Issue 5, Semester 1, 2019
It’s a Wednesday evening. A few hours ago, my friend helped me unload the last of my meagre possessions from their car onto the floor of my new bedroom. As far as bedrooms go, it isn’t much to speak of — small, cheap carpet, fluorescent lights, in a house of strangers. I’ll be sleeping on the floor tonight; hopefully I’ll have time to assemble my second-hand Ikea bed this weekend. Despite the less than homely environment, I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of relief after the past twenty-two days.
Scan back to three weeks ago, I’m living in relative stability in a sharehouse in Abbotsford. As with many similar arrangements across Melbourne, my relationship with my three other housemates has evolved out of a mixture of necessity and ad hoc connectivity. About a year ago I moved in to replace an outgoing tenant. A combination of apathy, indecision, poor communication and unresponsive property managers meant that the plans to have me formally sign onto the lease never solidified. On the second day of semester, I come home to find my three cohabitants talking animatedly in the living room. For a group of politely cool, though ultimately solitary people, a meeting of this kind can only mean trouble. As my anxiety swells, they relate the story to me. Earlier that day, somebody from the realtor’s office dropped by. We had not responded to registered mail or phone calls, the owner had been trying to get in touch with us, and did we know that we had been given notice to vacate? It seems that the ‘head housemate’ in charge of rent and bills had failed to check his mail or respond to missed phone calls. The practical effect of all of this? In ten days’ time I would have nowhere to live.
It’s hard to describe the immediate mixture of disbelief and panic that confronts you when the most basic aspect of your stability is suddenly cut adrift. My first thought is that this couldn’t be legal — surely we had some tenant’s rights that would give us more time? Somebody could help us; VCAT or Consumer Affairs? I still don’t know if I would have had some recourse — my attempts to steer the discussion in that direction are cut down, the others are content to complain and argue, but nobody wishes to go out on a limb to challenge the legality of our sudden eviction. The task of taking this on myself, with my limited time, money and dubious legal claim to even living in the building, just becomes too daunting, so I cave.
The next ten days are spent in a mixture of frantically sending messages to friends, responding to every Facebook ad in online housemate pages, and trying to organise the logistics of packing and moving my stuff. Everybody else finds new places — if I had hoped that somebody might throw me a lifeline, offer me a place in their new accommodation, those hopes are dashed — I’m on my own. All the while, I’m still trying to keep up with work and university, both of which suffer. I miss classes, fall behind, and fall behind in my attempts to catch up. I constantly feel sick and stressed, at work I hover on the edge of wanting to either vomit or cry. One problem is that I don’t have too many close friends around the law school — nobody who I really feel I can speak to in my day-to-day. When I relate to people that I need to find a new place, the response is always the same “oh yeah, I’m sorry, that must suck,” conversation over.
The ten days are up, and I have to move out, still no new home in sight. A friend from my undergrad has graciously offered to let me stay on her couch whilst I look. Her couch is nicer than my bed was, but it is hardly an improvement. Anybody who has spent more than a few nights couchsurfing will tell you how uneasy the experience is. You feel like an intrusion in somebody else’s life, you never have privacy or your own space to be comfortable. You don’t feel comfortable cooking in their kitchen, so you buy takeout that you can’t afford. You have to go to sleep last, and get up first, so you’re always tired. My uni suffers even more. I spend my days trying to juggle classes and attending every housemate interview I get offered. I fail at this balance. I miss more classes, fall behind on my readings even more. Eventually I realise that I’m going to have to drop a unit. I have to choke back tears that evening as I sit in my friend’s living room, unenrolling on my laptop.
Another ten days pass. I’m getting desperate. My friend is amazing, but I constantly feel guilty about imposing. I’m starting to worry about having to find somebody else to take me in if this continues much longer. Eventually I receive the Facebook message I’ve been waiting for — somebody wants me to move in with them. That evening I splurge and buy my friend and her family dinner. The next day she drives me to my new home.
I’m not sure if there is much of a moral to this story. I definitely handled a lot of aspects to this situation poorly. The damage has not been inconsiderable. I’ve dropped a unit and am going to have to work pretty hard to catch up in the remaining ones. I’ve spent a lot of money I couldn’t afford, and my new rent is more than I’d like to be paying. I’ve definitely gained weight and feel pretty shitty in general. I’d like to end this with some piece of advice or pearl of wisdom (ALWAYS MAKE SURE THAT YOU’RE A SIGNED TENANT ON YOUR LEASE), but honestly at this point, I’m just glad to finally have a place to call home again.
Eva is a JD Student.
Editor's note: Eva's name has been changed at her request.
Other articles in this issue: