Landlord Parking Woes

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

My husband and I rent a flat in a home in a residential neighborhood of a big city (that is NOT in the Midwest, you’ll likely gather from my story). My landlords also live in the building. We own one car, which gets daily use. My landlords own four cars, many of which do not get daily use, but act instead as placeholders to maximize my landlords’ on-street parking. For years they’ve been parking one car specifically so they can use a parking space in front of the driveway. This space is not for general use by the residents of our building but for their exclusive use. Their other vehicles reside in proximity, effectively rendering the immediate public street parking space also exclusively theirs.

We live in a friendly neighborhood and know the people who live in the nearby homes. Some of them have garages and don’t use street parking, so the cars on the street are easily identifiable. What’s more, we are all long-time residents and this situation has been tolerated for years.

Our city has a policy that no car can remain in place for more than 72 hours, and my landlords have called the city when others have parked cars in “their” area. It’s clear to me that if I were to call the city to report their vehicles, I (and my neighbors) would be subject to interrogation about this perceived betrayal. Such conversations, expressing outrage at the lack of courtesy “among neighbors” have happened here and there over the many years I have lived here. We all disregard the 72-hour policy, in what I feel is an appropriate use of neighborliness, when folks are known to be on vacations, but, to our detriment, we have also disregarded the policy for the sake of keeping peace with these monopolizing residents.

We love our apartment and we are otherwise on good terms with our landlords, even socializing here and there by way of house parties. Our rent is affordable and we have limited options for relocation since our city’s rents are otherwise very high and apartments few and far between. We don’t want to move.

I should add that the situation has recently been aggravated by the addition of my landlords’ relatives, who are not obligated to work (meaning their two cars do not get daily use) and are now also residing, in a semi-permanent way, in two more spots directly in front of our house.

So my question is this: Is it appropriate for me to request my landlords modify their parking practices? And if so, how might I go about doing this? It seems pointedly un-neighborly to monopolize public parking space, but (as you have mentioned in other columns) I understand that pointing out others’ poor manners is never good manners. My nightly search for a parking space as I drive past my landlords’ cars smugly tucked in the front of our house raises my blood pressure, and I am tired of holding my tongue. Or should I just start calling the city, which will result in due process (warnings left on vehicles, and subsequent “boots” placed on the cars if the warning is not heeded), and then claim innocence when the interrogations begin? I have not made a habit of lying so this would not be an easy proposition for me, but I would give it a go if the situation requires it.

Your advice is most welcome!

Thank you,
A Former Midwesterner

Yikes. I know how tough this is for a Midwesterner. On the one hand, you don’t want to tattle; on the other hand, it is killing you that someone else isn’t following the spirit and intent of the rules, especially in such a blatant, extremely non-Midwestern fashion.

The real question is what do you have to gain by reporting these cars? You seem to think that you’ll get an easier-to-find, closer-to-your-apartment parking space. I’m going to posit that this just isn’t true. My guess is that after that first warning is left on their car(s) your landlords will simply buckle down and adopt a strict car-moving schedule so they are not violating the letter of the 72-hour rule.

Part of me wants to call your landlord in on your behalf, but the sensible part of me – the part that knows even rules don’t make things fair or stop entitled people from behaving in an entitled fashion (I mean, did you read about this ass trying to steal a beach?) – knows that not much can be done to fix this problem.

My guess is your landlords have probably owned the building since long before parking was at quite the premium it is now and somehow feel, rightly or (as we know) wrongly, that those spaces near their building somehow “belong” to them. That’s the essence of entitlement, right? They are not acting from a place of reason, they are acting from the gut, from a feeling. So engaging them in a reasonable discussion is going to be… I’m going to guess pretty near impossible.

Long story short, I have a lot of trouble imaging how that conversation goes anywhere pleasant or effective.

The only tactic I can imagine possibly working would be if you’re a woman and arrive home after dark on a regular basis and you could, perhaps, approach them about getting access to that driveway space for safety reasons. You could offer to pay for the privilege.

Keep in mind that any other modification doesn’t guarantee you a better spot, since someone else could take any street spot, but does guarantee them a worse spot. That’s a tricky proposal to sell.

For an apartment you love with a rent you can afford and landlords with whom you otherwise get along, the sensible thing is to let this go. I would also gently suggest that you accept that the cars aren’t “smugly” parked, they are simply parked in the best space that was available at the time. The game is rigged against you because of your schedule, but you would grab the best spot if you could.

Nagging Neat Freak

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

I’ve been married to my husband for almost a year now and we’ve lived together in our tiny apartment for the past three years. We have a great relationship, he is the most loving, kind and supportive person I know but there is one thing that just drives me crazy – his cleaning habits, or should I say his lack of cleaning habits. It starts in the morning with the beard trimmings and toothpaste blobs in the bathroom sink and splatters all over the vanity mirror. He leaves his day(s)-old lunch tupperware in his messenger bag overnight and then tosses it in the sink before heading to work. He does not clean up as he cooks, leaving the kitchen a mess. He never cleans the toilet (just swishing the bowl with the toilet brush doesn’t count!), never refills the Brita water pitcher, never sweeps up the kitty litter crumbles outside the litter box, or wipes his crumbs off the counter — I feel like I’m constantly cleaning up after him (and the cat)! While we are living in such a small space it’s really hard to relax and enjoy being at home when things are scuzzy and dishes are piled up in the sink. How to I tell my husband to start cleaning up after himself without nagging?

-Nagging Neat Freak

Dear Nagging Neat Freak,

Oh my but do I hear you. I’m not just the sensible one in my house, I’m the neat one too, and there are now two slobs messing it up on a daily basis (my son is by nature a messy guy, although at least with children you can force them to fight it).

I’m going to give it to you straight: this is an uphill battle. You can make inroads, but it is a long process with lots of frustration along the way. In my experience, the messy will always be messy. They just don’t even see the mess the way the neat do.

That said, it is very sensible of you to want to avoid nagging. You’re not his mother, after all.

I suggest you pick one thing. Just one. Choose a time when that thing is not happening/you are not noticing it. Let’s say it’s the morning bathroom thing that’s getting you down. Perhaps at dinner you could bring up the fact that you are an insane crazy person and the beard trimmings really gross you out. Could he possibly remember to wipe the sink after he shaves? It would mean a lot to you to not have to deal with that anymore.

Then when he does it, you thank him. Profusely and sincerely.

And when he does it again, you thank him again.

And you keep doing that. And after awhile you can ask him to do something else.

It is annoying to the neat to realize that these completely reasonable and sensible requests we are making of fellow grown-ups to do what seem to us to be basic grown-up things are, in fact, requests to do things they do not care about. Taking a moral high ground doesn’t help. Acting like they “have” to do these things is counter-productive. And playing the “someone has to do it” card, while it seems true to us, is, in fact, patently false.

Along with getting the worst habits out of the way, at a certain point it does become a situation where you’re either living in what you experience as squalor or cleaning up after someone else, both of which can lead to bitterness. Don’t let that happen and don’t nag. Simply calmly and cheerfully ask that he help you out when you’re doing stuff. “Do you think you could do the dishes while I deal with this kitty litter and get dinner going?” is the kind of request I’m thinking of. The kind that’s difficult to beg off.

Some people find chore wheels or charts useful.

In the end, though, a sensible Midwesterner also knows that if you want a toilet cleaned properly, you’re probably going to have to do it yourself.

Moss & Cactus

Dear Sensible Midwesterner,

My husband and I are contemplating a move from Portland, Oregon to Tucson, Arizona. I am drawn to the move out of a sense of adventure (the desert!), to be closer to both our families (cousins for my son to hang out with!), and cheap real estate. Mostly, though, the idea of moving came up because my husband is kind of miserable here. He grew up in Arizona and the rain is brutal on him. He’s always felt isolated here. He works remotely from home for a European company and doesn’t get out much to meet new people. The weather here exacerbates the feeling. We have a beautiful old house (that needs a ton of work) in a desirable neighborhood (restaurants, shops, bars, vibrant night scene! drunk people, trash, parking problems!). The issue is that our kid loves it here, our house (sick as we are of its issues) turned out to be a remarkably good investment (and I do kind of love it), I have a low-paying job that I actually love, and walking and riding my bike everywhere is really important to me. In short, while Portland hasn’t been great for my husband, it’s been pretty good for the rest of us. That said, what’s not good for him isn’t great for me. It’s hard to live with someone who struggles with depression. There’s no guarantee that moving will make him happier but I worry about him growing old in a place where he feels isolated and depressed. I also would like my son, an only child, to grow up with an extended family around him and that’s not something he’ll ever have here. So, what would a sensible Midwesterner do?


Moss & Cactus

Dear Moss & Cactus,

Full disclosure: I went to college in Portland. I love it and take every chance I can to visit. I also know it would not be a good place for me long term. Those six months of gray every winter were harsh on me and my psyche. I have real empathy for your husband on that front. It sounds like you do, too.

You don’t mention how old your child is, but assuming he’s pretty young, that he loves where he lives is as much a reflection of his happiness at home as anything. If he’s happy there, he will probably be happy with cousins in the desert, too. For that reason, a sensible Midwesterner wouldn’t factor the fact that he loves Portland into the decision too much.

So on the pro side we have your husband wanting to move, you being okay with moving, extended family in the area, a house you can sell and make money on, and cheaper housing on the other end. On the con side… you’d be giving up a house you love but that needs work, a job you love but pays poorly, and the ability to bike everywhere.* I assume you have some friends as well, so we’ll throw that in the mix. That’s not nothing. It’s also not everything.

The sensible thing to do, as you seem to know, is to look at the overall balance of satisfaction versus misery. Unless it seems reasonable to ask your husband to find a job that gets him out and about whether the weather cooperates or not, or you think there are other ways to address his misery that he hasn’t given the old college try, his desire to move seems much stronger than your sort-of desire to stay.

Lucky are those who are buoyant and manage to fall in love with another similarly jolly person. In my observation, however, most couplings involve at least a bit of opposites-attract, or, if nothing else, one person is simply more resilient and less easy to phase faze than the other. You, my dear reader, have more reserves to call on and seem, from your letter, to have a lovely zest for life, as evidenced by your ability to see moving to the desert as an adventure.

It’s a lot to uproot a family for one person’s mood. But depression, seasonal affective disorder, and misery are not moods, and the longer they go on the more intractable they are.

I can’t help but wonder if there is a way to give this whole “I’d be happier in the desert” theory of your husband’s a test run. A three- or six-month trial, perhaps? With rentals on both fronts?

In short, the tone of your letter reads like this to me: I know the best thing to do is move, but I’m not 100% it’s what I want to do. To which I say: You don’t have to be completely on board to jump in. How cold could the water be? My guess is that you’ll be fine wherever you land, which is how the sensible roll.

* I don’t know Tuscon at all (I was there once), but I imagine there are neighborhoods where one can construct a life that isn’t completely car-dependent. Why, the Sunnyside-Elvira neighborhood has even produced a map of its fine cycling routes [].