This month has been a time of life lessons and learning on so many levels…To be completely honest I am a little ashamed to even tell this story because it’s embarrassing and so stereotypical but here I go anyway…
For the past 5 months I have been living in a tiny shoebox apartment approximately seven minutes walking distance from the main square. Thanks to some Croatian connections I found the apartment through a Croatian rental company prior to my departure last September. I was so excited, after having worked all summer, to finally be able to afford and live in my first apartment ABROAD! When I arrived, the place was as small and cute as I had expected it to be with white walls, a European double door window, and a small tile bathroom.
With the generous help from my new landlord I spent the first few weeks nesting and familiarizing myself with the lay of the land. I was instantly impressed with her kindness and although she spoke very little English and had a nervous temper about her, she went out of her way to take me to the police to register me in Croatia, and set up coffee dates with her son to help me learn a little more about the city. The first month went by so quickly with school starting up and all of the new sights to see but my landlord and I kept in brief contact for she was the only person I really knew for the first weeks. On October 1st she sent me a text asking for the first months rent. Unable to decipher the U.S. dollar (USD) to Croatian Kuna (HRK) conversion I trustingly handed over the absurd amount of money to my landlord without any questions. Yep. You can see where this cringeworthy story is going can’t you?
Month after month my landlord would send me the amount over text message and I would set up a time with her to pick up the white envelope of cash money. As I mentioned above, in the beginning we often texted back and fourth, but after a while the only interaction I would get from her was the mandatory rent text with the amount of rent I owed her. As the colder months began to emerge the once cute and cozy apartment began to show some serious problems. The roof leaked from all corners which meant that my bed, my kitchen and my couch were frequently drenched in water after days of non-stop rain storms. My apartment began to mold from the inside out which made me sick. My skin broke out in rashes and I had a constant cold. As if the weather wasn’t bad enough outside, every time I walked into my cold leaky apartment it was as if the elements had invited themselves in with me. To avoid the overly expensive utility bills and the mold I shut off my heat and endured the bitter cold with lots of tea and socks. I also routinely visited friends and family elsewhere to try and cut down on the spending, because my hard earned summer money was quickly dwindling. Despite all efforts to get rid of extra costs my rent kept growing exponentially while my quality of life continued to fall. Money became so tight I was unable to eat for days so that I could pay rent on a freezing apartment the size of an American bathroom that leaked and made me sick. By January it became apparent that I simply could not afford to live there for much longer, so I started talking to my friends to compare what they were paying and if any of them were looking for a roommate. I could not believe what they were paying in comparison to me (If you want a reference of how much, it was roughly the equivalent of a Parisian apartment with a view of the Eiffel Tower…Look it up…). Luckily, one of my friends was looking for a flatmate and the rent was half of what I was paying for a much large living space.
By the end of February I was all moved out and ready to start my new adventure hopefully with a little more cash in my pocket this time… Thanks to my New Mexico tax returns I am not a homeless student in Croatia just yet. I was also excited to get my hefty security deposit from the old shoebox apartment back. This is the part of the story that gets really weird… After I moved out my landlord sent me one last rent text with an astonishing amount of money that I was to pay her. I told her that as soon as I received my deposit I would pay what I owed because I did not have enough to pay her without it (plus at this point I was very suspicious that she was ripping me off). However, because my contract with the shoebox apartment stated that, ‘if I terminate my lease before the eleven month date my landlord is allowed to keep the deposit’. We started contacting the company to see if it would be possible to get the deposit back regardless of the contract. And that is when the truth came out. I sent the company screenshots of all the months of rent that I paid and they were shocked. She was stealing hundreds of dollars by charging me utilities while renting on a long term basis and not paying tax on a long term lease. Unfortunately, because she refused to show me any bills I have no proof that I actually paid those amounts. Crazy right? This story is not over yet, I am currently in the process of exposing this person for what she has done so that it does not happen to anyone else! Please, if you or anyone you know can help please comment below or share this story!
Long story long, the term “oblivious dumb American” has reached a new high for me. In light of this bizarre situation I have learned so much. I know know what a lease agreement is and a security deposit, I now know to demand to see bills before paying ANYONE, but most importantly that this one lady is not a reflection of Croatia itself. Croatia is a beautiful and safe country, something like this can happen to anyone anywhere and I refuse to let this person overshadow all of the other amazing things and people that I have met during my time here.