I had been accepted at the UT-Austin graduate school of business. My friend Rebecca and I were sharing a house, but she was moving to D.C. for a job with the Department of Labor. I couldn't afford the house on my own.
I found a cute duplex in the same good zip code neighborhood. We were Oh-three-ers. Highly desirable Austin location. I looked at it, thought yes, this will work, and the landlady, Michelle, and I signed the lease.
Four hours later, she called me to say that she needed to charge more rent than we had agreed upon.
Can you say, ENORMOUS CRIMSON FLAG BEATING ME OVER THE HEAD?
But I ignored that banner. And I - this is where it gets worse - agreed to the rent increase.
How dumb was that?
I moved in. Cute cute little Tarrytown duplex. Walking distance to the shuttle bus to school, although I tried riding my bike at first, which is not the best idea when it is 112 degrees outside. For a week straight.
A few days after I moved in, I came home to find that someone had closed the blinds, removed my plants from the windowsill, and put a "for sale" sign up in the front yard.
Michelle. She left me a phone message: "Please keep the blinds closed. It looks tacky to have them open."
The "for sale" sign? I spoke to my upstairs neighbor. "This place has been for sale for months," she told me. "Michelle took the sign down before she tried to rent your place."
Because knowing if a place is for sale and that I could possibly be displaced by new owners is not information that would be useful in making the rental decision.
Deep breath. All the Drama was over. Still a cute place.
No. Michelle stopped by my neighbor's house on her way home from aerobics "just for a glass of water." As in, let herself in with the key while the neighbor was out, got a glass of water and left the dirty glass in the sink.
Realtors started bringing people by. Unannounced. When I was busy studying, something I did in grad school. A new experience for me. Who knew that studying could improve your grades so much?
In the middle of studying for finals, I was interrupted by a realtor and a client. The client was a pompous jerk who worked at Dell. I told them that they couldn't look right now; I was busy. Yes. They should have called. And yes, it would only have taken a few minutes to let them look, but I was not inclined to be charitable to someone who might displace me from my home and who was in any way in cahoots with Michelle.
The client and I got into a bit of a yelling match. (I know! I don't usually yell at people to their faces! I wait until later that night after someone has ticked me off and yell about him to an innocent person.)
He made some snotty comment about the UT business school - he had his MBA from Wharton.
"How much did you pay for your MBA?" I asked.
"$60,000," he admitted.
"Mine will cost me about $5,000 and guess what? UT is a top-20 school. Plus we're both here in Austin. Looks like I made the better investment," I snapped.
I complained to Michelle's husband. He agreed that she was pushy and talked smack about her, but wouldn't challenge her. He would call me to complain about her, which I thought was highly inappropriate. He talked to me - his tenant - about divorcing his wife. I don't know why he stayed except she was very pretty with a large chest. But she was pretty only on the outside. As soon as you spent more than a few minutes with her, you knew that if you looked it up in the dictionary, her photo was next to the phrase, "Beauty is only skin deep."
She re-landscaped the yard and would come in to use my bathroom. Without asking.
She let herself into my neighbor's place while my neighbor was - ahem - busy with her boyfriend.
That was the last straw for my neighbor. She moved out. Prospective tenants started looking. They would ask me what it was like to live here.
I warned them.
One of them told Michelle I was telling people not to move in.
She called me and screamed at me.
I went to legal services at school to see what I could do. The lawyer told me that according to the lease, Michelle did have the right to enter when appropriate, but the devil was in the definition of "appropriate." He agreed with me that her behavior was insane.
I started to have nightmares about Michelle coming after me with a knife. With legal aid's help, I wrote a letter to Michelle telling her I wanted to move out because of what she was doing.
She sent me a letter saying fine, I could break the lease but I had to be out by December 25 and forfeit the deposit.
I was not in a position to lose that money and legal aid said that she was within her legal rights.
The place was still for sale. Nobody wanted it as a rental property and the lot wasn't big enough for a single-family home by current zoning.
She moved onto her fourth realtor in eight months. I spoke to one of them and she told me that Michelle McMichael had a reputation with Austin realtors as being almost impossible to work with.
I got a new upstairs neighbor who moved out after three months. The place was up for rent - again. I continued to warn people.
One of the prospective tenants I warned against renting did indeed rent - not to live there but to cheat on Austin schools and have an address to get her daughter in from out of district.
I ran into the new tenant months after I moved out and she, who did not even live in the property, shook her head and said, "I should have listened to you. That woman is nuts."
"I told you so," I said.
As soon as my lease was up, I moved out.