How to Decode CraigsList ‘Housing Wanted’

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Looking for housing in the Bay Area combines the worst elements of both job hunting and dating. Sure, there’s the time commitment, but also the stress of having to present yourself as not only financially reliable but also likeable. Every interaction with a potential roommate or landlord feels like the verbal foreplay of a blind date. The housing ads and conversations threaded with pitfalls and traps to catch you out and prove you are not worthy of this apartment/room/sublet.

“Would you want to live in a house where beer and wine could be kept in the fridge?” One potential landlord asked.

Yes, I thought. Because that’s normal. He might as well have asked if I would like to live in a house with a shower.

But no one would ask about alcohol unless they thought it could be a problem. Either theirs or mine. So is the landlord the alcoholic? Or does he think that I might be? Or maybe he’s a teetotaler? I gave an answer which I figured would be suitable to any circumstance, that I usually go out than drink at home.

“Oh, really?” he said. “I like a glass of wine at the end of the day.”

Then why couldn’t he just say that? What kind of mind games was this guy playing???

“Were you raised with religion?” he continued.

I don’t believe in God the way some people don’t believe in tax-and-spend government. I find the policy infantalizing. Still he had me out, and regardless of discomfort, I would answer. I was a hermit crab fighting for a shell, and he happened to be the owner of a nice shell that might just fit. So I told him. I don’t remember how many beads are in a rosary, or the difference between a cardinal and a bishop, but yeah, there’d been church every Sunday till I reached the age of reason.

“And would you say your parents brought you up in a good Catholic fashion?”

At this point I called it quits. The guy hadn’t told me anything about square footage, utility costs, his general schedule, food allergies, sanitary habits, or even the address. Maybe he was catfishing me by telephone, or maybe there was actually a place for rent out there, but I was looking for an apartment, not a therapist.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t think this is going to work.”

“I’m just trying to get a sense of you,” he said. “I haven’t made you answer anything you didn’t want to.”

Of course he was right. But when you’re staying on couches by the grace of friends, you become a lot more willing to answer unnecessary, even prying questions because you’d rather have a home. Decoding the intent of prospective landlords and roommates can be nearly as fraught an exercise in social nuance as Thanksgiving dinner at the in-laws. You just want to come out the other side with some turkey on your plate, and not have to jump through the hoops of too many weirdos to get it.

Craigslist does not allow for blatant discrimination in its advertising. That’s a good thing. I’d rather not be reminded of all the bigots at large in the world. Though it might make it easier to weed out the ads for places that are not worth my time if the posters could just say what’s on their minds instead of making the readers go the long way round. Anyone on the house hunt has to learn how to translate good ol’ fashioned Bay Area passive-aggression into plain speech.

No overnight visitors please = I don’t like the idea of other people having sex

Must be easy-going, gun, and open-minded = I will want to have sex with you

Scent-free home = I don’t believe in deodorant

Perfect for full time students and busy professionals = room is actually a closet

Passionate, progressive household seeks new member for intentional community = we accept all people who think exactly like us

Must be OK with cat in your room = Fuck you! You can’t kick out Sprinkles! He’s the master tenant!
Though I think my absolute favorite for pre-determined hoop-jumping was stated in an advert for a Berkeley collective: “Please send us a detailed email explaining your motivations for joining our house.”

I can’t speak for everyone, but I think most of us just need a goddamn roof.

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