My husband and I recently purchased a home near my son’s school in Fullerton, California. We were aware that housing prices were going up in our area and were concerned the interest rates were also going to begin to rise further reducing our purchasing options. Our rental lease was coming due at the end of April so we began to look for a house in early December. The process was arduous, at best. We looked at a lot of homes, but due to our extended family living situation (my father lives with us), we needed a single story with enough space to accommodate the needs of different generations, as well as allowing for some privacy. Our landlord also had a stipulation in our lease that unless we provided written notice over 30 days prior to the lease expiration, the lease would automatically renew for another year on the same terms. We were caught by that clause last year when we were initially going to look for a house. To ensure that we did not become snared into another one-year lease, I sent the landlord a letter in January requesting that at the end of this lease term we switch to a month-to-month tenancy.
In February, my husband and I found a house and put in a competitive offer. The financing was difficult, the appraisal came in too low, and there were some serious repair issues added to the mix. Our escrow was scheduled to close at the end of February, but there were so many obstacles my husband and I were uncertain the sale was going to go through successfully. Rather than unnecessarily upset, our landlord we chose to wait until the purchase of our home was finalized, knowing full well that we would still be responsible for the remainder of the lease term if the sale went through. At the same time, we also did not complete the paperwork for switching to a month-to-month tenancy. Ultimately, we were able to negotiate with the previous owners to reduce the price in lieu of the repairs to be completed on the house, and the financing finally went through. We were able to move out at the end of February.
I first contacted our landlord informally by telephone to advise her that we had moved out, but that we were committed to paying for the remainder of our lease term. I politely inquired if she would consider using our security deposit for April’s rent (over a month away at the time) because she would have already ensured the property was well cared for, and hopefully, placed a new tenant in the rental by that time. The landlord was very upset! In fact, she immediately sent her husband over to the rental to inspect the property. My husband and father were at the rental removing debris and cleaning up when he arrived and although he made a few statements regarding cleaning up the rental, there was no indication of how upset his wife was over our moving out.
I followed up the telephone notice with formal written notice because I was concerned about the written notice clause in the lease. The landlord responded by sending me a very negative letter about leaving the rental in the “same condition as when originally rented,” as well as making remarks about association complaints. I was flabbergasted! My husband and I had paid our rent on time every single month as an automatic payment through our bank. We had a weekly cleaning person care for the floors and bathrooms so there was not so much as a ring in a toilet. The only complaint ever made was with respect to our screen door being dented, which we took down prior to moving. The tone of her letter was offensive and caused me to seriously question what I had considered an amicable landlord/tenant relationship.
My husband met with the landlord because I was too upset over the letter, and was certain to lose my temper. I felt offended and upset that the landlord seemed to believe we were poor tenants. The landlord told my husband that we had to have the rental and floors professionally cleaned to be in the same condition as when originally rent. In California, this is not the case. Although the rental needs to be as clean as when rented, after three years of normal wear and tear, professional cleaning of carpets and tile grout is up to the landlord. However, in an effort to appease the landlord, my husband and I arranged to have the rental professionally cleaned by a service. Imagine my surprise when not only did that not appease the landlord, she was upset we would not authorize the floors to be cleaned for an additional $400.00. When my husband told her that we were under the impression that deep cleaning the floors was not our legal obligation, she threatened us with a suit involving their well renowned legal relative. Further, the landlord besmirched my character to my husband inferring my cowardice because I did not meet with her myself for the walk through appointments, in spite of my being at work during one appointment and attending to academic responsibilities during another.
My options at that point were to continue fruitless discussions with the landlord or allow the situation to evolve on its own and see what happens. My son suggested I call the landlord and yell at her, but I explained to him that not only would that not be reflective of our values, but also it would ultimately not be helpful to the situation. Our best recourse was and is to let the situation evolve. We paid our rent for March and will pay it for April, unless notified the landlord has placed another tenant in the property. I fully expect that on the 21st day of May I will receive a check shorting us for several hundred dollars for cleaning or other such expenses. At that point, my husband and I will file small claims paperwork and take our photographs and monetary receipts with us to prove our point, and hopefully, the Judge will order the landlord to return the remainder of our security deposit.
Sense of Self
This personal event has affected my sense of self on all three levels: reflexive consciousness, interpersonal being, and executive function. Reflexive consciousness refers to the experience in which the person is aware of self, whereas interpersonal being refers to the self in relation to others, and executive function refers to the self as “an entity that makes choices and decisions, initiates action, and takes responsibility” (Baumeister, 1998, p. 682).
A self-schema is defined as “a cognitive generalization about the self, derived from past experience, that organizes and guides the processing of self-related information contained in the individual’s social experiences” (Markus, Smith, & Moreland, 1985, p. 1495). Accordingly, my past landlord/tenant relationships and experiences have fully integrated into my self-schema allowing me some guidance in how to behave in successful termination of these types of relationships. In fact, I have rented at least six properties over the last 20 years and none of these experiences resulted in loss of a security deposit, hostile relations with the landlord, or other interpersonal difficulties.
According to Baumeister (1998), “people typically believe they are superior to the average person or to various other targets, and so when they compare themselves to other people (or an abstract average) they often feel quite good about themselves” (p. 685). As a case in point, my boss is a lawyer and a landlord who enjoys extolling me with stories relating to his tenants not paying their rent on time, and their myriad excuses for this deficiency. Additionally, my sister has left several rentals in complete disarray, paid her rent late and/or been served with 3-Day Notices to Pay or Quit. In comparison to this salient information and/or individuals, it was my perception that I was a good tenant. My perception could also have been influenced by the false consensus effect, whereby people assume others “feel, think, or behave as they do” (Markus et al., 1985, p. 1495).
Therefore, my sense of self was encroached upon by the landlord’s decidedly negative reaction resulting in diminishment of my self-esteem as relating specifically to the domain of being a tenant. I was put in the position of evaluating my understanding of my self-concept, as I understood it. Was I a good tenant? Was I being fair in providing timely notice? Did I leave the rental in an appropriately clean condition?
“People feel bad when they fall short of their standards, and so they are motivated to do either of two things: improve so as to meet the standard, or escape from the aversive state of self-awareness” (Baumeister, 1998, p. 685). In this particular situation, there was no way to successfully improve the landlord’s reaction, even if I paid the additional monies to have the floors professionally cleaned. Therefore, in an effort to deal with the negativity directed towards my sense of self (character) and risk further reduction in self-esteem, I chose to let my husband deal one-on-one with the landlord during the meetings. It is interesting to note, my choice not to fling mud or allow the situation to further devolve, is in line with my self-concept of being a reasonable and just individual. “When basic values are involved, self-awareness seems to increase people’s tendency to live up to their positive attitudes…that moral and virtuous behavior seems to be increased by self-awareness” (Baumeister, 1998, p. 686).
According to Baumeister (1998), people have three primary motives relating to self-awareness and self-knowledge: appraisal, self-enhancement, and consistency. The appraisal motive refers to people seeking accurate feedback in relation to their “abilities, opinions, and traits” (p. 689). The self-enhancement motive refers to people’s desire to receive positive feedback about themselves. The consistency motive refers to people’s desire to receive feedback that is consistent with their own beliefs about themselves.
In discussing my landlord/tenant event with others such as my husband, father, boss, and sister, I sought and received positive feedback regarding my behavior being reasonable and the landlord’s behavior being unreasonable. My seeking this feedback would seem to be jointly motivated by self-enhancement and consistency motivations. I believe I am a reasonable and just individual and thus behaved accordingly. At first, my self-esteem took a beating, but after discussing the situation with others (interpersonally), their feedback helped me feel better and more favorably about the way I handled the situation. Moreover, in past experiences I have learned it is more important to behave consistently with my values and beliefs because then my self-esteem is more easily protected. When I have taken the easier route or behaved inconsistently with my core values, I tended to experience guilt and/or regret that later was far worse.
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