bureaucracybusters

COMBATING SLUMLORDS: PART THREE (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on August 25, 2016 at 1:53 am

City agencies need to see landlords for what they truly are–as, at best, potential predators, if not actual ones. And to act on that knowledge. 

As Niccolo Machiavelli warned:

“All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it. 

“If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason; and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.  But time, which has been said to be the father of all truth, does not fail to bring it to light.”

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Niccolo Machiavelli

The power of slumlords calls to mind the scene in 1987’s The Untouchables, where Sean Connery’s veteran cop tells Eliot Ness: “Everybody knows where the liquor is. It’s just a question of: Who wants to cross Capone?”

Many tenants have lived with rotting floors, bedbugs, nonworking toilets, mice/rats, chipping lead-based paint and other outrages for not simply months but years

This holds true across the United States. But it also holds true in San Francisco–the “renters’ paradise” where the District Attorney’s Office hasn’t prosecuted a slumlord in decades

Part Two of this series presented a series of badly-needed, long-overdue reforms for the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI). This is the agency charged to ensuring safe housing conditions for San Francisco residents.

This concluding part will cover the remainder of those needed reforms. 

  • Landlords should be required to bring all the units in a building up to existing building codes, and not just those in need of immediate repair.  
  • Landlords should be legally required to hire a certified-expert contractor to perform building repairs. To save money–that they can well afford to spend–many landlords insist on making such repairs despite their not being trained or experienced in doing so. They thereby risk the health and/or safety of their tenants. 
  • DBI should not view itself as a “mediation” agency between landlords and tenants. Most landlords hate DBI and will always do so. They believe they should be allowed to treat their tenants like serfs, if not slaves, raise extortionate rents anytime they desire, and maintain their buildings in whatever state they wish. And no efforts by DBI to persuade them of its good intentions will ever change their minds.   
  • Above all, DBI must stop viewing itself as a regulatory agency and start seeing itself as a law enforcement one. The FBI doesn’t ask criminals to comply with the law. It applies whatever amount of pressure is needed to force their compliance. William Tecumseh Sherman, speaking of the rebellious Southern states, said it best: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”  
  • The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office should create a special unit to investigate and  prosecute slumlords. Prosecutors should offer rewards to citizens who provide tips on major outrages by the city’s slumlords.  

  • Install Rent Control protections for tenants on fixed incomes. San Francisco is notorious for having the highest rents in the nation. A one-bedroom apartment runs $3,448 a month. Even those in the vaunted high-tech industry spend most of their income on rent.
  • For tenants on fixed incomes–seniors, disabled, students–the predatory greed of landlords amounts to a staged-in eviction notice.  Social Security recipients did not get a cost-of-living increase in 2016 because there had not been a rise in the price of gasoline. But the fact that many of them do not own cars doesn’t mean that the price of everything else–such as groceries–hasn’t sharply risen.  
  • Allowing landlords to jack up rents to the fullest extent possible every year will eventually drive out all tenants who are not multimillionaires. In fact, an unknown portion of this City’s homeless population doubtless stems from the ability of landlords to gradually raise rents above tenants’ ability to afford them.  
  • In 1979, San Franciscans passed a Rent Control law to protect tenants against predatory rent hikes and unfair evictions. As a result, a landlord can only raise a tenant’s rent a certain percentage every year. This is set by the set by the Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, more popularly known as the “Rent Board.”  
  • But there is a gaping hole in the law: Once a tenant moves out, the landlord can jack up the rent as high as he wants. This is why the average rent in San Francisco is priced beyond most middle-class wage-earners. 
  • In addition, landlords are allowed to charge tenants yearly fees to maintain the existence of the Rent Board. This is both unfair and insulting, since the Board was created to protect tenants from predatory landlords. Most tenants have far less money to pay such fees than do landlords, who are free to raise rents every year. And landlords–unlike tenants–can and do write off Rent Board fees on their taxes every year. Thus, landlords–not tenants–should be paying the fees.  

As Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves. What is equally true is that every community gets the kind of law enforcement it insists on.”

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