Being a landlord is tough. We've owned a rental for a dozen years now. Each time we need to rent it out, it's incredibly stressful. Will the people we pick take care of our house? Will they be good to the neighbors? Will they pay their rent on time?
And since our rental is in the same neighborhood where we live, it adds another dimension of stress. They will be our neighbors. Their neighbors will be our neighbors. If there are problems, we will hear about it and feel obligated to try to smooth things out. The house is about two blocks away. We all go to the same church.
Whenever it comes available I have neighbors and friends asking that we pick good church members who will add to our ward (parish). Or requesting that we choose someone with young kids so their kids can have new friends to play with. Or any of a number of other criteria.
I'm not going to lie. My two biggest concerns are whether or not they will take care of our house and if they will pay their rent on time. I want good people who aren't going to cause headaches for the neighborhood, and thereby for me, but that's just bonus.
A while back we had a sweet, young woman renting from us. She'd had a rough life and was working to get back on her feet. She was on state housing, so we knew we'd get our money. We liked her. And we've often used our rental as a way to help people get back on their feet. We sometimes rent to people others turn down. We work with someone when they lose their job. We believe we are blessed and feel honored that we can help people find a jumping off point.
While this girl was sweet and good with our house, her brother wasn't. He manipulated his way into her house, our house, and proceeded to use it for ill. (We later found out he was dealing drugs from there.) It came to a point that we needed to ask her to leave. But that's a tricky thing. We wanted to do it kindly, partly for her and partly so the house wouldn't get trashed. I knew she was in a difficult place and was unsure how to handle it. I prayed and prayed for about a week seeking direction.
Then one day my husband called. Our close family friends were getting kicked out of their place. Would I consider renting to them?
I run the rental. The choice was left up to me. And he knows I generally have a rule about not renting to family or friends because I worry about what it will do to our relationship. But this time was different. This time felt like an answer to prayer. I could explain to our renter that we couldn't renew her contract because we had friends who needed our house. Turns out, she was looking for a way out. It worked out perfectly on both ends. (Although her brother and his friends did trash the house the weekend before she moved out, while she was out of town.)
There was just one possible problem. This close family friend is a registered sex offender. In fact, that's why they were being kicked out of their rental. A neighbor had found out and complained to the landlord. And that was that.
But it still felt right to offer them our house.
We'd known these friends since long before his crime. He made a horrible, stupid mistake. He did an awful thing. It was quickly reported and he was arrested almost immediately. He served five years in prison. We watched his family try to rebuild. Try to put their lives back together. Try to get past the shame, knowing that at any time someone might find out what their dad had done, what her husband had done. He had lots of therapy while in prison. He worked hard to change who he was. They worked hard as a family.
Over the years afterward we watched as things would go well for a while and then someone would find out. Maybe the kids would need to switch schools because of the unkind things people were saying. Maybe they would get in fights due to the verbal bullying that followed. Maybe they would be treated as second class citizens by their neighbors and fellow ward members, those who called themselves Christians.
I understand the fear. I was a victim of sexual assault. More than once. And I am a mother who has always worried about this happening to my children.
But I also believe in the power to change. I believe in redemption. I believe in second chances. And I believe we must constantly watch and protect our kids because most sexual predators are not labelled because they've never been caught.
After a bit more prayer, I decided we should offer them our house. I knew there was potential for uproar. I tend to be proactive when I can so I went to those I thought would be most affected and let them know in advance that he would be coming.
I have a few friends in the neighborhood that I knew had been victims of sexual assault. I started with them. They thanked me for the warning but said they just kind of treat everyone like they're a possible predator, so they weren't too worried. They're always careful. I went to the immediate neighbors of our rental and warned them. They thanked me, asked some questions, and said they trusted my judgment and would see how things went. I didn't go to everyone in the neighborhood. I didn't want to sour the neighborhood completely against our friends before they even got there. But I knew it would be found out eventually and wanted to head it off if I could.
I was confronted by a couple of neighbors who had great concerns. One because of a daycare she runs from her home. How would this affect her business? The other because she'd been the victim of sexual assault and it still had great power over her. They asked if I would meet with them so they could express their concerns. I agreed. I'm afraid we had a different idea of what the meeting was for. I expected to answer their questions and try to alleviate some of their fears. They were hoping to convince me to change my mind. The meeting took about an hour. There were a lot of tears. There was, "How can you look at him and not see the man who assaulted you?" And there was anger.
I expressed my feeling that this was an answer to my prayers. How could I ever ask God for help again if I turned away from this help just because it was hard? I was told by one of these women that whatever voices I was listening to they were definitely not of God. It was tough.
A few days later I was contacted by our bishop (pastor). He wanted to express his concern that it could tear our ward apart. He was also concerned for the well being of this neighbor who was in such a bad way over it all. I listened and cried. But I told him it felt right in my heart. I told him I thought he was underestimating the people in our ward. And I told him that even if every member of the ward turned against me, I couldn't ignore an answer to my prayer. It was more important to me that God approved than that my neighbors did. I apologized for the extra stress this was likely to cause him. He said not to worry about it. He hugged me and told me he believed in me and appreciated my conviction. He said we'd get through it.
And we did.
Most of the neighborhood was incredibly kind to them. They were welcomed and befriended. They were not judged for anything in their past. They made friends here.
The one neighbor never did get beyond it. She called the police on them multiple times with nuisance complaints. None of these ever came to anything except visits from policemen checking things out. Our renters were kind and understanding about this. They did their best to keep their distance from her.
These friends who rented from us have since moved on. They still struggle to find acceptance. The label of sex offender will be forever upon him (and will affect her and their family). At any time someone may find out and then decide to make life even more difficult for them. I'm glad they had their time with us. I'm glad they felt accepted by many for at least a short time.
The one neighbor who told me I was of Satan still hasn't forgiven me. She still won't look at me if we find ourselves in the same place. She has never talked to me again. And that's okay. She has great pain and fear inside her still. She has not had the therapy and healing that I've had. Her life is difficult. If she needs to see me as her enemy, I can honor that. I have offered many prayers in her behalf.
But I know renting to our friends was the right thing to do. Helping people get a fresh start is my favorite way to use our rental. And all of this was validated when their closest neighbor came to me after they'd left and said, "Thank you for teaching us a lesson in compassion. They were wonderful neighbors."
End of lesson.