My Roommate's Tik Tok Fame Made My Life HellRachel Bell
On August 22, I tweeted from Caretaker’s Twitter account, asking anyone with a unique renting experience to email me a little bit about their story, hoping to pay some freelancers to write for our blog. I got more than forty emails, but one stood out from the rest. It was a person who had signed a lease in LA with a Tik Tok influencer.
I spent the last two months communicating with the author. We worked together to make sure that they would remain anonymous by changing some identifying information. They had never written much before, so I helped them edit it. I independently verified everything they told me, because at first I thought the tale was too wild to be true.
The following story is the result.
In 2017, I decided to move to Los Angeles because I wanted to pursue a career in music. I had auditioned for a few music-competition-style reality shows and even appeared on one. I’ve been playing piano and singing as long as I can remember. I had saved up a bunch of money, working full-time at a lame job and living with my dad in Arizona.
I knew rent would be expensive in LA and I wouldn’t have any income at first, but my savings were enough that I’d be able to put down a security deposit and pay at least half a year’s rent before running out of cash.
The apartment search
I sent literally forty-eight emails in response to Craigslists posts, all of them people hoping to find a roommate for an empty room in their apartment. I didn’t know anything about LA and which areas were best, so I didn’t discriminate based on neighborhood or location. I just wanted something I could afford.
I did the math.:
- 48 emails sent (about 45 bedrooms and 3 living rooms).
- 18 replies.
- 4 ended up being total scams or bullshit.
- 6 required me to prove that I earned a certain amount of monthly income to sign a lease. I didn’t have income, just tons of savings, but the requirements were non-negotiable. So those rooms weren’t options for me.
- 5 ghosted me or fell through because they found someone else or ended up not needing a roommate after all.
So: out of the almost 50 Craigslist listings I had replied to, I was left with only 3 options. And of course 2 were living rooms.
Option one was a living room with a curtain hanging on a string as a makeshift wall to provide some facade of privacy, occupied by a young couple and their 2 year old daughter. Option two was an unfurnished bedroom in three bedroom apartment. The roommates were all international students who never spoke English at home, took their studies very seriously, and strictly enforced daily “quiet hours” in the apartment. Not ideal for a musician. Option three I had almost dismissed as a scam at first - it seemed too good to be true. It was a one bedroom unit in a fancy building in Hollywood, with a roommate named Alec.
My cool new roommate
Alec traveled a lot and had one of those folding room dividers he could put up to let me use the living room as my bedroom. I wasn’t planning to bring much furniture (since I was moving with only what I could fit in my tiny Kia), but he had a futon that I could sleep on. It wasn’t as cheap as the living room in the family’s home, but it was upstairs from a grocery store and the building had a ton of cool amenities. The best part was that Alec was around my age and I thought we would get along. He told me he was a performer too, and didn’t mind me practicing my music in the apartment. As lame as it makes me sound, I also thought he was “cool”. I thought he might introduce me to people who could be my friends.
I asked Alec to FaceTime me so I could see the place. When he picked up I was kinda shocked by how handsome he was. He looked like he was maybe even wearing makeup. The apartment was exactly as he’d described it.
He explained that his lease was set to renew, but for some (long, complicated, confusing) reason, he couldn’t put his name on it. My name would be on the lease. The building didn’t have an income requirement - I could just submit a bank statement showing how much I had in savings to prove I could pay the rent, and I would be approved. I agreed to move in. I sent him the security deposit via Venmo and he emailed me the lease and the application. I noticed it was a 24-month lease, which he hadn’t mentioned. Two years seemed like a big commitment, but I figured this was just a big city thing. At this point, I couldn’t back out. I signed the lease, sent over all the paperwork, and within a week I was officially a tenant of a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles.
I put all my clothes in my car and drove the six hours to my new home. When I got there, it took forty minutes to find a parking spot. I should have seen this as an omen of the bad things to come. The building had a garage, but our apartment only came with one reserved spot. I had agreed to let Alec use it, for what I would later find out was his wildly expensive luxury car. I ended up parking almost a mile away, and was glad that I didn’t have a lot of furniture to move. I stopped by the office to pick up my keys. The building was crazy fancy - there was a pool, a gym, a rooftop - but I was tired and pissy from my long drive and the unexpectedly long parking attempt. I went up to the room to drop off my first load of stuff. I had texted Alec while trying to park, but hadn’t gotten a reply.
He wasn’t in the apartment when I walked in, so I looked around. The first thing I noticed was how many Amazon Prime and delivery food boxes there were laying around. I checked the fridge. Nothing in it except for a half-empty Starbucks cup and two bottles of Soylent. His bedroom floor was covered in clothes, and the wall behind his bed had a colorful piece of fabric pinned up with Christmas lights over it, like a backdrop. There was professional-looking lighting equipment in the corner. The bathroom was a mess. The sink was full of tiny hairs, and the counter was littered with high-end cosmetics - moisturizers and face masks with French labels. My first impression of him was that he was a wealthy guy who didn’t take good care of his many nice things. No judgement. Even though I was tired, I was happy to finally be there.
After walking probably ten total miles between my parking spot and the apartment, I was moved in. I decided to take a nap in my new “bedroom.” I didn’t see the room divider anywhere, Alec still hadn’t responded to my text, and I was too exhausted to even pull the futon out into the “bed” position. As soon as I closed my eyes, I heard the door open.
Surprise! My roommate the Tik Tok star is not actually cool
Alec walked in, wearing basketball shorts, stupid-looking bulky sneakers and a really tight shirt that said ‘GUCCI’. He looked sweaty. He called me “bro” and apologized for the place being “kind of fucked up.” He said ”lol” out loud at one point. We had a conversation that was the same process repeated over and over: he’d ask me a question, like “How was your drive?” and then stare at his iPhone while I answered, seemingly absorbing nothing I said in response. I was mid-sentence when he suddenly laughed and said, “Oh, sorry bro, just saw your text. I was working out.” I glanced down at his phone and could see that the number of unread texts, in the top right of the screen, was 3 digits long. Alec had at least 100 unread iMessages.
This first interaction gave me an idea of what kind of person Alec was, but I hadn’t figured out the worst yet. He had told me he was a performer. It turned out that he was a ‘muser’. Need that translated? I did too. It’s a person who has a lot of followers on an app called Musical.ly, which has since been re-named Tik Tok. He had a lot of followers, more than 900,000 when I first moved in. That was his job. He wasn’t a musician, or an actor. He lipsynced to pre-recorded audio while looking attractive for seconds-long videos, to the joy of his adoring fans, while proudly, without any shame, referring to himself as an “influencer”. Brands sent him free shit and paid him to mention them or feature their products in his social media posts. It was a totally foreign concept to me. At first, it seemed like it could potentially help me with my music career - maybe I could learn some internet marketing tricks from him. Over time, it became clear that it was the opposite: my roommate’s Tik Tok fame made my life hell.
The hell begins
Alec would do weird stuff in the apartment all the time. When I didn’t understand why he was doing something, I could usually find the answer by checking his Tik Tok posts. I’ll spare you all of the terrible, tiny details, and make a list for you.
Glitter all over the bathroom
Why was there glitter all over the bathroom one morning? Like, on the walls? Apparently there was a trend on Tik Tok where people were rubbing gold shit on their face. That video got him over 300,000 likes. Same story with black permanent marker. A lot of Tik Tok videos involved writing things on your hands (?), and Alec would use Sharpie markers for these. He would then touch what seemed like every surface in the apartment, leaving black ink everywhere. This was actually helpful in finding out which of my things in the bathroom he was using without asking, as I could follow the trail of glitter or Sharpie, but was otherwise an inconvenience. There was a new “challenge” every week on Tik Tok, and they usually required some random props. I once came home to rubber bands and folded pieces of paper all over the floor.
Shirtless bathroom time
One day, he was in the bathroom with the door locked for two hours. I knew it was related to “content creation” because I heard the soft sound of fifteen seconds of the same horrible song being played, in slow motion, over and over, coming from under the door. The result? A plotless video of him shirtless, doing nothing but staring at the camera from different angles, fixing his hair, and making ‘hot’ faces. His followers loved it! Why???
Random teens in my home
One month into the lease, I came home to four strangers in my apartment. The living room was my bedroom - there wasn’t a whole lot of common space to accommodate four additional people. But they were all Tik Tok famous too, and they stayed for two nights, using all our toilet paper, staying awake all night, throwing countless articles of clothing on the floor for their many costume changes, and called it ‘collabing’. I didn’t sleep much. Also some of them I thought were maybe teenagers. Where were their parents?
Stomping around in the middle of the night
Although most of the people living in the building seemed to be “content creators,” we constantly got noise complaints, mostly from the people downstairs. Because, as anyone familiar with Tik Tok knows, there are a lot of “challenges” that involve stupid body movements that could maybe, in some world, be considered dance moves. And of course, Alec would have to try many times in a row to get them right, and of course, Alec would decide the middle of the night was a great time to film these videos.
When I first met Alec, I was sure he couldn’t be older than nineteen or twenty. He had no trouble getting into clubs, which he went to five or six nights a week. Three months into the hell of living with him, I saw his wallet sitting out in the kitchen. He was passed out drunk in his room, so I looked in it. Two empty bags that I assumed had once had cocaine in them, $300 in $100 bills, a bunch of credit cards, a loyalty card for a trendy juice place, and his ID. He was older than I had thought. And definitely trying to maintain his youthful appearance - he was always getting weird face treatments and Botox and stuff. I had already found it a little weird that an adult was so popular on an app where the average user was probably fifteen, but this made it creepier to me.
Can afford cocaine, can’t afford rent
When it came time to pay each month, it became obvious why Alec had needed me to rent his living room. I had no idea how much money he made or what he spent it on (besides alcohol, cocaine, plastic surgery, facials, Postmates for every meal, and juices), but he could never give me the rent when I asked for it. I constantly had to pay the full rent upfront, and wait for what he owed me to be paid back. I had to behave in really shitty ways to get my money. One time stands out in my memory. He had left his “content cave” (yes, he called it that) to pick up a food delivery from the front door. I was sitting on my bed-couch-futon thing, glaring at the back of his head. As he started walking back to his “cave,” I said, “Postmates again?” He blinked at me a few times and gave me a weird nervous giggle. His teeth were freakishly white. It made him look possessed. I said, “I’m glad that app’s working. It’s so weird that Venmo isn’t working on your phone, but like, Postmates and Tik Tok and Raya and Facetune are working fine.” I got $120 out of him that time.
The final straw
Six months into living with Alec, with eighteen months left on my lease, The Incident occurred.
As I mentioned before, Alec didn’t shop for groceries - all of his meals came from Postmates. In fact, I’d had to buy a lot of kitchen stuff, because when I moved in he only had two cereal bowls and a drawer full of plastic utensils left over from delivery meals.
I had been gone from the apartment all day - at a job interview and then walking around filling out applications at more places. I was starting to run out of money in my savings account, and still hadn’t figured out how to monetize my music, so I wanted to get a part-time job somewhere, in a store or cafe or something. Also, earlier that week, some girl Alec had met on Instagram had gotten wasted and fallen over into my “room divider,” totally destroying it, so I had looked around for a store where I could buy a new one.
When I came home, around 5 PM, our front door wasn’t closed all the way. I got freaked out. Did we get robbed? I slowly opened it. Alec was sleeping, face down, on my futon-bed-couch. Next to him on the floor was a pile of vegetables that I had bought at the grocery store. There was a cucumber with a huge bite taken out of it. That made me mad. I paid for those. He still owed me more than $500 of last month’s rent, and now he was eating my groceries?
I said, “Wake up, dickhead!” He didn’t move. I walked closer. He was laying on top of one of the only possessions I had that I really cared about - a big blanket that my great aunt had knit for me when I was really little. I repeated myself, louder. I poked him. He didn’t move. I got even closer, and moved his head, which was facedown on my blanket, to the side a little. As I did, I discovered that his face was covered in black and white paint, which had rubbed all over my precious blanket. He looked like a panda. He still wasn’t waking up. I tried everything and didn’t get a response from him. He was breathing, but in a sort of wheezing way. He had a bunch of red bumps on his arms and neck. I didn’t know what was going on and felt freaked the fuck out, so to be safe (and get him out of my futon-couch-bed) I called an ambulance. They took him away, still unconscious.
I slept well that night, with my baby blanket soaking in soapy water in the sink. In the morning, I woke up and checked my phone. I had twenty-six missed calls from a local number and four voicemails. It was Alec, from the hospital, asking me to bring him his iPhone. Each voicemail message was more aggressive than the last. He’d gone from, “Heyyyyyy roooooomieeeee!” to “Listen up, bitch,” in less than an hour. He was clearly having trouble living without his cell phone.
I didn’t respond. I called my dad and went down to the management office of the apartment building. I asked what I could do to end the lease early. The fee was astronomically high - like, thousands of dollars. I decided anything was better than continuing to live with this shallow, shitty sadsack and wrote a check on the spot. I put everything I remotely cared about in my car. At the last minute, I remembered the money Alec owed me. I went to his room and grabbed two expensive-looking hoodies from the floor, and drove myself back to Arizona.
I later found out that Alec had been trying to film a Tik Tok video for a “challenge” in which users were imitating a panda. Because Alec mostly ate delivery sushi and burritos, he had apparently never discovered his allergy to cucumbers. He’d had an allergic reaction and was mid-anaphylaxis when I found him. So I kinda saved his life.
So what did I learn from all of this?
- Craigslist is trash.
- My father is a saint.
- Don’t sign a long lease on an apartment in an unfamiliar city, for many reasons. You could end up with a horrible roommate who almost dies on your favorite blanket, you could realize you hate the neighborhood, a few months in you could have a new friend or acquaintance offer you a room for much cheaper. The list goes on. It’s way better to sublet a place for a short time so you can get to know the city. Then, if you want to sign a lease in an area you like, you can. Which is why Caretaker ended up being the perfect website to publish this story: they’re a company that helps you find apartments to sublet, for as short or as long as you need, or get out of your lease fast if you’re in a shitty situation.
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