A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from my landlord informing me I have 60 days to vacate my apartment, a one-bedroom that comprises the upstairs of a house split into 3 rental units. Apparently Montgomery County is forcing him to convert the building to a single family dwelling. I had not envisioned spending the next 60 days dealing with a move (which makes most people's list of top 5 stressful life experiences), but I have now accepted the reality of packing boxes and filling out change of address forms and feel lucky to have found a new place to live in this tight rental market. Next month I will be moving to an apartment a half mile away in a slightly scruffy building nestled amongst bungalows and ethiopian/latin shops and restaurants. I am in the same zipcode, but I think real estate agents refer to my new neighborhood as "North Takoma."
I had no reason to think I had been living in an illegal apartment all this time--the county has inspected the residence at least twice in the five years I have lived there. I decided to call Montgomery County for an explanation as to why I was suddenly being uprooted. The tennant-friendly field supervisor I spoke with explained that the house has *always* been in violation of zoning, but that this was not discovered sooner because of a miscoding during the last rental inspection. Having too many kitchens in the house raises safety concerns.
But here's the disturbing part. According to the field supervisor, this situation is quite common because landlords routinely do cheap conversions to maximize rental profits. However it usually goes unnoticed until SOMEONE IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD COMPLAINS. The four of us who live in this building are all tax-paying, law abiding, considerate folks. But for some reason one of our petty bourgeois neighbors took it upon themselves to notify the county that we had too many people in the house. I would hazard a guess they were jealous of our parking permits.
I was here before AFI and the Silver Sprung chain store theme park. I have reveled in this area's diversity, particularly the beef jerky/cannabis/trash fragrance near the intersection of Thayer Avenue and Georgia. But I knew it was the beginning of the end of affordable rental housing near downtown Silver Spring back in 2002 when two yuppies accompanied by their scowling infant were looking at the overpriced carriage house for sale down the street and asking me questions about the neighborhood. To give you a sense of the ruling demographic these days, check out this tongue-in-cheek yet sticker-shock inducing blog post on ThayerAvenue.com extolling the virtues of $900 strollers (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Like parasites that love their host to death, gentrifyers can unintentionally destroy a neighborhood's character. And in this case they've made me feel like riff raff. But I am moving on to a better place and hold no hard feelings.