Travel Tales #7 – Living With the Landlord from Hell

Everyone at some point in their life has experienced a bad roommate, difficulty living with a parent, or like this situation, a landlord from hell. Rules of three for comedy.

I’ve had my share of not so ideal situations, but nothing even comes close to the first place I lived in New Zealand. I actually tried to write this very article a few months ago, and while I can look back and laugh now, it made me so mad at the time, I just erased everything and decided against it. I just didn’t want all that negativity on here, but I’m over it now so it’s time to share. This is not a warning, as I am sure this lady is just nuts, but I hope we can at least laugh about this together now that it is deep in the past.

How I Got Into This Situation

For those of you who don’t know, I have been on a working holiday visa in New Zealand for 10 months now. Looking for a room to rent was proving to be difficult in Auckland. Everything was pretty expensive, but we really wanted a private place to get out of living in a hostel and start looking for jobs more efficiently. When we came across a nice looking home, the deal sounded amazing.

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“Looking for Flatmates”

[Ad – Three story house. We live in the 3rd floor and you will have two rooms. The main room is in the 2nd floor and there is a lounge area for you to watch TV on the first floor. We ask that you ONLY watch TV here and NOT in the living room. You will also have a private bathroom and a private refrigerator. We have a son who is 8 years old but has great manners. We are looking for professionals with full time jobs. 5 minute walk to large commercial area and bus stops in Remuera.]

None of these stuck out as obvious red flags, but we did think the obsession and need to mention TV over and over was a little odd. While we didn’t fulfill all of the requirements, we decided to call anyways and explain our situation (including not yet having jobs) and see if they were willing to be flexible. They agreed to meet us and for the most part, everything seemed okay. We also figured we would look for jobs in this ‘large commercial area’ as soon as we got a place.


Meeting Day – The Lies Begin

We took the bus and came across the first few lies while mapping our route there.

Red Flag #1 – The bus stop is a solid 15 minutes walk away from the house, not 5.

Red Flag #2 – The ‘large commercial area’ is a tiny suburban shopping district, reminiscent of a ghost town.

Red Flag #3 – This is even further, a solid 30-40 minutes walk from the house.

We get there, and the lady introduces herself. Almost immediately she starts with, “as you know, Remuera is a pretty prestigious neighborhood.” She tried to convince us that we were in one of the richer neighborhoods in Auckland and seemed a little disappointed that we didn’t indulge her. Nevertheless, it remained rather civil.

Before I forget, she needs a name! Let’s call her ‘Emma.’

Anyways, Emma is also very adamant in making sure we know she is British, and not Kiwi like her husband, but we figured she is just making conversation.

I guess he also needs a name. I’ll go with ‘George.’

Emma goes on to show us the rooms… but there is something strange.

Red Flag #4 – The ‘living area’ is now the room, and the ‘room’ has been rented out to someone else, who will share the ‘private bathroom’ and move in next week. While we are told before moving in, this girl is completely unaware that she is going to have to share the bathroom / fridge when she moves in. Emma doesn’t seem to think this is a problem.

Most of the advertisement is a lie which sucks, but after considering our options, this is still the best looking place so far, so we stupidly look the other way. If there is one thing I should have learned from traveling is to never ignore your gut feeling. We bring up the job situation again and explain how we don’t have jobs now, BUT will look as soon as we get a place. We ask if this will be a problem to which she says, “as long as you have the rent, it is fine, no problem.” Oh boy… you know where this is going…


We Have a Place!

We go back to the hostel that night, and while we both have what we now know were our instincts telling us not to take it, our desperation gets the best of us. I call and tell her we have decided to take it. I tell her I can bring in the deposit money the next morning and Emma says ‘no.’ If we want the place, we need to bring the money right now, at night, or the place will not be saved. I take one for the team and go meet George near the bus stop in the cold (it is late winter) to pay the deposit. At least we have a home.

I was not this baller yet
I was not this baller yet

We agree to move in after two days, and everything seems cool.


Day 1 – The Emails Begin / Move in Day

I get an email after agreeing to move in with a  set of ‘rules.’ It is obvious from this that we are not going to be ‘roommates’ sharing a house and there will be a strict “we are the owners and you are just tenants” type of hierarchy. It is kind of a bummer, but it is their house, so we tell ourselves it is okay. The rules include:

1 – Only use your room

2 – Do not use our living room

3 – Do not use our fridge

4 – Schedule times to cook (I am serious)

5 – Buy your own linen and pillow cases

6 – Do not use the washer often (there is a reason for this below)

7 – Do not use the dryer often

8 – Set up a direct deposit for rent on the day it is due

9 – Give 4 weeks notice before you decide to move out

While some of these didn’t seem right, we agreed to all but the last one. We came to an agreement that 2 weeks notice would be more than enough. She mentioned “watching TV” about five more times in the emails too.

To his credit, George is actually a nice guy (kind of) and asks if we need anything. The room has some furniture, and Emma quickly shows up to explain how expensive it is.

“These are antiques, so be very careful. We had them shipped from the UK.”

These are the antiques she was bragging about
These are the antiques she was bragging about

Right… who cares… but whatever. The important thing is that the room has no closet and only a tiny wardrobe. George quickly tells us that there is a big one right outside our room (which is connected to the garage) and we can borrow it. When we agree, Emma returns a few minutes later to overrule him.

“If you want to use the big wardrobe, it needs to stay outside in the garage. George just doesn’t know…” blah blah blah. There was no explanation as to why, but we just decided not to use it.

The room has a huge window and its own tiny patio. This is nice, but there are no blinds of any kind. When we bring this up, Emma assures us that NO ONE can see us back there anyways, so there is no need for curtains (more on this later).


Day 2 – A Normal Day

We had decided to sleep in as we had been pretty active the last two weeks getting bank accounts, cell phones, IRD numbers, looking for jobs, and looking for places to stay. That didn’t last long:


I check the clock, it is 6:30am.

Red Flag #5 – The garage door is loud as hell, and they leave every morning at 6:30am, return around 7:10am, and leave again around 8:30am.

I am a pretty heavy sleeper, but Sid is not. She MIGHT be able to go back to sleep after 1 buzz, but two and she’s wide awake, three….impossible.


Day 3 – General Friendliness?

Emma printed out a list of websites where we could look for a job. She let’s us in on the secret that she too is on the job hunt and is only working part time in a gym. Part time as in she works a single hour a day, and not even every day.

TEXT – How is the job hunt going…

Voice Mail – How is the job hunt going…

Red Flag #6 TEXT – We went in your room and noticed you haven’t bought linen yet, you need that ASAP.

Mind you, we are printing out resumes in the library, walking around town, and filling out job applications non-stop. We are hardly sitting at home watching Dr. Phil all day like she does all day. Which is when we clued in to the whole TV situation. She doesn’t want someone to come between her and the good old TV doctor.

We are also told that the room upstairs is up on Air BnB. They currently have someone booked. This is fine, except that…

Red Flag #7 – They too might share the bathroom ‘from time to time,’ and they are a couple. This is also going to be a regular thing.


Day 4 – How is the Job Search Going?

By now, the other flat mate has been made aware of the situation that she is now sharing the bathroom with multiple people and how her ‘living room’ now has people living in it. Obvious, she is not happy, but Emma is completely shocked by her reaction and thinks she is just a spoiled brat. The girl cancels her plans to move in. The topic of “how is the job search going” comes up about 10 times today.


Day 5 – Zero Privacy

Red Flag #8Text – We went into your room (again, WTF) and switched out the mattress. The one we bought was too big for upstairs so you will use it.

I don’t mind a different bed, but what is up with going into our room without permission?

Voice Mail – Same as the text

Voice Mail – I am expecting a package, can you sign for it?


Day 6 – Air BnB

The Air BnB couple seem pretty nice. They have left everything in Germany to start a new life in New Zealand. To their face, Emma is all laughs and “let’s have some wine.” However, when they are out of the house, she criticizes how stupid their decision to leave Europe was.

“Can you believe they want to live in the Bay of Plenty?” To this day, I don’t get why that is so laughable. I get that jobs are scarce, but why is there a need in some people to bring others down?

At this time, she mentions how she lived in Cambodia for ten years in a previous marriage. I personally love Cambodia, but her disdain for the people was not subtle at all. In her defense, she didn’t dislike all Cambodians, ‘only the poor ones.’


Day 7 – Cards Unfolding

By now, we don’t feel good about looking for jobs at home at all. We leave pretty early to the library that was also ‘5 minutes away’ (easily 40mins) and I apply to a few teaching jobs on top of engineering gigs.

Email –  We are wondering how long you guys are going to stay if you don’t find jobs? We know this is a lot of pressure financially and just want to know your timeframe.

Email Response From Me – We are trying to stay positive but don’t worry, we have enough money to pay the rent for the entire year if needed.

If there is one thing I learned about Emma, is that she doesn’t like anything which could even be remotely considered ‘talking back’


Day 8 – The Ultimatum

This is how we are both feeling by now.
This is how we are both feeling by now.

Since we moved in, we have been wanting to do laundry, but we discovered the reason why Emma doesn’t want us to use the washer often.

Red Flag # 9 – Emma washes clothes EVERY DAY and rarely takes her stuff out of the dryer. There are very tiny windows of opportunity to ever do laundry.

Red Flag #10Email (copy and pasted)- “I’m not worried about that at all. However, we do prefer to have people who are working full time as tenants and that is quite a common prerequisite with some of the rooms on Trademe. What I would suggest is a timeframe of 4 weeks from tomorrow in order for you BOTH to have found full time employment.”

Text + Voice mail + one more Text – Pretty much stating the same thing the email said.

Text – We will have a new tenant starting next week.


Day 9 Tough Times

By now, it is starting to be clear professional jobs are simply not going to cut it. We start looking at restaurant work and pretty much anything we can get.

I email asking how the deposit will be returned if we do move out. The plan was to go to Wellington if we didn’t get jobs to which she responds…

Email – Assuming there is no damage or loss we will give you back your deposit in cash on the day you leave.

She also mentions in person how she will inspect the room for ‘damage,’ especially of her ‘antiques.’ She also offers to “use her contacts” to help us find jobs. I am not sure what this means, but she didn’t have any contacts to speak of.

These days, she is also interviewing a lot. Whenever I ask “how it went” she says something about how that job “wouldn’t utilize her skills properly” or some BS elitist stuff like that.  Shhhhh now, Dr. Phil is on.

So pretty much, get a job or GTFO was her message.


Days 10-13

It actually would have been  a nice place to work and live if it wasn't for Emma.
It actually would have been a nice place to work and live if it wasn’t for Emma.

We are still looking for jobs and she still texts or calls once a day. She also routinely goes into our room for whatever reason. On many occasions, George comes down, knocks once, and walks into our room as Sid or I are sleeping. Thankfully they never walked in on us naked or anything like that, but there were close calls.

At this time we also get our new Chinese roommate, who becomes a good friend during our time together in New Zealand.

Oh, and I bought a car!!!

After 13 days, we decide that regardless of the situation, we can’t live with this crazy lady much longer. Less than 2 weeks felt like months.


Day 14

I come upstairs around noon and tell her we have decided to move to Wellington. She ‘is sad’ but thinks it is for the best.

Red Flag #11 – She lets me know we are “cooking at the wrong time.” Many times when we are going to prepare food, we are asked to wait for up to an hour because she is “using the kitchen.”(I really don’t need any more red flags beyond this).

There is a sense of relief knowing we are only going to be here for two more weeks. She immediately lets us know the place will be put on TradeMe (like a New Zealand eBay) and how we should expect a constant flow of people seeing the room. I say it is not a big deal as long as we know in advance.


Day 15

*Phone call 7am, I don’t answer*

*Text 7:10am, I am still sleeping*

*Quick knock and door swings open*

Someone is coming to look at the room in 10 minutes. They hand us a vacuum. Jesus Christ…. I can’t wait to leave this place.

Guy comes in, looks puzzled and kind of disinterested. He quickly leaves.


Day 16

The notice comes at around 11am this time, but similar as the day before. Person actually postpones visiting for the entire day and shows up at night.

Also, around this time, the neighbors began some construction work a few hours a day. We ask Emma again if we can get a curtain or something as they can clearly see us but she flat out refuses.

That is the window of the room.
That is the window of the room.


Day 17-21

Routinely people come in to see the place, but no one takes the cake like two Indian sisters who have no problem telling her like it is.

Girls – Where is the other room mentioned in the ad?

Emma – Oh, someone lives there already.

Girls – But that is not what the ad said, it clearly mentioned two rooms.

Emma – Oh….really? Maybe there was some confusion.

Girls – There is no confusion, it was deceitful. Thanks but this is not what we are looking for. We need two rooms as there are two of us…

It felt good hearing someone put her in her place. As it turns out. She is still running the “two rooms” advertisement. What follows is just absurd.

Emma – Can I talk to you?

Me – Okay?

Emma – I think potential tenants are afraid to ask questions because you guys are in the room and they are uncomfortable. Would you step outside when people come?

I could not believe my ears. We were all present when the Indian girls clearly told her that they were not interested because she was being shady… but here she is, lying to my face… no wait. Maybe in Emma’s delusion, what she said is right.

From now on, we have to leave our room once a day for showings.


Day 22 – A Weirdo Arrives

A new Air BnB arrival comes in, this time a Kiwi. That’s kind of odd because he is FROM Auckland. From the get go, he is very strange. You look at him in the eye and say “good morning” and he just looks up and says nothing.

After a while, he opens up.

Turns out, this guy is a one-upper to the max. I mentioned how I lived in Korea, he lived abroad too “working on a 20 million dollar project.” I’ll spare you the details but any topic that was brought up, he needed to top it. I told him it was cool that he exercised, and he says “yeah, every morning at 5 am… don’t you? How could people not?”

Despite talking a bit to me, he continued to ignore Sid. On the bright side, Sid got a job! Starts next week.


Day 25

Today we have an argument with Emma.
Text – I went into your bathroom and it is FILTHY! We expect you to wash it before you leave.

Mind you, the bathroom was hardly dirty at all. In fact, the toilet area has been constantly cleaned due to one very annoying problem. That 8 year old son who is well mannered? Well, he wasn’t told that the downstairs bathroom is ours and he continuously uses it, without flushing or washing his hands. Even THIS wouldn’t bother me too much, if he didn’t have a habit of peeing on the seat and around the toilet CONSTANTLY. You see, little ‘Tommy’ is as addicted to TV as mom is and watches all day long. Because of this, he doesn’t want to miss a second by exercising basic hygiene, but Emma has no issue with this.

It has been over three weeks of putting up with her, so I am not going to let this slide. I mention how it is her son who continuously pees everywhere. Now, I would assume after hearing his, any sane mother would address the problem and feel a bit embarrassed. I mean, come on, he is not a toddler anymore and is clearly breaking the deal (again).

Text – Whether or not he uses the bathroom is none of your business. Also, I have heard Sid take very long showers. If the water bill is too high, we will take it from your deposit.

As it turns out, the only person who would know that was the weirdo Air BnB dude who sold us out. Wait a minute, WHO CARES HOW LONG SHE TAKES! I reply stating that her threats are not cool and we were obviously going to wash the bathroom anyways, but that we do expect our deposit back. I fall short of letting her know the exact prices of water in Auckland and how her threats are illegal. There is some back and forth and the tension is obvious whenever we run into each other in the kitchen.

On the plus side, I got a job!

It wasn't a fantastic place to work, but it was good with a lot of great coworkers.
There is so much packed into such a small shop.


Day 26

We move out the next day. We found a cool spot that has a nice back yard and is much closer to work. Emma asks and when I tell her the good news, she is a bit bitter about it. She mentions that as we now have jobs, we can stay, but of course, we decline. We spend a good chunk of the day cleaning. She also mentioned how the “fridge was filthy” as if a fridge needs to be cleaned every week, but whatever, we cleaned that too.

The Chinese girl, despite seeing the flags too, thinks she will be fine and decides to live there a while longer.


Day 27 Move out Day!

The New Place
The New Place

We got up around 7am. It felt so good leaving and of course, no goodbyes. George came down around 7:30am, in silence, and gave us our money as we left never to return again. Emma never bothered to come down, text, or leave a voice mail ever again.


After Leaving

Our Chinese friend hung out from time to time before returning to China. After we left, she began to get daily phone calls and texts from Emma. She mentioned how our room was never rented out and it was just converted it into another Air BnB. She lasted about 2 more months and left the house too when she couldn’t take it anymore.

Sunset at our new place
Sunset at our new place
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