When I first came to Valparaiso, renting the temporary house of my dreams seemed like an attainable fantasy. There were room rental signs dangling from every telephone post in a 5 mile radius, spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding city from almost every point in the city, and the university-centered city is no stranger to transients who rent and disappear. I found my current place within a week, signed the contract, and moved in.
I’ve been living in my current apartment since April, and in this time I’ve come to realize that the next phase of my Chilean Living Situation is ready to begin. The reasons are varied.
At the risk of sounding whiny and totally hashtag firstworldproblems, let’s look at a summary of Why I Want To Move Immediately:
1. This place receives no direct sunlight. Not a big deal, until winter hits and sometimes the frigid outside air is warmer than your bedroom.
2. Things break on a mysterious schedule. Once the shower stops leaking, the calefon is down for a week (re: no hot showers), then the toilet starts running, followed by lights that just…stop working.
3. My landlord makes things up as she goes along. No, really. She does. When I signed my contract, I was told verbally that gas was included, to find out two months later that I had to foot the $100 gas bill myself, only to be told 2 weeks ago that gas IS included. That’s just for starters.
4. New rules appear out of nowhere. Most notably, in the form of a framed list that greeted me when I came back from the United States, including rules prohibiting the use of space heaters. The other day I was told we can’t have people over after midnight. It continues to get progressively dictatorial.
5. I want a friendly, private space. The setup of this apartment and it’s ever-increasing amount of rules creates a non-friendly, walking-on-eggshells environment. The energy of a special home space is important to me, which means not feeling like I’m going to be scolded at every turn for having a friend here at 12:03am or because they caught me using the space heater. Furthermore the landlord enters our house all the time, without knocking, without warning, and this tends to present problems when I’m either in a towel on my way to the shower or using the aforementioned illegal space heater.
All in all, renting rooms in Valparaiso is wildly utilized and the easiest option, but it means that you are first and foremost living in someone else’s space. Not just ‘borrowing’ it while you pay for it, like in the US, but honestly occupying someone else’s space with no real sense of inhabiting it. Back home, renting an apartment is like getting the only set of keys to a house and the landlord turns to leave and says, “Well, this is yours for a year, have fun! I’ll check back in 12 months” and then they disappear into the sunset and you only talk to them on Rent Day each month.
In Valpo, my experience has been more like the landlord peeks her head in every couple of days to make sure the sofa still looks good and the desk isn’t being used for bread-making, and any infraction on her idea of how the space should be used is corrected via More Framed Rules. It reiterates the underlying theme: THIS IS NOT OUR SPACE. I am paying for my room — only. That means that my *cough* ridiculously overpriced *cough* rent allows me omniscient governance of my bedroom. Common areas are indeed governed by the Eye of Sauron landlord, however she sees fit, no matter how much my roommates and I agree that we like the table better over there or prefer to use the electric oven as opposed to the gas oven.
Hence the new and urgent search for a house. I began skimming classifieds several weeks ago, pleased at the amount of houses available in the area. This will be a breeze, I thought. Wrong.
It seems Chile, at least in Valparaiso, has developed a lackadaisical renter’s culture. The U.S. is much more straightforward: see listing, visit apartment, sign contract and talk deposit, move in on set date. Here, the process is similar, but imbued with a lot more ambiguity and a ton of un-returned phone calls. I’m not entirely sure the house visits aren’t just a discrete psychological evaluation on the part of the landlords. I’ll go through each experience we’ve had and explain each frustrating and confusing demise.
House 1: Two story, master bedroom with balcony, 2 other bedrooms with panoramic sea view, huge kitchen back yard, asado area, beautifully remodeled, safe neighborhood, easy access to everything, and, the kicker, it came with a dog named Lola. AKA: Shannon’s Valpo Dream House.
Why it ended poorly: The landlords seemed happy with our situation and income, and we made a plan to meet Monday and sign the contract at noon. SCORE! Monday comes and they ignore our phone calls until 5pm. When we finally get them on the phone, they say they’ve decided not to rent the house. BUT LOLA IS WAITING FOR US!!!
House 2: Four bedroom, well-lit, brightly painted, no patio, wood floors, even closer than House 1, excellent safe neighborhood, and with a fun view of the downstairs neighbor’s bathroom.
Why it ended poorly: The house didn’t convince us; we kept it as a back-up option. Watching the downstairs neighbor take a piss seemed like a selling point at first, but we thought twice on that.
House 3: Very high up in the hill but doable, ridiculous amount of sunlight, amazing view of the sea, no patio, enormous living room and office area, 2 bedrooms, huge kitchen, safe neighborhood, huge rooms in general.
Why it ended poorly: The landlord was extremely kind and friendly. We left all our paperwork with him, in an effort to seal the deal and prove to him how responsible and serious we are. He assured us several times, enthusiastically, that we were first in line for the house. SCORE! We planned to meet Thursday and show the house to the other two roommates who couldn’t join us on the initial viewing. Thursday rolls around and he can’t meet up. Friday rolls around and he’s MIA. Finally we coax it out of him via text that he’s had a family emergency. We collectively feel bad about pestering him. Then later we find out he’s waiting on the response of a foreign family. We collectively feel slighted and bitter. We’d been demoted from first place without being informed, waiting to make other important housing arrangements based on this response. We are still waiting final word on this one.
House 4: Tucked into a little alleyway off of a fun, artistic road about halfway between House 2 and House 3, safe area, two bedrooms with good sun, 2 bedrooms with no windows, big kitchen/living area, indoor patio with sunlight, comes with artwork already painted onto the walls and an abnormally tiny entryway to the bathroom that opens up into a regularly-sized bathroom.
Why it ended poorly: To be determined
House 5: Right next House 4, a smallish but wildly stylish renovated apartment, stone walls, cozy kitchen area, 1 bedroom, and a huge terrace that made my knees go weak, also with a fantastic view of the ocean and ample sunbathing opportunity.
Why it ended poorly: To be determined
Houses 4 and 5 are currently up for grabs. The landlord seems great, and we once again have a plan to send him all our documents and await a decision. We are supposed to know by Wednesday. While we are excited and hopeful, we are all very aware that this could end poorly.
A friend in Valpo once told me, after learning about our search for a house, that it was a nearly impossible feat. I almost didn’t believe him, fully confident that the amount of listings I’d found online had to be indicative of an easy rental process. Furthermore, I thought the straightforward and relatively transparent rental procedure was common practice among first(ish) world countries.
But he’s right. Houses 4 and 5 may not be the end of the line, or anywhere close to it. The tapestry of confusing landlord behavior continues to grow evermore complex. Who knows when we’ll find that house that finally sticks to us. Until then, we are prepared for any amount of frustrating dead-ends, creative wheedling and incomprehensible disappearances on behalf of the landlords involved.