On apartment shares, leases and dominance

By Emily Feldman  | April 15, 2011 - 8:14AM

Over the past two years, I've lived in two separate apartment shares. Shares appeal to me, because they're super affordable, and they don't require me to stay tied to a place for any given amount of time. Since I'm young and not sure what my next move is, I'm reluctant to settle down or invest in home furnishings, if in a year an opportunity will arise and force me to pack everything up and start over again.

In a share, I don't need to own so much stuff--no living room furniture, no pots and pans, no couches and coffee tables. When it's time to move, I can pack up in 2 hours and won't need to bother with storage facilities, stoop sales, or super-sized moving trucks. And in the meantime, I can live in a spacious 3-bedroom apartment with a balcony, for under $800 a month.

The cost of this freedom is apartment control. Whoever has his name on the lease has power over everything from apartment decor to how a bedbug situation gets handled. 

My first share was in a beautiful 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment. I loved how bright and open it was. Each room had big windows that drew in sunlight. The apartment occupied a full floor so in the spring and summer, a constant, cool breeze eliminated the need for air conditioning. The centerpiece of the apartment was the dining room, where we would gather friends to eat and drink after a long day of work. 

While the space was beautiful the decor was atrocious. A giant daybed in the living room confused guests (and me, the first time I saw it) into thinking that the space was actually being used as a bedroom. The cluttered kitchen and living room, filled with a mix of antique pieces and Dollar Store knick-knacks made me dream of having my own apartment.

When no one was home, I would sometimes sit at the dining room table and fantasize about how I would decorate the apartment if I could throw everything in the trash and start from scratch. Sometimes I'd even pull up Ikea's catalog online picking out pieces to use in this fantasy, further torturing myself. 

But decorating is for people with plans to stay, and certainly not for those who opt to stay off the lease. And as far as more serious apartment situations go, those willing to commit to a location for a year or more are the ones who call the shots.

When bedbugs showed up in that same, beautiful place, I wanted the apartment treated immediately. The problem was, since I wasn't on the lease, I wasn't in a great position to argue with my landlord, or roommates, who all had to be on board before exterminators could come. My roommates delayed telling my landlord, the landlord delayed finding us an exterminator and I couldn't scream or yell since, it wasn't ever clear if I was legally allowed to be in the apartment in the first place. 

Once the exterminator was contacted, we were told to wash and bag everything in preparation for treatment. If I were the dominant player in that apartment, I would have demanded everyone get everything done (on my dime, if need be) by the end of the week. But I wasn't dominant, and though I nudged and poked and urged the other two along, they were busy, and incredulously complacent, and slow to get their chores done. 

What should have been a 3 week ordeal stretched out over 3 months and turned my life upside-down. 

It's not just bed bugs and decor, of course. Lease-holders can set rental prices--my landlords have never cared who paid what share, as long as they got their check at the end of the month. They have a greater say in who moves into a vacant room when there's roommate turnover, and they set the general tone of the apartment.

When I moved into that first, spacious share, the culture had already been established. Friends were welcome at any time, food and drinks were for sharing, cleaning was appreciated but not a priority.  The lease-holder had set that culture, and I, the unobligated newcomer could take it or leave it, but certainly not change it. 

The bed bug situation made that clear. When it was all over, and the vermin were gone, I packed up and left, exercising the only power I had--which, at this point in my life, is still worth all the drawbacks.

Related posts:

Rental concessions smaller but plentiful--here's where

Guerrilla Guide to Finding a No-Fee Apartment

Security deposit self-defense

Confessions of an on-site leasing agent

BrickUnderground's Renting Survival Kit




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