My Midtown eviction story

An old Victorian with rodents, a request for decent plumbing—and an eviction notice

Illustration by Devon Mc Mindes

It was a weekday afternoon in August that I received the notice to vacate.

I remember because I was filming the dog chasing a neighborhood cat around a clawfoot bathtub in the backyard. Suddenly, there was a gray-haired man in jeans and a T-shirt walking through the backyard shouting, “Hello? Hello?”

He never identified himself. I’d never seen him come by when we needed repairs around the property. For all I knew, he’d been tasked solely as the messenger I’m supposed to feel less inclined to shoot.

He handed me an envelope, described its contents and apologized for having to deliver the news. I let him know I wasn’t on the lease, but merely renting a room. I told him this 30-day eviction notice couldn’t be served in any official capacity until my roommate returned from Burning Man.

I had no idea if this was true.

The house is like many old Victorians in the Mansion Flats neighborhood. Remodeled into a split-level, each of the two floors has three bedrooms, one kitchen and one bath. I’d only moved into the upstairs level in March, but by mid-summer the downstairs occupants had fully vacated after a major rental dispute with the property managers.

The house was old and feeling the years. The attic was fully closed off to us, but month after month the critters we heard crawling upstairs seemed to be getting bigger. I’d often see mice darting behind the stove. Once I found two mice stuck in a mixing bowl in the cupboard. Well, one and a half. The live mouse had eaten half of his friend out of desperation. But the rodents were never an issue.

The issue was the water. The upstairs faucets, particularly the shower, only trickled hot water and it took 10 minutes to warm up. This meant lukewarm to cold showers, which was mostly fine during the 100-degree Sacramento summers.

As a tenant in a city with virtually no renters’ rights, you are brazen if you dare pick a few battles—and by battles I mean requests for basic upgrades to deteriorating utilities. It’s more common to stay off owners’ radars and adjust your definition of basic needs. My roommate would assure me that we were safe to bring up these fixes, but I doubted that our landlords were the exception. To my knowledge, they were based in San Francisco. I’d already gone through a situation at an apartment complex in Boulevard Park where the tenants requested windows that didn’t allow the winter air to seep in.

We were moved out for two weeks and returned to rent increases.

We brought up the water. We were told they would send someone out to have it appraised. In the meantime we could use the downstairs shower, which worked fine. There were two problems with this arrangement. In their visits to appraise the plumbing and property, the owners always locked the downstairs backdoor. We’d have to jimmy open a side window and crawl through to regain access. Second, homeless people in the area discovered the downstairs was vacant, which led to a situation of two ladies thinking they had squatter’s rights to the shower.

So when my roommate returned from Burning Man the following week, he handled the eviction situation. He informed the property owners that a 60-day notice was required by law. They informed us they were kicking us out to make the renovations we had either requested or suffered without: new plumbing and roofing, addressing our rodent neighbors in the attic and the crawl space. We were told that, rather than have us remain on the premises while these renovations were made, we were being evicted so they could be done in three months instead of six. And that, if we were still interested, maybe we could move back in after the work was done.

In my experience, these stories are pretty common for a segment of renters occupying Sacramento’s decaying housing stock. Either tenants stay quiet and live in derelict dwellings, or they speak up and get evicted, or rent-gouged to subsidize the renovations that should have been made years ago.

Naturally, my roommate and I found new living situations that make returning unlikely. I’m in a six-month lease with no interest in returning to the house in Mansion Flats. And then, like many other Sacramento renters with the rug pulled out from under them, I’ll have to improvise if I want to land on my feet.