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New Lease on Life

A reluctant landlady chronicles her adventures in Providence

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Vikki Warner was only 26 when she bought a Victorian house in Federal Hill and started letting apartments. She gave the property a lofty name (PennHenge) and zealously maintained the old building herself. Soon, she was den mother to a house full of oddballs. But for Warner, renting to marginalized tenants was a labor of love. She documents these trials in her memoir, Tenemental: Adventures of a Reluctant Landlady, released this month from Feminist Press.

Warner is a veteran journalist and now works as an acquisitions editor for Blackstone Publishing. She was inspired to write the book during an especially laborious cleaning episode; a former tenant had left behind a museum of strange artifacts, including animal bones, moldy journals, and a bucket marked, “Live Beetles Do Not Touch.”

“The absurdity of the whole thing hit me then,” Warner recalls. “I wondered if I might have enough to hang a book on. It also seemed like an opportunity to process the strange experience of being a landlady.”

Tenemental is a thoughtful meditation on communal living and urban identity, and Warner endures many hardships, including serious health problems. But much of the memoir is quirky and fun, and Warner delights in calling Providence the “first freakiest” city in New England.

“I’ve always been very proud of my sense of humor,” she muses. “I was an awkward kid with bookish interests, so it really helped to be funny. The trick with Tenemental was to make other people laugh, and I really wasn’t sure I could pull it off. But seeing as every review thus far has used the word ‘hilarious,’ I guess I hit the mark.”