Places I’ve Lived: Don’t Hold Your Breath for Your Security Deposit in Spain

by Liz Rush

Liz Rush has lived in some places. Some of them were abroad!

Calle Poeta Quintana, Alicante, Spain, August 2008-May 2009, 400€/month (my share)
When I first went to Alicante as a study abroad student, I was assigned to live in a recently renovated apartment that was only a 10 minute walk to the beach with four other American girls. Most of them were sorority girls, so that in and of itself caused me great culture shock. We lived above a Peruvian consulate and below a bunch of old people. Our landlady was a friendly French woman and I had a room with a view of the castle. We had an amazing terrace overlooking Mercado Central, but we were on the fish and meat side so it smelled in the heat.

One weekend we were on group trip to Grenada and upon returning, we discovered we had been robbed. We all lost our laptops and the two of us that had Spanish bank accounts had our banking papers stolen. They hauled out our stuff in our own suitcases but they didn’t take my roommates Coach gear. I lost a guitar, external hard drive & fancy webcam, clothes, perfume, and a change jar as well as a pair of shoes I painted myself but was too scared to wear in public. I took the theft as confirmation that the shoes were actually pretty cool. The thieves added insult to injury by rummaging through our fridge for what we assumed was a mid-robbery snack and leaving the toilet seat up.

Rue André Chénier, Bois-Colombes, France, May 2009 to August 2009, 0 of 0€ (my share)
That summer, I lived in an old folks home in Bois-Colombes, a north-west suburb of Paris. My then boyfriend, who I met while he was on vacation in Alicante, invited me to come stay with him for the summer. He worked in the residence so he had an apartment there for free. I ended up paying for the majority of our food because he spent all the money he made from his other job as a bike salesman on clothing and music equipment. I reupholstered his couch and we hosted weekly poker nights with his coworkers that wouldn’t speak to me. In July I went to Alicante to meet up with a friend and when I came back, all my things had been thrown off the balcony and my sketchbook and a letter from my mother had been torn to pieces. He said his ex-girlfriend had come over while I was gone. Most of my memories of the apartment are of hiding in the bathroom to cry. I had gained 15 pounds by the time I left.

Calle Alenza, Rios Rosas, Madrid, Spain, January 2010 to May 2010, 400€/month (my share)
After leaving the Schengen area when my first visa expired, I moved back to Spain to finish school in Madrid. An American woman living with her teenage son rented me a tiny room in her penthouse apartment. She was a journalist and in the living room there was a picture of her as a young woman arm in arm with Fidel Castro. In it, she looked just like Sarah Jessica Parker. My room was too small to even fit a double bed, but it had a twin and a desk and lots of storage space so I managed. I was massively depressed and spent most of my time drinking tea and dicking around on the internet and going on long walks in the city at night.

Avenida del Valle, Vallehermoso, Madrid, Spain, June 2010 to July 2010, 1400€/month
I spent an insane amount of money on this one bedroom apartment for two months in the summer because it was directly across the street from my school and I was getting surgery. The apartment was expensive, but my mom was coming to take care of me so I needed a place that wasn’t just a room in someone else’s house. Plus it was easier to justify in light of the fact that the surgery only cost about 300€ out-of-pocket. The place looked as though the decorations and furniture were salvaged from an old motel and it had two twin beds, chastely separated by a night stand. The school priest also lived in the building; I would often see him smoking outside. He would rush over help me up the ramp and hold the doors open so I could get my wheelchair inside after classes were out. My mother took care of my every need, including helping bathe me. We watched Spain win the World Cup and ate hamburgers on the fourth of July together in this apartment.

Rue du Capitaine Ferber, Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, August 2010, 0€
After my mother left, I went back to France on crutches and spent the month of August “trying to fix things” with the boyfriend I had already tried to break up with several times. In retrospect, it was clear that he took advantage of my situation by manipulating me to return, knowing that I was struggling to get by without the help of my mom. We were staying in his parents’ apartment in a suburb south-west of Paris while they were out of the country, but it was a small space and we shared it with his brother and his girlfriend. I was in a lot of pain and couldn’t do much of anything besides watch old movies in bed. My boyfriend complained when I needed help getting in and out of the bath and resented my depression. I didn’t pay any rent, but the month cost me quite a bit in the long run.

Fernández de los Ríos, Gaztambide, Madrid, Spain, September 2010, 450€/month (my share)
I lived in this apartment with a Spanish guy doing his post-doc who I met off of craigslist. When I met him the first time, he gave me a lecture about wanting to be with someone who would make this their home, who would be there for a while, and who wanted to be friends with their roommate. After one week, he promptly told me to get out — he had been offered a job in Barcelona and was leaving at the end of the month. He also stole half of my security deposit.

Calle Sagasta, Bilbao, Madrid, October 2010 to June 2011, 725€/month
Being on crutches severely hindered my ability to apartment hunt, so I snagged this loft studio through an agent. Paying his fee was worth getting rid of the hassle and I was able to get an okay place in a great location. It was a bottom floor interior apartment, so the two windows I had needed to be covered up so people wouldn’t look inside as they walked past. It was exclusively decked out in Ikea furniture and when I moved in I gathered up two big boxes of crap from the old tenants that I wanted out, such as a zip lock bag of black and white sand, cat figurines, and a big TV. It took the landlady over three months to actually pick up the boxes so they just kind of sat there in the living room consuming valuable space. Right next door was a near identical studio with the same wooden loft setup. I met this neighbor twice — once to tell her to not leave her trash next to my door and again several months later when she came to ask if I had termites. When I moved out, the agent became incredibly difficult to contact about getting my deposit back. In the end the landlady refused to give me any concrete numbers for the utility costs, so I had to agree to an estimate just to get part of my deposit back.

Calle de los Jardines, Sol, Madrid, June 2011 to January 2012, 550€/month
I wanted to live in Sol, the neighborhood which took its namesake from the Puerta del Sol, the very heart of the city. You know when you see on the news 500,000 people crammed into a Spanish plaza to protest? Yeah, that one. The apartment had been divided into four shoebox studios. I would run into professional matadors on the staircase as they were heading to see the old woman who created their outfits in the apartment below mine. The building was between a squat and a bicycle rental shop. At one end of the short, pedestrian street were rooms that the local street prostitutes used and at the other end was a housing center run by a non-profit to help those very same women exit and transition out of prostitution.

Once as I was heading to work, I passed a young couple shooting up in a doorway just yards from mine. My friend came to visit with some friends of hers, so at one point we crammed four people in the tiny space. She later returned to spend nearly a month with me, which despite being the most crowded living arrangement I’ve been in, lead to some of my favorite times in the city. When I finally decided it was time to head back to the US, I saved up what little money I could each month by never going out and eating as cheaply as possible so I could take a cargo ship across the Atlantic. My cabin onboard was triple the size of this apartment. Because of the economic situation in Spain, my landlady could barely get by and had to pay back my deposit in installments every other month. It’s been nearly a year since I left and she still owes me 200€.

Liz Rush lives in Portland, Ore. and has $6,974 in student debt. You can find her somewhere in that photo of the Spanish protests. She recently negotiated a raise!

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