very aware of my mortality, I also try to be sensible and understand the odds.
The place that I ended up moving to is in a borderline neighborhood in a good, clean building. Best of all, the person who showed me around was a Latina about my age who assumed (correctly) that I’d be more interested in seeing the ample closet space for my shoes, than knowing how “comfortable” I would be in the area. At least she could tell, by looking at my footwear, that this concern might be a real one.