NYRican in LA: The Difference Between Renting and Owning Is a Hell of a Lot More Money

PHOTO:  The residents of Casa MonteMala in Boyle Heights/City Terrace.Maegan Ortiz
The residents of Casa MonteMala in Boyle Heights/City Terrace.

Back in Corona, Queens, whenever there was a problem in casa Mala (read: our small, one-bedroom apartment), I would call on my landlords. The non-English-dominant couple weren't the fastest in taking care of things, like the leak that dripped over and onto my bed each and every single time it rained, but I couldn't complain too much. Sure the hot water was unreliable, but my rent was usually behind and the couple was patient and understanding with my paying in installments.

When the apartment was broken into and ransacked, the landlord installed lovely metal gates on my windows that sure as hell weren't pretty but they made me feel a little safer and meant I didn't have to sleep with a knife under my pillow. I dealt with the usual NYC fare of roaches and mice but nothing too awful. Even in my mom's co-op, where I mostly grew up, there was a go-to person, the super, whom we could count on to handle a clogged sink or even install something if we slipped him some cash. When you don't own the place, you don't have to fix it when it breaks. That's someone else's job.

I'll admit I never really fantasized about having a house until I had my own kids. A house always seemed financially out of reach and a hell of a lot of work. But wouldn't it be nice for my kids to have outdoor space to play and not have to worry about making too much noise? When I had my first daughter, the downstairs neighbor would complain that the then-one-year-old was "walking too hard." Wouldn't it be nice to be able to barbecue and invite friends over? Hell, maybe I would even have a little garden where I could grow herbs, fruits and vegetables. I tried once to grow tomatoes outside my gated window in Corona, and all the stray cats would piss in my soil.

Here on the Boyle Heights/City Terrace border, I don't exactly own the house I live in. My pareja does. He bought it for all of us to live in together. Months before I made the big cross country move here, he would go to open houses and send me pictures and videos of places he saw and considered for our new blended familia. When he showed me the video of what is now Casa MonteMala, it felt right. It was renovated, within our price range, and had an amazing yard with fruit trees. But months after we were moved in and somewhat settled, my pareja and I started noticing some troubling things.

You couldn't run the dishwasher and the coffeemaker, the toaster oven and the microwave, or any combination of kitchen appliances at the same time without tripping one of the circuits and losing power in the kitchen completely. This also meant losing Internet because somehow the wireless router was connected to that circuit as well.

Then there was the scratching in the wall. Did one of the many neighborhood cats get into the crawl space under the house? Did we have mice--or worse, rats?

There are also the termites. None in the actual house it seems, but rather they are slowly eating away the outdoor wooden patio shade. The telltale sign of termite poop--little wood pellets--gave us yet another hint that everything was not on the up-and-up when it came to the people who sold my pareja the house.

The previous owners weren't really owners at all. They were house flippers who bought the hood property mad cheap and did minor polishing to sell the house for a profit. In the end, the bargain is costing my pareja and I a lot of money, and maybe even more in patience.

The kitchen's circuit problems, it turned out, were due to lazy wiring. The rewiring job cost nearly $2,000, took almost a week and left holes in the kitchen walls and master-bedroom closet.

The noise in the walls was rats, many of them. "It's really bad," two separate exterminators told me. Not wanting to spend $500 to $1,000 more, my pareja and kids tried to poison the rats out--which apparently didn't work, so back to the wallet.

The drywood termites still live, and crap. In the closing papers, the house flippers allegedly paid more than $1,000 to have the house treated, but other exterminators told me that the treatment wasn't applied given the size of the infestation. Currently there is a complaint pending with the State of California Structural Pest Control Board and a $2,000 estimate for fumigation.

Don't get me wrong. I love sitting in the warm Southern California sun, and that my front porch and yard are my office. The lemon tree is blossoming, hummingbirds visit daily and the loquats are ripening. But there is no super to handle stuff. It's my paraja and I and our bank accounts.

Follow Maegan "Mamita Mala" Ortiz as she chronicles her adventures as a Nuyorican in LA, including trying to find Puerto Rican food among Mexican and Asian cuisine, her young daughter asking if she can be Chicana when she growns up, being grateful for not having to smell her vecinos, her musings on different Spanglish accents and slang, and the story of how the self-proclaimed original "Twitterputa" fell in love and ended up here in the first place.