I missed my regular Friday blog post last week as I was in the throes of an emergency house move. During the week of International Women’s Day, I found myself at the mercy of one of the most toxic women I’ve ever met, and some of the kindest I’ve ever known.
I follow two astrologers- who both also happen to be psychologists- on Instagram. Both forewarned about March 2023, that we would reflect on the events of this year as ‘before March’ and ‘after March’, in the same way we refer to ‘before the pandemic and after the pandemic’. On a personal level, I had a gut feeling that this predicted shift would relate to my living situation. I suspected my rent would increase, but I could never have imagined what would actually transpire. Or maybe I could have, if I’d recognised the warning signs earlier.
I moved to Palm Beach on the Gold Coast in October 2021. I had spent six months living in a small three-bedroom house the suburb of Worongary, at the foot of the Gold Coast Hinterland. This had also been an emergency move- I had previously been living with a middle-aged unemployed former health worker in Tweed Heads, who promoted herself as a business coach despite having no experience in business. Her home office was set up in the living room opposite the kitchen, and I was subject to unsolicited social media reports from my flatmate as I made my breakfast. I was also subject to periods of silence in the unit during the day while she conducted online webinars and meditations (yes, she was also Super Spiritual). She called me her friend, but I was not interested in a friendship. To be honest, she gave me the ‘ick’. I kept my feelings suppressed in order to maintain the roof over my head, but eventually they found their way to my big mouth. Knowing my true feelings about her, my flatmate decided she wanted the unit to herself and gave me two weeks notice to move out.
A friend of mine rented a room in a house at Worongary, and suggested the property as it had a few rooms available. It was further from work than I preferred to be, but my only option at such short notice. I moved into the granny flat behind the main house, where I had one other roommate, a young French jockey whom we’ll call D. It was a peaceful setting- Worongary is a semi-rural suburb, with many acreage properties. I’d wake to the sound of kookaburras, cockatoos, magpies, and whipbirds. My new landlord L owned racehorses, and often kept them in the yard behind the houses.
Things were fine until D invited his friend B to live with us. D was mild-mannered, while B was outright obnoxious. He would sit at the opposite end of the living room from the TV and have the volume up high until late at night. He would put loud music on early on Saturday morning. The toilet and bathroom were opposite my bedroom, and he would urinate with the door open. He started walking naked from the bathroom to his bedroom at the end of the hall, holding a towel over his bits. At this point you might think that a naked Frenchman walking through your house would be a dream. Trust me, not this guy. I had bad enough of this behaviour, and I told him so.
I felt invisible in the household. I had a sense that I was being forced out of the household. It was suggested that perhaps the two friends were lovers and wanted the place to themselves.
The situation reached breaking point when late one night, B was sitting at the table on the patio outside my bedroom talking loudly on the phone. I warned him if he didn’t stop, I would lock him outside. He didn’t stop, so I came through with my threat. He banged on the glass door that separated my bedroom from the patio, and the one in the kitchen, until D let him in. As he passed my closed bedroom door (which had no lock) B banged on it once and called me a fucking bitch. I responded by calling him a fucking pig. I then phoned the police and sat in the cold night on the curb out the front of the main house crying as I waited for them. When they arrived I explained the situation, and they suggested that while I had reason to be upset, I had overreacted in locking B out. I replied that I was at my wits end- I had asked nicely time and time again that he reduce the level of noise in the household, but he refused to listen. I had brought my issues up with my landlord, but he had been of little help.
The police talked to B, and advised us both to calm down and discuss the situation like adults. I went away for a week to visit relatives on the Sunshine Coast, and jumped for joy when I received a text message from my landlord letting me know B was vacating the property.
I continued to live at Worongary for another few months. Clearly missing his friend (or lover- I’m still uncertain of the status of their relationship), D had gone from mild-mannered to passive aggressive. I attempted to address the elephant in the room via letter (which I also translated into French). He continued his non-verbal hostility, slamming doors at 3am when he left for work, having loud conversations on the phone, playing music in the bathroom first thing in the morning.
I found a new room in a house that was walking distance from my workplace and the beach. The leaseholder was a 40-something mother-of-two, but the children did not live with her on the property. I had an initial phone conversation with K, and then a face-to-face meeting. I was comforted by her vetting procedure and trusted that this would be a more mature and peaceful living environment.
At the time I moved in, K was on extended leave from work. She was quick to confess she was a functioning alcoholic, but made a few cold turkey attempts at breaking the habit during her leave. She went back to work just before Christmas, two months after I moved in. That’s when the drinking started again. She loved her job, but drinking was the only way she could cope with the high levels of pressure. I didn’t mind, as long as her habits didn’t affect me. I was kidding myself to think they wouldn’t.
K’s one-woman parties usually took place on a Saturday night. She would crank up the music or yell out and laugh as she played video games in her bedroom (which was directly above mine). I hadn’t been aware that this was part of the deal of moving in, but I accepted the situation. I had moved twice that year already, and was determined to settle. While K had at least one drink every day, these big nights were few and far between, and when they did happen, K kept the sessions contained to her room and would call it quits around midnight. That was fair and reasonable to me.
In mid-2022, the drinking sessions began to intensify in noise and frequency. I was away for a week and a half in June, and our other housemate, S, who occasionally worked from home, reported that K had interrupted a Zoom call while intoxicated.
Late in the year, K’s teenage son O moved in with us. He was a big gamer, playing into the wee hours some nights, making noise banging around and yelling out. His bedroom was beside S’s, and I have no idea how she managed to get any sleep in that time. My bedroom was at the other end of the house, fortunately, so I didn’t hear this noise. S moved out a few months later (much to K’s and my relief- S had a serious lack of boundaries when it came to sharehousing. Think using personal belongings without asking, cleaning house and cooking at late hours, slamming doors, stomping around. Oh, and having a wayward male stay in her room for three days without the knowledge of K and I). I thought things would go back to normal with S gone, but eventually they only got worse.
Following O’s arrival and S’s departure, I felt once again a sense that I was being pushed out of the house. K had always been mindful of noise levels, but now she was the one stomping around and slamming doors. Her drinking sessions started spilling out all over the house. She would yell out at O in his bedroom across the way from hers. My downstairs bedroom was right beside the staircase, and she would run midnight marathons up and down the stairs back and forth between her fridge fetching her drinks. My anxiety was heightened by these sessions. I started to suspect that there was more than just alcohol pumping through her veins- she had openly admitted to using the methamphetamines ‘socially’. On Christmas Eve, I witnessed her snort cocaine off our kitchen bench. It was this particular incident that spelled the beginning of the end of my tenancy at Palm Beach.
Fast-forward to two weeks ago. K stomped downstairs one Sunday morning and announced that she had found a new tenant for the spare room, a 38-year-old male factory worker who was moving in in a week’s time. This announcement unsettled me- Kat had undertaken a thorough vetting process with both me and S prior to us moving in. I went off to work, and before I started my shift I texted K saying I was troubled that she had not involved me in the process, especially considering I would be sharing a bathroom with this new male addition to the household. She then proceeded to inform me that my rent would increase $50 in a month’s time. Another thing she could have told me face to face, I replied.
My anger intensified during the three hours I was at work, and by the time I got home, I was infuriated. I took my turn to slam some doors. This was worse than S’s stowaway friend staying over for three days. I had endured stomping, slamming, drink and drug binges, and now an unknown male and a sudden rental increase. A heated verbal confrontation ensued, which resulted in K declaring that she would not be keeping me on as a tenant once the rent increased in a months time. I stormed out of the house and called my Dad, tearfully explaining the unfolding situation. The sun set, and as I walked home, I received a call back from my best friend, and as I was explaining the situation to her, the owner of the house I was standing in front of arrived home. Not knowing me from a bar of soap, she recognised my distress and ushered me into her living room. She invited me to make myself comfortable, grab food, a glass of water, anything I needed. She had to pop back out briefly but she would be home shortly, she insisted.
I ended up staying there until 2am drowning my sorrows with margaritas.
Two days later K put her verbal notice of leave into writing, and brought the timeframe forward from one month to two weeks.
After extensive phone calls with the Residential Tenancies Authority, I discovered that K had breached a number of tenancy rules. The bond agreement she had provided to me seventeen months earlier did not comply with official outlines and requirements. Her typed letter indicating two weeks notice did not comply either. She had listed’ irreconcilable differences’ as the reason for the termination of my tenancy, but this did not qualify as a reason for termination. I also believed that the requested increase of $50 per week of my individual rent amount was excessive.
I was also greatly disturbed to discover that my bond money had not been lodged with the RTA, an unlawful act that could result in a penalty.
I put all of this information into a letter, which I left for K on the kitchen bench. That night I attended an International Women’s Day event with some author friends. When I returned home, K came downstairs and proceeded to threaten and intimidate me through my closed, locked bedroom door. I spent the night of International Women’s Day 2023 sitting on my bedroom floor, sobbing to my dad over the phone and recording K’s torment on my phone. It was the first time I have felt that scared in a rental property. Even more scared than when B banged on my door. K finally gave up in the early hours, and I was able to get a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed and dressed for work straight away. I tentatively unlocked my door and ventured out of my bedroom. Part of my exclusive living space included the downstairs living room, which contained a couch and TV unit belonging to Kat that she had let me use during my tenancy. These items had been moved out into the garage. Over the coming days, Kat would continue to move my belongings, in a bullish attempt to force me out of the house.
I left the house that morning before even eating breakfast. Shaken and sleep-deprived, I sat in the food court in the shopping centre where I work, telling my mum over the phone about what had transpired the night before. I arranged stay at her house in Brisbane over the weekend. That afternoon I was due to inspect a room in a new property, which had been referred by a former work colleague and friend on social media. After work, I looked at the property, and met the leaseholder, a young woman named C. It just so happened that she shared the same name as the neighbour who had taken me into her home until 2am. I look back on that as a sign of the good things that were to come.
C and I talked for three hours, and I learned that she had been faced with a similar but much less volatile situation with her vacating flatmate. We established that we both wanted the same thing: a peaceful household, a sanctuary to come back to at the end of the day, free of spontaneous parties and substance abuse. I accepted the room almost instantly, and started to stay there upon my return from Brisbane at the end of the weekend. I only had to return to the old place to pack, move and clean.
A week ago today, I vacated the old place. I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally. I was shocked at how quickly K had turned on me, and the force with which she did it. I was shocked that I could be shown such cruelty, by a woman of all people, during the week of International Women’s Day, of all times. But I was also reminded during that week of the power of women when we come together to help each other. My mum for sacrificing her birthday to help me move. My former colleague for connecting me with my new housemate. And my new housemate, for taking me in during my time of need, for going above and beyond to help me escape a dangerous situation, to the extend of moving my bed and mattress to the new place. And for making me feel so welcome in the new household. She even baked a cake for my mum’s birthday!
I also have to give a shoutout to my amazing Dad, for his help in the battle of wits against K’s shady tenancy tactics.
I could never have imagined how spectacularly my living situation would deteriorate, and improve, in March 2023. My heart was so warmed by the outpouring of love and support from family, friends and strangers. I will definitely be looking back on this month as ‘Before March 2023’ and ‘After March 2023’. Not just because of the distress of being so abruptly uprooted (again), but because of the kindness I was shown, that reaffirmed the notion that I am loved and held at all times through all experiences.
I’ve learned a lot about myself and other people, and how we co-exist in co-habitation. In the Tweed household, I learned how not to communicate my issues with my flatmate. At Worongary, I found my voice as a housemate. At Palm Beach, I used that voice and fought for respect and consideration in the household. At my new place in Burleigh, I feel like I can finally relax, knowing I’ve found someone who shares my values about the home space.
Taking all that I’ve experienced over the past three years and three sharehouse experiences, I’ve been reminded that not only can you not change people and the way they are. You can ask them to be considerate and respect your boundaries and your property, but sometimes this is a huge learning curve for them to begin with, because they never learned it at home before moving out into the world. It actually blows my mind the utter lack of common sense that abounds in sharehouses, I believe we’ve come to expect this in these living situations. But I think we can do better. We can have high expectations. We deserve to have peaceful homes, no matter what our circumstances.