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Sold on joys of renting

A devoted apartment dweller finds he has all the pleasures of home, with none of the pain of ownership.

October 13, 2002|Paul L. Martin | Special to The Times

I am a die-hard apartment dweller, one of those mythological beasts thought not to exist in Southern California.

A Los Angeles native, I was raised in a single-family home in the San Fernando Valley. The five of us shared three bedrooms and one bathroom, and it always seemed as if the walls were either closing in or about to explode.

My father made all the repairs on the property while working eight to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, as a machinist.

It was my parents' dream, the American dream, to own their own home. But they exhausted themselves trying to make the necessary repairs over the years and keep the place up.

This is not my dream.

I left home more than 15 years ago for a series of apartments, each one bigger and more luxurious than the home where I grew up.

My current apartment home has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. I have a view of a boulevard, central air-conditioning and a balcony suitable for barbecuing and watching the sun set.

It is also safe and secure, with a double-deadbolt heavy front door, underground parking, remote-controlled access and a security door in front.

I call the building manager when the garbage disposal goes out or the compressor on the A/C blows up. I do not pay a dime.

All the appliances are electric, but I do not have to pay for gas or water. I do not mow the lawn, worry about roof leaks or dread the bill to replace old pipes.

The most I have done over the years is paint the interior walls, and then the manager bought the paint, brushes, rollers and dropcloths. I supplied the manpower because I wanted to have the experience of painting my own home. It was my choice.

Sure, I would love to have a dog, a fireplace and a washer and dryer in the apartment, but I do have a clean communal laundry room on the first floor, and pets and a fireplace are not necessities. I can have a cat if I desire, and candles are just as romantic as a fireplace.

Should I ever want these things, I can easily find another apartment with the amenities I need. I give 30 days' notice and move out. I do not have to worry about selling my old residence before moving to a new address.

Friends and family do not understand my desire to live forever in an apartment. "You're throwing away money on rent when you could be building equity," one told me. "You don't have to live with someone on the other side of the wall," another offered. "It's not yours," a relative sniffed.

Yes, it is mine. This is my home, and I have never felt, even for an instant, that it was not. I live here, I am comfortable here, more so than I have been anywhere else. And that is all that matters to me.

Assurances that this is my home do not assuage the skepticism of my family and friends. They cannot understand how I could be happy in an apartment. Some of them have lived in apartments before, but only to save money to buy a house. My parents finally admitted my apartment was bigger than their house, but I have seen people go more willingly to the dentist's chair.

I have had some precious memories in my apartment, events small and large that I don't think I would have experienced the same way in a house. I remember my first Christmas tree, shining like a beacon in the second-floor window of my first apartment. The huge party we threw for my niece's christening. Fifty people attended, enjoying themselves in every room of the apartment, and outdoors as well, sitting around the pool in the cool, bright California winter sunshine.

I have had Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving parties, graduation banquets and intimate dinner parties. I have played my television loud, raised the volume on the stereo and gone for a swim in the pool at 2 a.m. on a hot August night.

After the earthquake in 1994, we were stranded without electricity for a few days. The interior hallways were so dark that the neighbors agreed to leave their doors open, allowing light to seep into the halls. Our building became a large house, with tenants helping each other clean up, keeping each other company through the aftershocks.

When the power returned, we had a potluck dinner party at the pool. Every tenant attended, even the long-absent building owner.

When someone gets stuck in the elevator, we all respond, shouting words of encouragement and summoning the fire department. No one leaves until the person is free.

And when an ambulance comes to assist one of the elderly tenants, we stop in to offer rides to the hospital or to tape notes of encouragement to the door. For me, apartment living has been communal living at its best.

I no longer care if people understand the need for some of us to live our lives in apartments without thought to pursuing the dream of homeownership.

My apartment is in a great neighborhood where I could never afford a house. It is within walking distance of a supermarket, an upscale mall, a major city park, big beautiful trees and a variety of restaurants.

I love my apartment; I love my neighborhood. I offer no apologies for where I live.

This is my home, my apartment home. And I would not want to be anywhere else.


Paul Martin is a Sherman Oaks-based freelance writer.

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