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I can't bring myself to label it a mistake, because we all learned valuable life lessons, I gained an excellent friend in one of the roommates and frankly, if my relationship survived that, I think it can survive any other housing stress.To make a very very long story short, the house turned out to have toxic mold in addition to various rodent problems, and some really exciting leaks (some of the walls were literally full of water — you could poke your finger through the soggy drywall and sometimes water would dribble out), and the management company was extremely uncooperative.This is also why you should know your rights and don't sign anything saying you won't hold the EPM responsible.In the fall of 2009, two roommates, my then-boyfriend now-fiance, and I rented a house.It was old, with single pane windows, no air conditioning and those janky radiant wall heaters that I always think will set the house on fire.When we left Death House, we left it cleaner and nicer than when we got it (except for the mold. This is where the document everything rule comes into play.

But the EPM people do not have authority over you, you are in a legal contract with them. So read up on your rights, make sure you actually read and understand the terms of your lease, and don't let them intimidate you. When we thought the house had toxic mold, we told the EPM and they promptly did nothing. Try to have money for renting another place (first month's rent, sometimes last month's rent and security deposit).Our EPM, when they finally agreed to let us leave (actually they kicked us out, but it's what we wanted anyway), tried to make us sign an agreement we wouldn't hold them responsible for the damage and loss of our property and any health problems we had or developed later. We ended up contacting a testing company ourselves and paying for the test out-of-pocket (0 ack! We sent them a copy of the report and they let us end our lease. It cost us a totally unexpected couple thousand dollars up front to get out. We did eventually get most of our security deposit back, which brings me to my next tip…Also, in California, if your landlord doesn't or outright refuses to fix something like a window or a plumbing issue after you've formally requested maintenance, you can get another contractor to fix it and deduct it from your rent (providing you supply all the documentation to your landlord) or withhold rent altogether until its fixed. Technically speaking, the EPM should have covered our moving expenses, and new furniture, but well… It's so tempting to totally trash the place (I was seriously debating lighting Death House on fire, I really was), but don't.Don't give the EPM legal leverage or reason for action. Because of this, we ended up with most of our security deposit back, and the EPM paid us back for the mold test.

Housing in our home town is notoriously shitty (truly affordable housing is actually non-existent) because it's a college town and the property management companies think that college kids are young, don't know their rights, and are too busy and too poor to do anything about the way they're treated anyway. But through hellish personal experience, I have learned tips and tricks in dealing with Evil Property Management companies (EPMs), especially as a young person. EPMs use intimidation and false authority to keep tenants under control. This sounds crazy and extreme, I know, but it was very necessary and ultimately saved our butts. It's hard to save one up, I know, but if we hadn't had the money for the mold test, we wouldn't have been able to get out.

All of my experience comes from renting in California, so things might be different where you are. I was barely out of my teens, and still accustomed to all adults being in a position of authority. Because we kept records of everything, we had legal leverage over the EPM and ultimately we became too much of a risk and pain in the butt for them to deal with. Have money for moving expenses (U-Haul and storage unit) and some nights at a hotel.

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