Bethany Cox and her husband, Dan, before they left their Portland home of six years after the new owners notified the couple that their lease would not be renewed. They have spent the past two years searching unsuccessfully for a new home. Photo courtesy of Bethany Cox

It happened in the backyard. I think I was barefoot. The heat of the past month was just starting to break, reminding me of just how sweet the summer in Maine can be. Every evening around sunset, the light poured into the yard through the pine grove across the street.

“We are not going to be renewing your lease, which ends Oct. 31, correct?”

It was Aug. 10.

I looked at my husband. Kissed my little dog, who was in my arms. While the conversation continued around me, I felt shock; paralyzing, muting, blurring shock. It took me at least 60 full seconds for it all to click. We would have to move out of our home within 82 days. They would be turning this two-family home into a single-family home, during a housing crisis. There was nothing I could do to stop it.

“This is really hard for us,” they said.



A few months prior, after six years of living in this owner-occupied two-unit building in a charming neighborhood, the owners let us know they were selling the building.

We let them know we wanted to buy the house. We gathered as much as we could, with help from multiple family members, and made an offer that we believed was reasonable. The owners decided to list the house instead.

Sparing you the play by play, the house was sold to a family from California. They came in over asking without ever having been in the home.

Over the next couple of months, our old landlords moved out of the building. We nodded at one another politely. Occasionally they would send texts of encouragement with sentiments similar to: “It’ll all work out in the end.” Then they were gone. They didn’t say goodbye. We just realized one day that they never came back.

We soon received a group text message. It was the new owners, reaching out to introduce themselves. “We’ve never been landlords before but we can learn together.” It felt friendly enough, which was a relief to us, nervous and uncomfortable in limbo. With only a small lease extension to protect us, we were anxious to meet the people we would be living alongside and to learn their plans.

The day they arrived, my husband and I both had COVID. We continued our group text over the next week or so, with the usual new-in-town, nice-to-meet-you kind of conversation you’d expect. We shared local recommendations and helped with the old house quirks. Once we were no longer sick, we scheduled a walk-through of our unit and a conversation about the future.


On the day of the meeting, I wrote this in my journal: “Our windows are open and the temperature outside is just right. Whenever the wind moves my curtains I feel like I’m closer to that amazing scene in ‘The Great Gatsby’ when Tom Buchanan wants to close the windows when the white curtains are beautifully flowing. We are talking to our new landlords today. Makes me nervous.”

A few minutes prior to the knock on the door, my heart was racing. It was as if my whole being, physically and soulfully, knew that this was a timestamp, a pivotal moment, a crossing in the road … with a train coming.

They walked through our apartment, looking at the structure and layout. They complimented our style and art, even letting us know it was part of what attracted them to the property in the first place. Oh, great.

I told them all the things I adored about the space, the light and how we had created our home. Then we went out to the backyard.


You’re caught up now to where I began this story.


In the aftermath of the Oct. 31 news, we began packing up our belongings and trying to decide where to go. There was no option for a time extension on the lease because they “had contractors lined up already” and they “had a lot of plans.” The foyer was stripped and refinished first thing, filling our living room with the fumes in our final weeks. The real kicker, though, is that our dog died within those 84 days. We had packed her things along with ours, and now she was gone.

In the depths of grief, I calmly walked out of the home that I loved. In my mind, I was clinging to the door frame, scratching the paint off with my fingernails, refusing to leave.

In real life, I put my dog’s urn in my purse, and we walked out the door for the last time. Everything we owned was in a storage unit, my plants were with my friends and we had nowhere to live. We spent a month in Quebec City, grieving a life we had, the home, the neighborhood and our sweet dog Hattie. Over the course of that winter, we crashed with our family in North Carolina and bounced around in short-term rentals in Maine while we tried to buy a house without success. In May, we signed a lease on an apartment in a different town to the one we had spend almost our entire adult lives. We experienced both financial and emotional crisis. We had to close one of our two businesses, no longer having the space to run it. Let me tell you this: Having to leave your home, not on your own terms, is one of the most destabilizing experiences of my life. Our belongings are still in storage.

Almost two years later, there is no happy ending.


So, who cares? People lose their homes in far worse circumstances, with far less privilege and with far worse consequences. This story would have lived within my family and friends alone had it not been for my long-term hairstylist. As I told her my story, she stopped and came around the sink to look me in the eye. “This is terrible. I’m angry for and with you. This is not the first time I’m hearing a story like this. Something needs to happen, or this city is going to change irreparably. You need to tell this story.”

So here I am, telling you a story that I am, quite frankly, self-conscious about. I feel so naïve for not having a serious backup plan. I’m frustrated that I just trusted the process and the people around me, instead of actively advocating and asking important questions throughout the process. I’m deeply hurt from the slaps in the face. But mostly, I’m angry. The choices you make can have profound consequences in others lives.

So now, Portland, you have two fewer artists, one less dog and one less place to live. It’s the same old story across the city.

A city is made better by a community that built it and loves it. Don’t be the kind of neighbor who kicks out artists, buys out the neighborhood, guts the history and wonders why the town seems to be getting less cool. Be honest and patient and compassionate. It really does matter.

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