Musings of an Eon...

Escaping a Nightmare

Published 2020 Aug 01 @ 16:04

This is an incredibly long post. I’ll put a TL;DR at the top just below this brief intro. I don’t normally like to write about my personal life in detail but I’m hoping that writing about what’s happened in my life, and the life of my family, will provide some relief and maybe even help someone else that is in a similar situation to any of those related in this post. I also don’t normally like to plug things for myself, but we’re running a GoFundMe to help with the stuff we’re going through right now. If you’re interested in exactly what that “stuff” is, either continue reading or head over to the GoFundMe page for more details. Thanks for reading!

TL;DR

If you do not feel compelled to read this whole post, I’ll try to summarize it here. I would personally appreciate it if you did, or least made an attempt to, read it in full but it’s reeeeeally long. I won’t blame you for just reading this condensed version and moving on with your life. If you want the full story, details and all, feel free to skip this section.

  • My wife, a middle school teacher, became pregnant in early 2019.
  • My wife’s school told her that they didn’t really want her to come back now that she was pregnant. Apparently mothers of young children are not the kind of person schools want on their staff.
  • My wife and I sold our home in Northern California to pay off our student debts and move into a larger house in Southern California.
  • The pregnancy is rough. Lots of nausea, aches, vomiting. She also has what we believe was a seizure late in her pregnancy.
  • Our beautiful daughter is born at the end of 2019!
  • My wife is told that our daughter is losing her baby weight too quickly and to fix it. No further guidance is given. My wife feels like she’s killing our daughter and we rush out to buy formula. We consider giving up on breastfeeding entirely.
  • Constantly made to feel shame by “medical professionals” that we’re using a bottle, even though we’re feeding our daughter pumped milk and not formula. The doctor’s call every meal a “missed meal” because it was given through a bottle and not the breast.
  • We find out the reason our daughter can’t breast feed is because of something called a tongue-tie. We get it fixed and our daughter immediately starts to successfully breastfeed, although it’s weeks before she’s proficient enough to start breastfeeding full-time.
  • The HVAC in our rental property fails intermittently for 8 months, from September 2019 (pre-partum) to April 2020 (post-partum). We suffer through 80+ degree nights, especially hard during the pregnancy when my wife is nauseous and aching and having hot flashes.
  • To keep the HVAC running we personally buy dozens of replacement fuses. Whenever the A/C dies we give it a few minutes, replace the fuse, try again. Rinse and repeat until fuses stop blowing. This does not always work and sometimes the A/C remains dead for over 24 hours.
  • We buy a house! We’ll be homeowners again and our daughter will be able to grow up in this house for many years to come. And when problems arise, we can fix them quickly and properly.
  • We give our landlord 6 months of advance notice of our intention to leave the rental early. They tell us “no” and try to threaten us that there will be consequences if we don’t continue to pay rent through to the end of our lease.
  • We attempt to market the property ourselves, hoping to convince the landlord to accept a replacement tenant if we can find a suitable candidate. The landlord serves us a Cease & Desist despite finding 40 (!) interested individuals in less than 48 hours.
  • We continue to bring up issues with the property as we encounter them and the landlord begrudgingly investigates, at times threatening to charge us the inspection fee if there’s evidence that any such problems were caused by us.

The landlord has made it clear that the intention is to force us to stay in the lease, for reasons beyond our comprehension, and that he’ll sue us if we try to stop paying rent early. Thankfully, we’re 99% certain that we can avoid paying rent after we move into our new home thanks to California Civil Code 1951.2. It basically holds us, the tenant, liable for any unpaid rent due to a breach of the lease unless we can prove that the rental loss could have been reasonably avoided. If the landlord loses rental income because we refuse to pay rent after we move to our new house, those 40 potential replacements make it seem like the landlord could have reasonably, and easily, avoided a loss of rent and chose not to.

But even if we could somehow be 100% certain that the courts would agree with our assessment, that doesn’t mean the landlord couldn’t bring a lawsuit against us. Anyone can start a lawsuit for almost any reason, as long as you’ve got the money to do so.

That’s why we’re put together this GoFundMe: to help mitigate our legal fees. Anything contributed helps us immensely.

Between paying $500+ per month in electricity bills due to a poorly-insulated house with a decrepit HVAC system, and spending money on lots of medical costs from earlier in the year, and all of the infant products we had to buy for our daughter (diapers and baby clothes aren’t cheap), and the down payment we’re preparing for the new house… well, there’s been a lot of spending going on. Every dollar contributed is another dollar towards securing our legal fees, which is a dollar that can be spent elsewhere - like food, clothes, or baby toys.

Well, that’s the condensed version of things. If you’re interested in the little details of what we went through to get to where we are now, read on for the full and unabridged version of our journey thus far.

Our Story

The events below are in almost-chronological order. I want to speak first to the difficulties we had during my wife’s pregnancy and then as new parents. Then I’ll dive into the situation with our landlord, which started during my wife’s third trimester of pregnancy.

The only major event that occurred during the pregnancy was the HVAC issue that I’ll explain below. Almost every other problem with the rental property happened after our daughter’s birth by at least two months. So, again, it’s in almost-chronological order.

In The Beginning…

Let’s start at the beginning, before living in our current rental was even a concept in either of our minds. My wife and I were living in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley (the fringes of it). We were happy there. We had friends, a great community, awesome restaurants nearby, and my wife (a middle school teacher) was 10 minutes from her school. It was great. The one downside was the high cost-of-living.

We owned our condo unit for about 3 years before my wife became pregnant. We were extremely happy, as we had been trying for a while, but we also started thinking about the possibility of moving elsewhere. We were considering the benefits to living somewhere with a lower cost-of-living, where we could get more house for our dollar.

Then my wife’s school tells her they don’t really want her to come back next year. Being pregnant is apparently something schools discriminate against. After all, why hire someone that has their own child they love and care for and make a priority? You want someone that will devote their time exclusively to all of their students.

Anyway, that was the final straw for us. If my wife wasn’t being welcomed back to her work the following school year then we might as well move somewhere larger where my wife could stay at home and raise our child for at least the first year or two. After all, teachers get paid so poorly that daycare costs alone would cancel out any potential income my wife would make on her teacher’s salary. And so, we decided it was time to go South.

Although the benefits far outweighed the negatives of selling our home, we were already off to a rocky start. We had the same person that helped us buy our house try to sell it and they were awful. After months of paying both mortgage and rent without any traction on offers, we switched to a new agent that sold our property within two weeks (with another month to close). Ultimately, though, we paid off all of our debt and were making a fresh start for ourselves down South.

A Rough Pregnancy

As my wife got closer to her due date, the pregnancy progressively got harder. Her muscles would ache. She’d get awful headaches. She became nauseous and was vomiting almost daily. Her lower back was constantly bothering her and moving around became more difficult. She’s a stomach sleeper that very quickly could no longer lie on her stomach, which made falling asleep difficult on top of everything else.

It was so bad even in the beginning that my wife, while teaching one day, nearly fainted during class and had to excuse herself to the main office to lie down. I had to drive over to pick her up and bring her home to rest for a few days before she could go back to work. There were actually many sick days my wife would end up taking during the first half of the pregnancy because of how quickly her pregnancy symptoms would worsen. But because the USA doesn’t really care about its mothers, there’s no leniency granted to pregnant women leading up to their delivery. And so eventually my wife was taking unpaid sick days but forcing herself to still go in more often than she probably should have, simply because the cost-of-living in our area was too high not to have at least a little extra income on top of my salary.

After moving South, we were shopping at a local grocery store that had a flickering fluorescent light above the checkout line and she had what I can only assume was a seizure. She couldn’t see even though her eyes were open; she just whispered that something was wrong, she couldn’t see anything, and asked where I was. Her hearing - she later told me - had became distanced, like I was many feet away despite being directly next to her. She couldn’t move properly and became pale as a ghost. This is not something you want to ever see happen to a loved one but even less so when that person is pregnant. I helped get her to the floor safely and put her head on my lap, asked someone to call an ambulance while I tried to get her to speak or acknowledge me in some way, while monitoring her breathing and heartrate to the best of my ability.

Paramedics cleared her, weren’t sure what happened as nothing from the limited testing they did produced any signs that would point to a sudden collapse like she had. This is why I think, personally, that it might have been a seizure. My wife is already sensitive to bright, flashing lights but she had never experienced anything like this. We think that the constant dehydration she experienced throughout her pregnancy combined with the flickering lights and warm weather created the perfect storm. It was a traumatic experience for both of us but thankfully our unborn daughter did not suffer from it.

And, as though nine months of these trials weren’t enough, she was in labor for 3 days before she was admitted to the hospital. During those 3 days we got no more than 20 minutes of continuous sleep, and that was the maximum. Finally, my wife said “screw it, I need rest, we’re going to the hospital and doing something.” Thankfully my wife was dilated just enough for them to admit her.

And then, almost 12 hours later, we became parents. It was late 2019 and we were now the proud mother and father of a beautiful baby girl!

Post-Partum Was Rough, Too

The hospital experience directly following the birth was awful. I can understand now why the United States is ranked so atrociously when it comes to mother mortality rates. I can also understand why so many parents probably suck at being parents: most hospitals will make you feel awful and inadequate and provide zero support. And that’s if you’re lucky.

After the birth, and after baby was measured and washed and everything, we were transferred into a really awful post-delivery room. The “couch” was slightly longer than half my height meaning I had no place to even lie down properly. And that’s all I wanted. It’s all any of us wanted, even our daughter. We all just wanted to lie down and rest. We thought, awesome, we’ll get a few hours to recharge and then we’ll start learning how to be awesome parents.

But the nurses insisted that we had to start everything immediately, no rest. Breast feeding was especially important to start ASAP or, they said, our daughter’s health would be at risk. But she wouldn’t latch. Didn’t want to eat. Really didn’t want to do anything other than sleep. And we certainly didn’t know what to do. The only thing the nurses would say is to “figure something out” otherwise we’d basically risk our child’s health. What great after-delivery care; less than 3 hours after giving birth and we’re already being told how awful we are at being parents.

After my wife was physically assaulted multiple times by the nurses we eventually had a pediatrician come in who said the nurses were stupid and not to listen to them. Quick digression: I mean physically assaulted in the literal sense. The nurses would grab my wife’s breasts, with no request and no permission, and try to shove it in our daughter’s mouth. I told my wife she should just squeeze the nurse’s breasts the next time they did that and ask how they liked being physically assaulted without any warning. Especially since the nurses weren’t lactation consultants and told us they weren’t trained in helping new mothers breast feed. They had no business grabbing anyone’s breasts that weren’t their own.

But back to the pediatrician. He said that some babies just want to rest right after being born. It’s just as taxing an experience for them as it is for the parents and some babies sleep to recover from that experience. Some don’t even want to start feeding until day 2, and that’s alright. The lactation consultant that eventually visited us said pretty much the same thing, though they didn’t provide any meaningful advice on how to get our baby to successfully latch and so we ultimately left the hospital not knowing how to properly breastfeed our baby.

And breastfeeding is not some innate talent that a mother just magically receives from the universe upon having a child. Different babies have different circumstances and preferences that make each one a little unique in how you have to feed them. At least in the beginning when they can’t do anything on their own.

Sadly, breastfeeding just wasn’t working out for us and we didn’t know why. And even though the doctors and nurses and lactation consultants should have known, they didn’t bother to look into it.

When I Say “Rough”, I Mean Catastrophic

Every doctor, nurse, and lactation consultant we visited missed obvious signs of problems that we would ultimately spend time, frustration, money, and a not-insignificant amount of sanity to resolve.

Just two days after being discharged from the hospital we had an appointment with a lactation consultant. We didn’t want to go, since the post-partum experience was so awful, and we just wanted to be home with our baby enjoying our new family. But no, we were told we needed to go to this. While we knew we didn’t need to, it’s not some kind of mandatory thing that we would have been punished for not attending, we were still new to parenthood and didn’t want to accidentally miss out on something that could be vital to caring for our child.

This appointment segregated the mothers and fathers. Fathers were in one room listening to basic childcare information like what temperatures are ER-level fevers for babies, how to know if your child has constipation, and some other stuff that literally could have been a 30-minute YouTube video. Mothers were in another room with their newborns where they (the babies) were weighed and then put on the breast to see how well feeding was going and, we were told, to offer advice on how to improve feeding if necessary.

During the appointment, my wife was told our daughter’s weight was dropping too quickly but that she seemed to be doing fine with breastfeeding even though she barely fed during the “check up”, and that we should make sure her weight doesn’t drop any more then come see them again in a few days.

What amazing post-partum care. A newborn’s weight is dropping faster than they believe is normal but obviously there’s no problem with the breastfeeding, except there obviously is and the nurses just don’t want to figure it out. That would mean having to actually work. So instead they just tell us to do “better”.

That night my wife broke down crying, feeling like she was killing our daughter because she was the reason our baby couldn’t get food, and so we drove to the grocery store closest to us and bought formula. We also had ordered a breast pump prior to the birth because we knew we wanted to introduce a bottle relatively early on to our daughter to help split the feeding duties. So the plan was to try pumping and feed her what we could, then supplement my wife’s supposed lack of breast milk with the formula we bought.

The first time my wife pumped she got enough for three or four feedings after just 15 minutes. Doctors said this was classified as an “oversupply”, meaning she produced more milk than our daughter would actually need.

So we learned that my wife did not have a supply problem but we still didn’t know why baby wasn’t breastfeeding properly. My wife was ready to just give up on breastfeeding less than a week after our daughter was born, switching to just pumped milk and formula, all from bottles.

The ironic part is that the first pediatrician we saw told us that most parents don’t breastfeed after the first week “because it’s hard.” I wholeheartedly agree with him, but I think he was making the incorrect assumption that breastfeeding in itself is hard and parents don’t want to put in the effort when easier alternatives exist. In reality, it’s just that people like him, the lactation consultants, the nurses, and every other “medical professional” simply refuses to, or isn’t trained well enough to, give the proper level of support to new parents.

Constantly Going From Bad To Worse

The day after my wife broke down feeling like she was killing our daughter, I had to drive her to the emergency room because she was pale and ready to pass out. And because she needed to get to the hospital ASAP there was no time to wait for grandparents to show up and look after our daughter at home; she got put into the car seat and came with us to the hospital.

I was in the ER waiting room for close to an hour after my wife was admitted before anyone told me what was happening with her, despite asking the front desk staff twice for an update. I was told she was waiting for a room to complete her diagnostics but that she seemed stable for the moment and that I should take my daughter outside, reducing her expose to potential sickness within the hospital. Well yeah, I don’t want to expose her, but I also wanted to know my wife isn’t dying before I leave.

It was two hours after I was told to leave the waiting room that I received a call letting me know my wife was being discharged. During those two hours I simply drove around aimlessly in the hospital’s parking structure, occasionally parking to cry as silently as possible to avoid waking up my daughter who had blissfully been asleep during this whole debacle. I was overwhelmed with everything my wife and I had been through up to this point and until I got the call from the hospital I had no idea if my wife would have to stay overnight. If she had to be admitted to the hospital, what would I do with our daughter? I’d be solely responsible for her well-being, less than a week after she was born, and also deal with the stress of a hospitalized wife on top of that.

And to clarify, it’s not that I felt I couldn’t look after my daughter by myself for a night or two if I had to. I didn’t want to. This was supposed to be a joyous time. Exhausting, sure, but also thrilling and exciting and happy. So far we had only experienced the bad parts of being parents with none of the good parts, except obviously for the existence of our daughter. That was the sole happiness we had during that first week after delivery.

My wife ended up having severe dehydration. The ER staff said it was pretty obvious by how chapped her lips were and the color of her skin and eyes. These were symptoms she had the previous day, when we were at the hospital getting told that our baby was losing weight dangerously quick. We thought they were normal symptoms any woman might show while recovering from childbirth. After all, if they weren’t normal symptoms then wouldn’t any one of the many “medical professionals” that interacted with her express concern and ask to do a check-up?

No, because they don’t care if you’re well. They couldn’t care less about keeping you healthy enough to care for you child. The child’s health is all that matters. You could drop dead trying to care for your child and as long as the child was fine then you did well, everyone’s happy.

I said this one previously but I have to say it again: I completely understand why the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) is so high in the United States. Countries like Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Spain, Canada, and many more have less than half our MMR. We’re supposedly a “global superpower” and yet we’re very casual with letting our mothers die.

So my wife started drinking triple the amount of water she was prior to her ER trip and started forcing herself to eat more despite still being affected by bouts of mild nausea. She started getting better, feeling like she was getting her energy back, yet ultimately didn’t seem to recover. She still got tired very easily even a month after childbirth. While other moms were going grocery shopping, my wife was crawling back into bed after throwing out the trash.

No Relief In Sight

For the first two months I handled at least 90% of the childcare. My wife effectively just pumped and held baby either in bed or in our rocking chair. I was changing 99.9% of the diapers. I would walk baby to sleep. I was almost always the one to get out of bed and grab baby from her bassinet when she would wake up from a nap. And because these “medical professionals” terrified my wife with nipple confusion, I did all of the feedings. If nipple confusion is a confusing statement to you, it basically means that a child could associate their mother with a bottle and no longer want to breast feed. Because we wanted to try breast feeding again at some point in the future, we were told to never let my wife feed her from a bottle.

I became angry, disheartened, frustrated, exhausted, and a little resentful. Although we didn’t know why my wife wasn’t recovering properly, a small piece of me wished I could lay around even just a fraction as much as she did. And I know logically it’s a stupid thing, she wasn’t feeling well; something was physically wrong with her. I shouldn’t want to be physically ill to basically escape parenting duty for awhile. But when 2 hours is the most sleep you get at one time and the total amount of sleep you’re getting every day is 4 hours if you’re lucky, you just want a break however you can get it.

And before anyone thinks, “most moms have to do all that and more themselves,” I completely understand that. But I chose my career path with a few goals in mind, and one was to have a job where I could work from home so that I could have a larger role in raising my future child. I wanted to be more involved. I wanted to share in the responsibilities of raising my child. What I did not want was to feel like the sole caregiver. And my wife had similar feelings. She will forever feel like she basically missed out on the first couple months of our daughter’s life.

Eventually, though, my wife and I both reached a breaking point. We knew we needed help and, most importantly, some sleep. We both needed a good night’s rest.

Finally, a Light In The Darkness

A doula is someone that helps pregnant women with the childbirth process. We had one for my wife to help guide us through what to expect, teach her helpful stretches, explain some of the medical things to us in plain English, and so on. As things got worse and not better, we asked if she knew how we could get some post-childbirth help and she said there were people like her that focused solely (or primarily) on the post-partum experience. We got really lucky finding two great post-partum doulas: Charlotte and Renea.

Charlotte was the first immensely good thing to happen to us after giving birth to our daughter, aside from the fact we had a healthy and beautiful baby girl now. She helped us understand that we weren’t bad parents, we weren’t doing anything wrong, and that everyone needs far more help than they typically get after becoming a parent. She would attend to our daughter during the night so that we could actually get sleep. The morning after Charlotte’s first night helping us was incredible - we both got about 6 hours of sleep and felt energized. We felt invigorated. We felt like we could be parents again.

Fast forward about a month and we eventually brought Renea into the picture to help us with sleep training, which at this early stage in our daughter’s life was really more about training us to identify the ideal schedule for her. And it really helped us to create a schedule that worked, helped us know if she was being fed enough during the day, and so on. And, perhaps most importantly, she identified that our daughter was tongue-tied.

The tongue-tie, we discovered, was ultimately the reason for the difficulty with feeding in general. Even from a bottle our daughter was feeding sloppily, more than she should have been. We would recommend all new parents find someone to check for ties (tongue- and lip-ties).

We were months into raising our daughter when we finally saw a specialist, got confirmation of the tongue-tie, got it clipped, and then tried breastfeeding again. The whole process was incredibly quick. The consultation took less than an hour, the actual procedure less than 5 minutes, and then afterward our daughter was breastfeeding properly.

It felt like a miracle. Yes, it would take weeks for our daughter to learn to properly breastfeed since she had no real experience doing that for the first few months of her life, but my wife didn’t need to be hooked up to a pump machine for a large portion of the day. She could feel that closeness to her child when it was feeding time. She was able to have that bonding experience she was being denied previously.

At the same time, it made us resent our so-called “medical professionals” more than ever. They had months to determine that our daughter was tongue-tied and remedy the situation, but none did. We were left to seek outside help. It was enraging to think that this might have been identified and fixed within the first couple of weeks after our daughter’s birth but instead we had to deal with 3 months of mental and emotional trauma trying to solve the breastfeeding “problem”.

Side Note: My wife and I aren’t saying that anyone needs to do anything in their power to breastfeed their child. It was simply something my wife wanted the choice to do and it was being denied to her. We are firm believers of fed is best. Pumped milk, formula, breastfeeding… whatever keeps your baby fed and healthy is the most important thing.

D&C: More Bad News

One of the other things we resolved around the same time as the tongue-tie was my wife’s retained placenta. And yes, it’s as bad in reality as it sounds in your head. Because our hospital had an unexpected influx of pregnant mothers the weekend we came in, most of the staff seemed to be rushing things a bit. Not a lot, but enough that we didn’t quite feel like we got the same level of attention and care we should have, or would have, received otherwise.

But let’s be honest: that’s no excuse. Where are all of the on-call doctors you could bring in? Renea, our post-partum doula and certified midwife, was sometimes called to hospitals to assist with deliveries, so why wasn’t the hospital seeking outside help now? Again, because most medical providers in the United States don’t really care if a mother dies, so long as baby it alright.

Disclaimer: If you don’t feel comfortable reading the word “placenta” for some reason, skip the next paragraph.

So what does rushing things have to do with a retained placenta? Well, first an overly simplistic definition for anyone not familiar with the placenta: it is effectively a tool that protects the fetus and assists with childbirth, created from the tissue of the mother. But once the child is out, the placenta will actually start to die; it’s no longer needed and no more blood and nutrients will be directed to it. In a perfect delivery, the placenta is flushed out of the body in its entirety. Yet it is possible to have some of the placenta remain within the body after delivery. When the body retains a portion of the placenta, it can become necrotic since it’s just dead tissue at that point. This can lead to serious complications and even death.

Once we found out about this problem, we scheduled a visit to determine how much was retained and whether we needed to surgically remove it. The doctor was saying how rare it was for this kind of problem to occur and that probably wasn’t the case with my wife. During the ultrasound he became exceptionally quiet and started taking down notes. Not surprisingly, my wife definitely had some amount of retained placenta in her and he urged us to schedule surgery ASAP, that’s how dire the situation could become if left untreated too long.

So my wife had to get a surgical procedure known as a D&C, or dilation and curettage, to remove the remaining placenta. Which she did, by the way, with no anesthetic, something the doctors said they never saw before.

Welcome to Hotel Rental Hell

Most of our problems up to this point were medical in nature. While they could have been caught sooner and our lives made easier by more expedient resolution of each issue, they (mostly) couldn’t be completely avoided. We definitely would have had to deal with most of these problems at one point or another. It is primarily the severity of each issue that could have been lessened.

Our landlords, on the other hand, chose to create an awful living situation when there was no need to. They had the option to completely prevent, or at least substantially mitigate, the suffering that we went through due to this house. Yet they didn’t.

The landlord simply bought this property without getting a proper home inspection, leaving problems for us to deal with rather than handling at least some of these issues prior to our move-in. And when we discover these issues, the landlord handles them - almost every time - in the least effective manner possible.

Seriously, Hell - It’s Hot In Here

The first major problem we ran into was that the HVAC would blow a fuse seemingly at random, though we quickly realized it would only blow a fuse when the A/C kicked in. Still, there didn’t seem to be any predictive factor to when turning the A/C on would blow a fuse.

The first time it happened was in September 2019, during my wife’s third trimester. The temperature that day was in the high-90s. Our bedroom was in the high-70s as we kept the A/C blasting for most of the afternoon trying to keep my pregnant wife comfortable. Then the A/C goes out. I checked the thermostat - off. I checked the HVAC unit - off with some blinking error light. I tried to figure out how to bring it back online, but nothing I’m trying is working, so I try finding online what the blinking error light might mean and it says “secondary fuse blown”. I reached out to the landlord and he tried finding and contacting an HVAC company to check it out ASAP.

An hour after the HVAC unit died, the room was in the mid-80s and climbing despite it being 6pm. We searched online for any stores nearby that might sell a portable A/C unit because my wife needed the room cool. It wasn’t something that we would have liked to have, it was a need for her. The only store within 20 miles of us that said they might have units in-store was Walmart. We drove over there, searched up and down the isles, asked employees, found nothing. It was after 7pm by this time and most other stores were already closed or getting ready to close. We simply drove back home dreading the sleepless night ahead of us.

Because it was so late, the landlord couldn’t get in touch with an HVAC technician until the next day, though it took a couple days after that to get someone out. They couldn’t definitively locate the issue but tried a potential fix anyway and left. Then another fuse blew shortly after that. Then another visit. And so it went for eight months. That’s right, our HVAC system did not work properly from September 2019 through April 2020.

After the second time it failed we actually took matters into our own hands, to a degree. We figured out what error the light was signaling: secondary fuse blown. Then I looked up the computer board online for a diagram, found the secondary fuse, pulled it out, took it to an auto part shop, and bought a pack of identical fuses. And it worked. We put in the new fuse and now we had our own temporary solution for whenever the HVAC died.

Of course, it was a hit-and-miss solution. Because we didn’t know why the fuse would blow, we would replace it and hope that it wouldn’t immediately blow the fuse again when it came online. Which sometimes is exactly what happened. On our worst day we had the fuse blow four times in a row before we gave up, left the thing offline, and waited until later in the day to try turning it back online. And even after waiting for hours while the bedroom grew unbearably hot, it blew two more fuses that evening before we gave up and just left the thing offline until the next day.

Did the landlord care that my pregnant wife had to suffer intermittent A/C failures through her third, and roughest, trimester? No. After our child was born, did the landlord care that overheating during sleep increases the risk of SIDS? No. Did the landlord care that we were having to constantly fix the HVAC unit ourselves? No. Though the landlord did offer at one point to pay for the fuses, obviously that wasn’t the issue. I didn’t need to be paid $50 in fuses, I needed the HVAC to work.

The landlord actually told us, explicitly, that they believe they did more than their fair share, going above and beyond for a problem that was out of their control and which even the technicians couldn’t solve. Which is utter crap. As someone that previously owned a home, if a technician comes out to fix a problem but can’t determine what that problem is, you either get them to stay longer and find something to fix or you replace it. And if the “fixes” aren’t fixing it, then you have no other option: replace it. You cannot leave something broken for 8 months and somehow claim that you did your legal duty to keeping the property maintained.

But they aren’t homeowners, not for this specific home anyway. They have a different home they live in. In the perspective of this property, they are simply property owners. They are investors. They don’t care if my wife and child are sacrificed in their pursuit of profit.

Let’s Add a Global Pandemic

As though everything up to this point hadn’t been stressful enough, and just as things were seeming to get better, we had a global pandemic. Thanks covid-19.

With the HVAC problems going on for about 5 months at this point, we felt we should probably find alternative housing. But that was right before covid-19 started picking up. In February, my wife and I knew that covid-19 was only going to get worse in the coming months and that moving soon. Or, to be more precise, searching for a new rental wasn’t going to be viable in the upcoming months.

And to top things off, the HVAC seemed to finally have received enough stab-in-the-dark “fixes” to finally have prevented fuses from blowing. That was about a month prior to the end of our original rental period. With the largest issue fixed, we figured that the situation could be a lot worse than what we were currently experiencing, so we decided to just renew the lease for another year. Even if the pandemic calmed down during the summer or autumn months, we probably wouldn’t be ready to risk our daughter’s health searching for new rentals until early 2021 at the soonest.

And the key word there is rentals. Because a different opportunity came along that we simply couldn’t pass up even during a global pandemic…

We Bought a House!

Before we go on, let’s roll back the clock briefly. In mid-2019, when we were looking for rentals in Southern California, we found a community of new-construction homes being built that we thought we be a great fit for us. However, we wanted a single-family detached house if we were going to buy. We already owned a condo unit and knew we didn’t want to share features of our house with others; we wanted full control over our home. However, the single-family detached homes being built were relatively expensive at the time and definitely more square footage than we needed. And so we passed on them to instead rent.

Fast forward to just two weeks after our extended rental period started. We received an email about a new set of single-family detached homes that was perfectly sized for us. It was our “Goldilocks” housing moment. We knew we had to pursue this further. A new-construction home in a community with great amenities (for use after covid-19 gets under control), a house that we can own and maintain ourselves, a house that we could live in for decades to come. This would be our daughter’s house that she’ll grow up in, have fond memories of, be safe and well cared for in.

So a few days later we were taking virtual tours and seeking a loan pre-approval. And we did it! A little more than two more weeks after we read that email, we received confirmation that our loan was approved and our reservation bid was accepted. We were now home owners again! Or rather, would eventually be home owners. You know, once the house was built. That’s the one problem with some of the new-construction properties - they still need to be built!

The developer said it takes up to 6 months to complete construction of a house, although most homes they had built in the community were available for move-in within roughly 5 months. That meant we would need to remain in our rental for at least 5 more months. On one hand, it was awful. On the other, it was rather fortuitous - mostly for the landlord.

Although we wanted out of this awful situation, we figured that a long move-out period would benefit both parties. We could take our time organizing our stuff, boxing up non-essentials, moving things into storage, etc. And it gave the landlord plenty of time to prepare for, market, and select a replacement tenant. We even offered to move out before our house was expected to be built, just to make it easier for them to find a replacement tenant sooner.

But after we told the landlord of the good news, and gave them the 6 months of advance notice, along with the offer to leave early, and going even further by offering to let them keep the entire deposit to help offset marketing costs associated with finding a replacement, the response was: “guess you shouldn’t have signed that lease extension, huh?”

Yes, thank you landlord, what great insight. It’s not like the opportunity came after the extended lease period began. It’s not like covid-19 had any impact on our housing situation. It’s not as though you’re failing to keep your property maintained and making our lives more difficult than they already are. So thank you for that wonderfully insightful and mature response.

It was at that point my wife and I understood that the landlord would not make a reasonable attempt to replace us and would try to hold us responsible for continued rent payments even after we moved into our new house.

Our Landlord Throws a Tantrum

During pregnancy and shortly after our daughter’s birth, we were very preoccupied in our lives. We didn’t have the time, nor the energy, nor general wherewithal to bring every little problem to our landlord for the first year in the property. And let’s not forget that we already were constantly engaging with the landlord about one single issue, the constant failing of the HVAC, so we didn’t even want to bother with other issues until this very serious problem was fixed.

Once our daughter started getting to the point where she didn’t require constant attention, and once the HVAC issue was no longer the ever-present dread hanging over our tenancy, we began to bring up the other issues that the property was exhibiting. Eventually, our landlord claimed we were sending too many “demands and communications” and that we could only communicate through our attorneys going forward.

This is clearly a tactic designed to make it more difficult for us. First, they want more hoops for us to jump through to dissuade us from hounding the landlord about every little problem. Second, they want to have their own attorney record everything we send over, in addition to the landlord’s response, to build documentation that shows how great the landlord is and how unreasonable we are. Now I don’t know if the landlord is paying their attorney to do this communication stuff on his behalf, but ours isn’t charging us anything to forward emails back and forth, so the landlord might think he’s putting financial pressure on us by doing this but he isn’t.

Ultimately, though, I think this tactic will work against the landlord in the end. For example, when we told the landlord that one of the CO (carbon monoxide) alarms had reached the end of its lifespan and needed to be replaced, the attorney responded that it was unlikely the CO alarm was dying and that it probably just needed to have the batteries changed. They said that the landlord just had all of the smoke detectors and CO alarms “newly installed” before renting the property.

Unfortunately for them, I’m not an idiot. I had already taken a picture of the manufacturing information from the inside of the unit, checked what the beeping noise it was making meant, and learned that the unit was discontinued in 2013 and had an effective lifespan of about 7 years. The unit itself also had the manufacturing date printed on the inside: November 2012. So now we have proof that the landlord is a liar, objectively, and that he is actively trying to avoid attending to his legal obligations.

Getting an Attorney

We decided to talk to an attorney about the situation. Ultimately, landlords have very few responsibilities to the tenant or the property. So long as the property is maintained to ridiculously low standards, with the only real requirement being a handful of “tenantability” features, there’s very little power given to the tenant. So although a landlord can’t let your water heater remain broken for weeks on end, if there’s a hole in the wall that needs patching it’s not considered an urgent fix (assuming the tenant didn’t create the issue).

We put forward our issues with the property, had the attorney send a letter telling them we wanted an official change of our lease end date, and the landlord got their own attorney to send back a response saying how the landlord was amazing, the tenant is exaggerating everything greatly, and that we basically have no legal case so shut up and keep paying rent until your landlord tells you that you can stop.

After that, our attorney said “market the property to find a replacement tenant.” Basically, we needed to prove that we could find people willing to take over our lease and allow the landlord to reasonably avoid a loss of rent from our desired breach of the lease. We’ll get to why that’s important in one moment.

So we told the landlord what we were planning to do. 10 days later we have the property listed for rent on Zillow, clearly stating that this would be to take over an existing lease and that there might not be a chance to renew the lease once the time was up. We also stated that due to covid-19 we were only doing virtual tours of the property. Despite that, we received 40 individuals asking to virtually tour the property and/or seeking rental applications. I was blown away by how much activity the property was generating with so little effort.

Despite generating a huge amount of interest in less than 48 hours, the landlord had their lawyer send a Cease & Desist letter. Instead of responding to our email 12 days earlier and saying “I do not permit you to market this property”, they let us move ahead with the plan we told them about and then tried to make it seem like we had done something illegal behind their back.

One of the only good things to come from that event, however, is that the landlord finally put in writing when they definitively would start looking for a replacement tenant themselves. They are still choosing to waste the first 3 months of 6-month construction period of our new home doing nothing, but at least they’ve committed to a general timeline. And we’ve proven, with our own efforts, that rental loss from our intended early exit of the lease can be reasonably avoided.

Gray-Area Legality

Unfortunately, the laws surrounding tenants and landlords is a little vague for key sections that protect the tenant. However, there are two key laws we’re banking on for our argument, although our attorney might dig up more if we have to go to court over this.

California Civil Code 1951.2 specifically deals with the breach of a leasing agreement. The lessor (i.e. the landlord) can demand unpaid rent for the time between the breach and the natural end of the lease, unless “the lessee (i.e. the tenant) proves [rental loss] could be reasonably avoided.”

That’s a little wordy so let me break it down. If we moved out of the rental, moved into our new home, stopped paying rent, and moved on with our lives, then that would be a breach in our leasing agreement. The landlord has a legal right to demand, and collect on, unpaid rent between the time we left and whenever our lease would have normally ended. Unless we can prove that the situation could have been reasonably avoided.

The gray area here is what would be considered “reasonable.” Above I mentioned that our own marketing efforts to find a replacement tenant show that rental loss can be reasonably avoided. While I believe that, and while I would hope any other reasonable individual would believe so as well, there’s no set standard to what constitutes “reasonably avoided.” Finding 40 potential replacement tenants might not be reasonable. However, I’m hoping that the landlord’s Cease & Desist shows that they were unwilling to make a reasonable attempt on their end to pursue all avenues of avoiding rental loss.

Additionally, there’s California Civil Code 1941.1, which requires landlords to maintain a specific set of “tenantability” features to the property. If any of the items listed there are “broken” then they have, according to Civil Code 1942, typically 30 days to fix the problem. One of the key features that renders a unit untenantable is “heating facilities.” In our case, we would argue this includes the obvious HVAC unit that was faulty for 8 months and also the less-obvious problem of missing insulation in the attic.

However, since HVAC and insulation aren’t specifically named in the law, it’s again a gray area that is left up to the courts to decide ultimately what falls under those categories.

Regardless, we’re confident that we have a better-than-50/50 chance to win a lawsuit against the landlord if need be. We would rather it not come to that, but we feel we have enough evidence to make a strong case about why this property is not being well-maintained and how the landlord is deliberately trying to keep us here from unknown reasons despite having the opportunity to reasonably avoid rental loss.

Unfortunately, even though we’re confident we can win…

(Lack of) Money Is The Root Of All Problems

Moving costs money. Childbirth costs money. Surgery costs money. A baby costs a lot of money. The down payment on a home costs a lot of money. And, of course, a lawsuit can cost a ton of money.

Our primary concern at this moment is having enough money to pay for a potential lawsuit after all the other expenses we’ve had to take on this year, most of which were not optional. Hospital fees for childbirth, hospital fees for the D&C, ER fees for my wife’s dehydration, surgery for our daughter’s tongue-tie… the list of expenses, ranging anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, seems to run on indefinitely.

The attorney has advised us that in the event of a lawsuit, the retainer fee is $5,000. Even if we include language in our lawsuit that forces the landlord to pay our legal fees if we win, we still need to pay the retainer fee up-front and possibly additional costs that we can only recoup after the conclusion of the case.

We would like to know we could afford such a deposit, if necessary, and without worrying about having anything left in our savings. Part of the preparation is a GoFundMe. Anything contributed helps us immensely. Every dollar helps ease our burden just a little and is greatly appreciated.

If You Made It This Far…

I want to thank you for reading this. Honestly. It was a slog but you stuck with it. Though, trust me, it’s been a long slog living through all of this.

If you not only made it this far but also are contributing to the GoFundMe campaign, I want to doubly thank you. Words alone can’t quantify how much your generosity means to us during this time in our lives. If you aren’t contributing though, no hard feelings, I’m just happy that you gave me enough of your time to actually read all of this.

If you aren’t contributing and you didn’t read everything - you just scrolled to the bottom of this post - then what honestly are you doing? I gave you a TL;DR at the top, there’s no need to scroll all the way down here. Go back, read the short version, I won’t hold it against you. I’m not even sure I would read my own post if I didn’t have to proofread it, so I certainly won’t be calling you out for wanting something more concise.

Once more, thank you everyone who read this. I wish you all the best in these difficult times. As a great song once said, there’s a light in the darkness of everybody’s life. If you haven’t found it already just keep searching, stay strong, you’ll find it eventually.