Friday, June 17, 2011
living abroad: when good apartments go bad (Part 1)
With Jenny, one of my very sweet original roommates
A year abroad wasn't supposed to end like that. It wasn't supposed to end with me hiding in my bedroom and calling my pastor in a panic; three roommates ganging up against the other two of us in a move that was questionable at best; an adrenaline-filled late-night escape to my friend's apartment, where I spent my final week in Bilbao.
Wait, back up. Kit, didn't you love your apartment? Weren't your roommates super nice girls who took you to special events at Mango and to see their beautiful hometowns?
Yes, yes they were. But first Maite and Jenny (who is not American, I promise) moved in with their boyfriends, then Ismene got a sweet internship in California, then Maria got a sweet job in Vitoria. So over a 4-month period I got all new roommates.
And as it turned out, the living situation was fairly sketchy to start with, made OK only in the beginning by the awesome original roommates who lived there. There was no contract, for one thing. None at all. None of us had ever met the landlady, for another - it was just done by a long, questionable chain of subleasing (which - and this would have been interesting to know circa September - is illegal in Spain).
And so it came to pass that I awoke one morning - a week before my flight home, in fact - to what I have to admit was a pretty gutsy letter that one of my new roommates had written. I'll call her Ione, because her name is Ione. The letter, written in pseudo-legalese, was to me and the other girl who was also moving out at the end of the month. Boiled down, it declared that we were legally bound by "tacit agreement" to pay the rent every month that we didn't live there that they didn't find someone to replace us.
It was signed - and I think this is a spectacularly catty touch - "Un abrazo." A hug.
I was, and this should come as no surprise, completely clueless in regards to Spanish housing law. On the one hand, I was terrified; what if this was true? What if I really owed them for every month I couldn't find a replacement to their liking? On the other hand, something seemed wrong. I took a picture of the letter and emailed it to my pastor, who is native to Spain and an ex-attorney.
What do I do? I asked him. Is this right?
He replied that it wasn't, that I shouldn't worry, and invited me over for lunch with him, the family and a Spanish housing expert. Perfect.
Continued with what happened, plus a guide to shopping smart for a rental abroad (hint: never-present owner = no bueno).