Her current renter, a fellow single mother and son, was a Craigslist find, a “really nice” woman whom Sampson felt she could trust. She had a steady job and, according to Sampson, “That was pretty much it.”
The house she owns in Rainbow, which sits amidst wholesale nurseries and avocado farms, is a three bedroom that she, her seven-year-old boy, and two roommates (also a mother and son) occupy. Half hidden by trees and shrubs, Sampson’s home is impeccably neat inside, despite her claim that she is a bad housekeeper. No one would guess that four people — two under ten — live there, save for a plethora of school pictures and academic certificates hung in places of honor on the wall.
Sampson, unlike Bevilacqua and Wallace, has had plenty of previous tenants, a few of them friends.
“Once I split up with my son’s dad, I wasn’t getting the same support that I was when he was living here,” Sampson says matter-of-factly.
It’s mid-morning, and she is sitting barefoot on the couch, dressed for the day in a black skirt and a shirt that reveals a tattoo of her seven-year-old son’s name inked across her collarbone.
“Actually,” she continues, “what first happened was a couple, a friend of mine and her then fiancé, wanted to move down to San Diego from L.A., and they were living in hotels. I said, ‘Why don’t you just stay here and drive down to San Diego every day and look for a place and job?’ So they stayed here, and then they gave up on finding a job in San Diego, and they decided they were going to just look around here. They wanted to rent this room, so I said okay.”
After they moved out, an acquaintance of Sampson’s — and the mother of one of her son’s classmates — expressed an interest in taking their place. Along with her three children, this woman received subsidized support via the government and worked it out so that Sampson was named her designated childcare provider. A stay-at-home-mom for her son’s seven years, Sampson took the job.
“Since my son was born, every job, with the exception of one, has been in childcare,” Sampson, who is otherwise unemployed and currently taking classes in creative writing at Palomar Community College, says. “I did that so I could stay home with my son, so that I didn’t have to work and pay for childcare elsewhere. But now he’s at the point where he’s at school until 3:00. The rest of the day, until 6:00, I can send him to — if I were to get a job — afterschool care, and it’s only $7 a day. Before that, I would have been paying a lot more for childcare, and it wasn’t worth it. Watching other people’s kids was beneficial.”
The children and Sampson’s son, whom Sampson describes as both a “good kid” and a “big pain in the ass,” got along fairly well, except for one of the children.
“My son and [the tenant’s] youngest daughter just butted heads,” Sampson says, “but I still continued to watch the kids until [the tenant] ended up losing her job. She worked at that restaurant [near the house] that closed, so then she didn’t have a reason for me to watch her kids anymore.”
Sampson’s current tenant, by contrast, is rarely around, working later hours at an urgent-care facility and returning home with her son — who stays at his grandparents’ and is enrolled in afterschool care — on the later side of the evening. At the time of this writing, they are currently moving out.
Being a single parent and living with near-strangers is a bit of a risk, Sampson, Bevilacqua, and Wallace all acknowledge. But each, as mentioned before, selected roommates based on good faith.
“She was a single mom, she was really nice, and she had a job,” says Sampson of her latest tenant. “That was pretty much it for me. There were two other people that had wanted to rent, and I chose her, mainly because she was a single mom, and I trusted her because she was nice. I [didn’t] picture her needing a background check, for some reason.”
Wallace didn’t conduct any sort of check, either.
“I just kind of went on my gut intuition,” she says. “I was looking for somebody who was normal and stable and had a job.”
She does understand that there is a safety concern, especially with her son involved, in letting people she doesn’t know into her home.
“I don’t know [my roommates] from Adam, so I don’t know what comes with them,” she says. “So the first time one of their friends shows up at the door, it’s, like, ‘Okay, and who are you?’ It’s awkward.”
Sampson, unlike Wallace, says she doesn’t particularly want to rent to a single man, if she doesn’t have to. “I mean, I guess this is kind of sexist, but if [my renter] were a single man, I would probably at least check the Megan’s Law website and make sure he wasn’t a sex offender. I can’t even say that I’d want a single man in my house. I guess I’m prejudiced. I mean, I’m not scared of a woman. I don’t want a man around my child. A woman could do just as much damage, but I guess I just don’t think like that.”
The lack of background checks appears to be common, while relying on intuition seems to be the preferred screening method. Liz Drewry, who currently rents from a single mother in Mira Mesa, says she was interviewed at length by the woman she lives with but was not asked for references — which she has.
“I offered references because I have them, but she didn’t want them,” she says, sitting outside a Starbucks in her parents’ neighborhood of Rancho Bernardo, hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. “And it was the same thing with the other family I lived with. I guess I just looked trustworthy.”