This past Tuesday, I was scared in my own home.
I was scared and shocked and intimidated.
And I froze.
As a renter, periodic inspections are part of life. They’re annoying, but I completely understand their necessity. I am residing in a house that belongs to someone else. I pay to live here, but I understand that the property doesn’t belong to me and therefore it’s only fair that regular inspections are carried out to ensure I’m not causing damage to a house that belongs to someone else.
One of those quarterly annoyances that is the periodic inspection was scheduled for 11:00 am this past Tuesday.
Of course these things never quite seem to take place as scheduled and as the clock ticked closer to 12:30 pm, I was mildly annoyed, but not at all surprised. It wasn’t a huge deal – I was working from home. But I’d expected that it would be well and truly done by 12:00 pm and I’d scheduled a meeting for 12:30.
Just before 12:30, there was a knock at the door and I answered, relieved that I might be able to make that 12:30 pm skype meeting that I’d organised.
The real estate agent who attended wasn’t someone I’d met before. I’ve been living here for over two years and my inspections had always been carried out by a lovely woman, a woman I’ve enjoyed chatting with at each of my previous inspections.
My dog – being, you know, a dog – barked at the sight of the strange man at the door. Before he’d even introduced himself to me or confirmed that he was indeed the representative of the real estate company that manages the property, he started shouting at her. I was instantly taken aback. I reassured him that she would stop barking and leave him alone quickly. She always does. Frankly, she’s a useless guard dog. All it takes is one calm acknowledgement of her presence and she rolls straight onto her back, ready for a belly rub. She can’t help it. She just loves people and attention and belly rubs.
The man at my front door, however, decided that the best course of action was to ignore me all together and to continue shouting at the dog. Her tail wagging, she got closer to him to have a sniff of his shoes. Again, you know, because she’s a dog.
He kicked his leg in her direction, narrowly avoiding contact with her body, before walking into my house.
I was stunned. A man who I had never met, who had barely even acknowledged my presence, had shouted at and tried to kick my Chihuahua before walking into the house in which I live.
He walked into the lounge room, as I stood in the hallway, shaking. I didn’t quite know how to react. The dog, of course, barked again. He shouted several more times, repeating “inside” over and over waving his ipad dangerously close to the dog’s face. We were inside. The front door was closed. We were inside. Why was he yelling at my dog to go inside when we already were?
Still, he hadn’t said a word to me.
I coaxed the dog away with the promise of treats and retreated to the kitchen. My entire body was screaming at me to grab the dog and get out of the house, to say something, to tell him to leave, but I didn’t. I sat at the kitchen table, the dog on my lap and my mobile phone in my hand, frozen.
He continued walking around the house, taking photos of each room, as the previous agent had done – all the time not saying a word to me.
Finally, after he’d photographed the backyard and walked back inside, he spoke: “is it just one bedroom?”
Yup, I replied. My voice sounded small and shaky.
With an abrupt “have a nice day”, he was gone.
I locked the front door and headed out the back for a cigarette, wondering what the hell had just happened.
His behaviour was not normal. In the 15 years that I’ve been renting, I’d certainly never encountered anything quite like it before. But my behaviour? It wasn’t normal either. At least not for me. I’m not the kind of person who doesn’t stand up for herself, who doesn’t speak up when something isn’t right, who shies away from confrontation. In fact, I’m the opposite. I’m the woman who stood up and shouted at a bus full of strangers when they hurled racist slurs at the driver a few weeks ago. I’ve never been the person who didn’t say something.
I went back inside and emailed the manager of the real estate company, expressing my shock at the unprofessional and unnecessary behaviour I’d experienced.
An hour later, I was still shaking. It took almost two hours before it dawned on me. The reason I’d frozen, stayed silent, not reacted like I usually would? Fear.
I was scared.
A man I’d never met before had been in my home, with nobody else around, shouting and physically intimidating my small dog. The situation seemed threatening, it made me anxious, and instead of my “fight” or “flight” instincts taking over, my “freeze” instinct jumped on in.
I’ve since learned that the real estate company won’t be sending another agent to conduct future inspections of the property. They say he’s a “gentleman” and is always “very respectful” to clients. Apparently scaring tenants is another area in which you get a “first-time freebie” if you’re a man who has acted violently.
Maybe my “freeze” response was a good thing. I mean, if you’re a grown man who has no problems attempting to kick a Chihuahua, who knows how you’d react if I told you to leave? There was nobody else around. I was alone in a house with a man whose actions I deemed to be irrational and threatening. Maybe saying nothing was the best course of action.
But today? Today I’m angry.
I have the right to feel safe in my own home.
I shouldn’t have to ask that my mother, or father or anyone else is present at future inspections because I, a grown woman, am scared of the real estate agent.
I have the right to feel safe in my own home.
He shouldn’t get a “first time freebie”. One complaint should be enough.
So, I’m going to fight. I’m not going to accept that I have to be fearful because they refuse to take action. I’m going to fight because I have the right to feel safe in my own home – we all do. And that is not negotiable.