I loved my little house on the hill. It was an older home in need of renovation, but it was quiet and peaceful with a wonderful sense of openness, and it always felt like home. So when we had to sell our little house on the hill after my husband lost his job, I was devastated.
As our closing date drew near, I began the sad task of looking for another house to rent. But the more I looked, the more I realized that finding a house to accommodate a family of six with an extensive library of books, was no easy task. The housing market crash had created a shortage of rental properties. Finally, with only a couple days left before escrow closed, I found an ad for a house that looked promising.
The house from hell was an older structure situated in an upper class area of Whittier. When I first saw the house, I felt hopeful. After all, it was on a hill surrounded by lots of trees just like the home I was leaving. But the inside of the house was disappointing. Blue shag carpeting covered the floor and the counters were an ugly gold and chipped. A piece of duct tape adorned the bath tub faucet, and the other bathroom off of the master bedroom had a peculiar smell. But the view! The view was glorious! On a clear day you could see all the way to Catalina Island. The property was private and quiet with lots of yard for the kids to play in and explore. So we took the house.
Then the nightmare began.
We first realized the house was not all the owners had made it appear when we picked up the remnant of carpeting that the owner’s wife had laid down in the living room to “protect the carpet from foot traffic.” Underneath the remnant was a series of stains that even Martha Stewart would have been unable to remove. But we just sighed and told ourselves that all rentals have a few issues. And, after all, we wanted to have a Christian witness and all that, you know, to the owner and his wife.
The next problem was in the garage. When the owner’s wife had shown us the house, I had attempted to look at the garage only to find it locked. The owner’s wife quickly explained that there was nothing to look at behind the locked door, only a plain old garage. So I didn’t press the point.
But when we lifted the garage door for the first time after getting the keys, we were appalled. The entire garage floor was covered with rodent droppings. Thousands of them! Shocked and disgusted, we began sweeping.
But the rodent problem was even worse than expected. At night we heard them racing through the attic and scurrying up and down the walls. When I called the owner’s wife, she acted surprised, and later that day dropped off a couple of mousetraps that looked like they could have been with Noah on the ark. So we called a close friend who was a pest control guy, and he set some real traps, patched several holes, and suggested that the gardeners cut the trees next to the house.
Before we were completely settled in, a pipe burst in the master bathroom, and we learned that the peculiar smell we had noticed came from years of water damage and neglected repair. The interior of the wall was filled with mold. The owner’s wife brought over a few fans and asked us to get some quotes to fix the bathroom. All of them turned out to be too high for the owner and his wife, but they finally agreed to a deeply discounted quote a friend of ours had submitted as a favor to us.
But our plumbing woes continued. We soon discovered that if we ran the water in the shower or kitchen sink for an extended period of time (say five minutes) black, slimy sewage would emerge from the drains. The owner’s wife, a bit miffed at being called yet again, asked, “What are you putting down the drain?” because they had “never had this problem before.” They would pay to have it unplugged this once, she declared, but no more. Little did we know then that this would be an ongoing issue that we would deal with week after week, month after month, until we finally moved out.
Next the water heater went out, and then the dishwasher. It was always a battle getting the owner and his wife to fix the problem. By this time we had had a chance to really examine the house. We discovered the owners had hastily painted over Band-Aids covering holes on the wall. Most of the doors had dozens of large holes that had been patched and repatched and were barely holding together. The large windows that gave us that amazing Catalina view had several bullet holes, and the big yard and enormous hill leading up to the house had no automatic sprinklers and the owner’s wife expected us to spend hours every week watering.
We also learned from the neighbors that an endless stream of renters had passed through the house from hell, and that no one stayed for more than a few months. A couple of former tenants had even filed lawsuits against the owners. Apparently, we were not the only ones who had suffered.
As the house continued to fall apart before our very eyes, we desperately tried to remain pleasant to the owner and his wife—our Christian witness and all of that, you know. But when a gross-looking brown smelly liquid coming from who knows where seeped into the carpeting in my daughter’s room to the point that it was like walking in a slushy swamp, and the owner’s wife said they didn’t have the money to fix the leak or replace the carpet because they were giving their daughter the wedding of her dreams, so they didn’t have the money to fix it, and that our daughter would have to sleep somewhere else for a month, MAYBE TWO, we finally spoke up. We insisted that the owner and his wife fix the problem.
Grumbling and giving us dirty looks, probably because their daughter would be deprived of doves or pink flamingos at her wedding, they fixed the leak and the carpeting.
By this time, I was about at my wit’s end. I had begun to feel like Shelly Long in “The Money Pit.” Every week it was something new and I had learned to hate the sound of the owner’s wife’s voice.
And then something else started to happen. My kids came to me insisting someone was walking on the roof. Since the area we lived in had some wild life I told them it was probably just a possum or a raccoon or maybe some of those pesky rats, but my kids insisted it was footsteps. Putting down my dishtowel (the dishwasher still wasn’t fixed) I went to my daughter’s room to listen. “Whoa”! I thought. “That’s not a rat, or a possum, or a raccoon.” “Boys!” I called. “Go outside and see if someone is walking on the roof.” The boys raced outside and looked. Nothing, and no one, was on the roof. They scoured the yard and searched the hill behind the house. But there wasn’t a sign of anyone or anything. The walking sound occurred on several occasions, so we called our friend, the pest guy, once more.
The pest guy came out. He looked over the property. He checked the roof and attic, but couldn’t find anything. He asked us to explain specifically what we’d heard. As we described the sound, his eyes grew large.
“Marty,” he said. “I’ve never encountered anything like that. It almost sounds… I know this is crazy… demonic.”
“Great,” I thought, “Now we were not just living in a moldy, rat-infested, sewage-laden house—we were living in a haunted house! How would I explain this one to the owner’s wife? Or better yet, how would she explain it to me?
But it was not something big like sewage or rats or a demon that finally caused us to scrape up the money to move from the house from hell. It was something small and simple, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
One day I’d gone shopping with the kids. As I drove up the crumbling driveway to our haunted house on the hill, I noticed several objects affixed to our bullet holed windows. When we got out of the van and approached the house I discovered cheesy plastic images of the Virgin Mary and Jesus glued to all the doors and windows of the house. My blood began to boil. “The owner’s wife!” I muttered, ripping the images off the house, and throwing them in the trash. I seized my phone.
I don’t remember exactly what I said to the owner’s wife that day. I think there was some sort of sound biblical doctrine in the mix, but mostly it was wild, maniacal ranting. The only thing I recall was the owner’s wife accusing me of throwing Jesus in the trash, and that she wanted to come over and retrieve her sacred images, and that I pretty much said it would be “over my dead body if she came anywhere near my trash cans.”
Later, when I had calmed down I called the owner’s wife and apologized (my Christian witness, and all that, of course) but our semi-decent relationship with the owner and his wife was over. Bad blood had been spilt.
So we left the house from hell and moved into our lovely little rental in Chino Hills that is in excellent condition and has an owner who fixes problems correctly and quickly. We have a great rapport with him, and he says we are the best tenants he has ever had, unlike the owner’s wife at the house from hell who told us she had to have the house fumigated when we left.
Oh, and we never did find out what was walking on our roof. It might have been some large peculiar animal, or a man with a fetish to walk on other people’s roofs. Or maybe, just maybe, it was something else. You never know when you live in…
…the house from hell.