Saturday, 16 June 2012

A Lesson From My Former Landlady: Part 1

I was originally going to name this post something else, but in deference to my readers who have delicate constitutions, I decided against it. Anyway. While it will be something of a massive rant, it's actually a good way of illuminating a topic that I've been wanting to write about for a while.
So for about eight or nine months from last summer, I lived as a tenant in a house occupied by my former landlady and her two children, who split their time between her house and their dad's. My former landlady - let's call her crazy bitch June - gave me notice in January that she'd need me to move out in June because she wanted to redecorate the room I was in. This seemed a suspect excuse, as my room was the only part of the house not in need of decorating, but no matter; I didn't have the chance to discuss the issue with her because she took the rather peculiar decision not to tell me in person, but to wait until I went on a weekend away and then slip a note about this under my door. I started to look for a new place almost immediately, because I knew I would have exams in June and didn't need the stress of moving out at the same time.

In March, I found a lovely new house nearby and gave her my notice. She said that this was fine as it didn't matter to her when the room was redecorated. I tried to organise a time to go through the inventory and get my deposit back, but she was strangely cagey about it. I offered to go through it with her on the day I was moving out, having just cleaned the room with my mum, but she refused. After moving out, again I kept trying to arrange a time to go through it all with her but she continued putting me off until I suddenly received a text message ultimatum that it had to be on that Friday (a day which I had already informed her I wouldn't be able to do) because she had someone moving in the next day.*

I spoke with my manager and was able to leave work early that day in order to go and see her, despite the fact that things were super busy that week and I knew that I would have to work over the weekend to make up the time I lost by leaving early. So off I trotted to my old house.

The instant I got there, things seemed strange. I was let in, but although I had explained to June that it was an awkward time and I would be in a rush, she seemed surprised that I was in a hurry and she stomped upstairs, obviously in a bad mood.

June was always a shouty woman. When her kids were staying, there was shouting every evening - about eating dinner, about singing lessons, about baths, you name it. What I was not prepared for, however, was for her to turn her shoutyness on me practically as soon as we stepped into my former bedroom. She pointed to a laughably small build-up of scale on the bathroom tap and had a go about it - then when I pointed out that it had always been there, she claimed that if there had been scale on the tap, she would have written it down in the inventory. I pointed out that this was not the case, as there were various holes in the walls and floor, the broken curtain fitting etc. which were not in the inventory - seeing as the inventory is a list of the room's furniture, not a detailed description of every aspect of its decor. She yelled that the holes in the floor were "not the problem" and continued shouting, accusing me of allowing a terrible limescale build-up in the shower, "ruining" a bookshelf, leaving the room dusty, etc. etc.

She accused me of not cleaning the room at all before I left; I pointed out that a) not only has she actually seen me going upstairs and downstairs with mops and buckets and cleaning products on the day I moved out but I had also spoken to her about which mop she would rather I use to clean the floor, and b) because she refused to do the inventory on the day, obviously the room now had two week's worth of dust in it. Which only made her shout more. At one point, she yelled "Frankly, Emer, I don't believe you did any cleaning the whole time you were here!" Which is a bit of a bloody cheek coming from a woman whose kitchen was so permanently disgusting that a) it attracted mice** and b) my appalled yet kindly mother did some of June's washing up on the day I moved out just to make it less horrific.

By this time, all the shouting was really starting to stress me out; I was on the verge of tears. I'd been on the lanreotide injections for a few months, and the thing about them that I think I've mentioned before is that they really do make me a lot more emotional and easily upset, for some reason. I had never told June about the whole brain tumour thing or the injections or anything, because frankly I didn't think it was any of her business and it tends to make things awkward.

Anyway, I asked her (politely!) to stop shouting. She shouted "I'M NOT SHOUTING!" at me, then continued shouting. I was so stressed out by the whole thing that I was physically shaking and feeling sick, so when she told me she was going to dock me 10% of my deposit (apparently cleaning a tap costs £65 these days. I'm not sure she's doing it right) I barely even argued because I was so desperate to get out of there. I was still trying to stay calm but I was kind of furious at myself for being so easily upset, so when she continued ranting as she wrote out the cheque I said: "June, I really don't appreciate your attitude today; I made a real effort to fit in with your plans even though it was extremely inconvenient for me, I took time off work and you've been nothing but rude to me the entire time I've been here." Predictably, she started shouting again, threatened to rip up the cheque, blah blah blah.

When I left my former home (with the cheque, thank Christ), I got about four steps down the road before bursting into tears and I was still shaking by the time I got home, at which point I realised that I was probably a bit hypoglycaemic (occassional side effect of the lanreotide injections), ate a couple of biscuits and felt slightly less awful, despite the fact that I had just effectively paid £65 to run away. Fortunately my lovely boyfriend was visiting that evening and he made me feel a lot better, although the whole story made him kind of furious. I believe pissing through June's letterbox was mentioned, and to this day I slightly regret my decision to take the high ground there...

It seems pretty plain to me that June's plan right from the start - before I'd even vacated my room or she had seen it - was to get that money off me. The way she dodged my emails trying to organise it, and then suddenly demanded to have it on a day she already knew I couldn't do, indicates to me that she was hoping I would say I couldn't come, so that she could just arbitraily dock the money and send the cheque in the post without having to do it to my face. The way she avoided doing the inventory on the day I moved out when my mother was there as a witness, and her incredibly aggressive behaviour as soon as I stepped through the door all make it seem as though she was determined to get that £65 by hook or by crook.

That kind of behaviour isn't acceptable from anyone to anyone. Society might consider it rather worse for my landlady to try to intimidate me, a 23 year old girl than, say, a 46 year old bloke. Is that fair? No. Would she even try it on with a 46 year old bloke? Who knows? I certainly doubt she would have behaved in the same way if my boyfriend had been with me. And what about the fact that I'm sick? If June had known about my pituitary tumour, about the fact that I was on hormone treatment which made me feel emotionally pretty delicate and physically resulted in odd bouts of hypoglycaemia, would she have still done it? If I went up to her now, knocked on her door and said "Oh, by the way, June, just so you know - I have a benign brain tumour," would that change the way she felt about her behaviour towards me?

Because it shouldn't.

You can't always tell if someone is sick. Not every ill person has a wheelchair or a bandage or an obvious badge of their personal infirmity. Heck, even if you now them pretty well - even if you live with them - you might not know about it. Yet the default in society is to treat everyone as if they were well and make 'special allowances' for sick people - once they produce a medical certificate. There are plenty of people in the world who would probably be horrified to realise that the shop assistant they were a bit of a dick to yesterday has a brain tumour, or the slightly unhelpful telephone operator they're shouting at has just come back to work after going through chemo. We do these kind of things all the time - and I'm by no means claiming that I'm innocent of this, by the way - and yet, if we knew of the person's illness, or bereavement, or disability, we would never dream of treating them in that way. And the only way to get around this is by trying to treat everyone with as much respect as you can muster, all the time. And even when someone is behaving appallingly, you need to give them the benefit of the doubt, because you just don't know. And that is a really difficult thing to do.

Because here's the killer question: If I found out that June had just been told she had Huntington's, or MS, or cancer, would that change how I felt about her behaviour - even though it wouldn't excuse it?

Of course it would.

And that's why I'm glad we didn't go piss on her doorstep.

Well... mostly glad.

* So much for "redecorating".

**Which June then killed, which seemed rather unfair. If she didn't leave food for them around all over the place, those poor mice would probably still be alive, frolicking happily in the compost heap.

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