Who Loves Their Landlords? I Do

Evidently t's weird to buy Christmas presents for your landlords and wish them happy birthday and worry about them when they're not feeling well.
Publish date:
October 10, 2013
renting, landlords, s.e.'s household misadventures, house

You know that Discovery promo, "I Love the World"?

Here, for reference:

For some reason my friends and I have taken to filking it endlessly with variations on the lyrics ranging from the crass to the profane to the actually kind of sweet. And the other day I filked a version called "I Love my Landlords" (shut up, I know that doesn't scan) and everyone looked at me as though I had grown a second head or possibly a set of tentacles or both.

Like, who loves their landlords?

They're people you send ridiculous amounts of money to every month so they can pay their mortgage or swan around in yachts or whatever landlords do when they're not answering your calls about the toilet that overflowed again. They're faceless corporations that call themselves "management companies" and only send the maintenance person around on alternate leap years. They're people who sneakily raise the rent every year but don't actually do any property improvements, until you find yourself paying some absurd sum to live in a falling-down hovel.

One of the things about being a hip young thing in this hip new era is that you tend to move around a lot. Raise your hand if you have (or had) a set of moving boxes that you stubbornly hung on to because they were perfect and you moved often enough that it was just horrifying to contemplate throwing them out. Raise your hand, for that matter, if you're a level 18 packing expert. Or if you have deliberately purchased furniture that's easy to move, knowing that it likely will be moved at some point in the new future.

Look. I only gave up my moving box attachment last year, and I have to say that it was a wrench to take them out of the house (from whence, naturally, they went to a friend who was moving). I felt unsettled and uneasy for days after I severed the final cord from my beloved Random House shipping boxes (seriously, those things are bomb for packing, as are book boxes in general -- if you can, hit a bookstore on the day they're getting a big shipment from the distributor so you can get a set of matching boxes all of the same size and shape for easy stacking).

And in most of the houses I've lived in, I've had an indifferent and sometimes actively unfriendly relationship with my landlords, with a few notable exceptions. (I spent several years living upstairs from one couple, who were really lovely people, but they were also friends before I moved in.) In San Francisco, the rental company made my life holy hell any time I needed them to, like, fix something. In Oakland, my landlord came after me with a cleaver once!

So when I moved into my current house and looked uneasily across the driveway at my landlords' place, I got nervous. This could either go really, really well, or really, really badly, I knew, and so did they; they'd actually mentioned that when I interviewed for the house, and we talked about what it's like when you have landlords and tenants living right next door to each other. Right now, if I turn my head just a bit to the left, I can see their front porch. My bedroom window faces their kitchen (and if I forget to close my blinds, they get quite a show).

When my landlord comes out in the morning to grab wood for the stove from the woodpile, he's several feet away from my bed.

To say that my landlords and I live in close proximity is, you know, possibly an understatement. We are in each others' pockets, essentially, with me crossing their yard and them crossing my yard constantly, and it's rare to have a day go by without an encounter. I knew when I moved in that we would at least have to have a cordial relationship, because otherwise living here would be unpleasant for everyone.

What I didn't expect was a genuine friendship.

I mean, don't mistake me. I pay my rent every month and they'd call me up on the carpet if it was late. Sometimes we have minor disagreements. I'm sure some of the things I do irritate them. But there's not a nice, crisp, clear landlord versus tenant line, and we don't have an adversarial relationship at all; the power dynamic is greatly reduced, and at times, I think of my landlords like my adoptive grandparents.

When I'm gone, they feed my cats, even when it's a pain in their asses. (When Mr. Bell was sick, they had to come over four times a day to check on him. Even when you're retired and spend a fair amount of time around the house, that is a pain, especially when the terminally ill cat still has enough vigor to slash your finger to the bone when you try to pill him.) My landlady brings me things from the garden on a regular basis, and in return for looking after their animals and the garden when they're gone, I get to eat from its bounty in their absence.

A chance encounter in the driveway will turn into a long, interesting conversation. Maybe it will be about the social habits of ants, or military strategy in Vietnam (putting my degree to use, at last!), or some matter of local politics. My landlords invite me to Thanksgiving, and to parties. I mean, do your landlords invite you to Thanksgiving? And if they did, would you actually come? (I usually don't because I typically have prior obligations, but I still appreciate the offer!)

Would your landlords tolerate you being gone half the month and asking them to feed your animals? Oh, and water the houseplants? And the garden?

I wrote earlier this year about the concept of "Neighbor Day" and how it puzzled me, and at the time, I thought a great deal about my relationship with my landlords. Because even I recognize that it's weird. It's weird to think of your landlords as friends, almost family, with the monthly check more like an afterthought in your relationship (I mean, if the check didn't make its way across their doorstep it would become an issue). It's weird to be totally trusting and fine with the idea of your landlords being in and out of your home without you present.

It's weird to buy Christmas presents for your landlords and wish them happy birthday and worry about them when they're not feeling well.

But I've discovered that actually?

I kind of like it.