The “war on drugs” has some valuable lessons to teach the San Francisco Department of Building Inspection (DBI) which is charged with protecting tenants against predatory landlords.
- At least 400,000 rape kits containing critical DNA evidence that could convict rapists sit untested in labs around the country.
- But illegal drug kits are automatically rushed to the had of the line.
It isn’t simply because local/state/Federal lawmen universally believe that illicit drugs pose a deadly threat to the Nation’s security.
- Federal asset forfeiture laws allow the Justice Department to seize properties used to “facilitate” violations of Federal anti-drug laws.
- Local and State law enforcement agencies are allowed to keep some of the proceeds once the property has been sold.
- Thus, financially-strapped police agencies have found that pursuing drug-law crimes is a great way to fill their own coffers.
- Prosecutors and lawmen view the seizing of drug-related properties as crucial to eliminating the financial clout of drug-dealing operations.
It’s long past time for DBI to apply the same attitude–and methods–toward slumlords.
DBI should become not merely a law-enforcing agency but a revenue-creating one. And those revenues should come from predatory slumlords who routinely violate the City’s laws protecting tenants.
By doing so, DBI could vastly:
- Enhance its own prestige and authority;
- Improve living conditions for thousands of San Francisco renters; and
- Bring millions of desperately-needed dollars into the City’s cash-strapped coffers
Among those reforms it should immediately enact:
- Hit slumlord violators up-front with a fine–payable immediately–for at least $2,000 to $5,000 for each health/safety-code violation.
- The slumlord would be told he could reclaim 75-80% of the money onlyif he fully corrected the violation within 30 days. The remaining portion of the levied fine would go into the City coffers, to be shared among DBI and other City agencies.
- This would put the onus on the slumlord, not DBI. Appealing to his greed would ensure his willingness to comply with the ordered actions. As matters now stand, it is DBI who must repeatedly check with the slumlord to find out if its orders have been complied with.
- If the landlord failed to comply with the actions ordered within 30 days, the entire fine would go into the City’s coffers–to be dividedamong DBI and other agencies charged with protecting San Francisco residents.
- In addition, he would be hit again with a fine that’s at least twice the amount of the first one.
- Inspectors for DBI should be allowed to cite landlords for violations that fall under the jurisdiction of the Department of Public Health. They can then pass the information on to DPH for its own investigation.
- If the DBI Inspector later discovers that the landlord has not corrected the violation within a designated time-period, DBI should be allowed to levy its own fine for his failure to do so.
- If DPH objects to this, DBI should propose that DPH’s own Inspectorsbe armed with similar cross-jurisdictional authority. Each agency would thus have increased motivation for spotting and correcting health/safety violations that threaten the lives of San Francisco residents.
- This would instantly turn DBI and DPH into allies, not competitors. And it would mean that whether a citizen called DBI or DPH, s/he could be assured of getting necessary assistance. As matters now stand, many residents are confused by the conflicting jurisdictions of both agencies.
- DBI should insist that its Inspectors Division be greatly expanded. DBI can attain this by arguing that reducing the number of Inspectors cuts (1) protection for San Francisco renters–and (2) monies that could go to the general City welfare.
- The Inspection Division should operate independently of DBI. Currently, too many high-ranking DBI officials tilt toward landlords because they are landlords themselves.
- DBI should create a Special Research Unit that would compile records on the worst slumlord offenders. Thus, a slumlord with a repeat history of defying DBI NOVs could be treated more harshly than a landlord who was a first-time offender.
- Turning DBI into a revenue-producing one would enable the City to raise desperately-needed revenues—in a highly popular way. Fining delinquent slumlords would be as unpopular as raising taxes on tobacco companies. Only slumlords and their hired lackey allies would object.
- Slumlords, unlike drug-dealers, can’t move their operations from one street or city to another. Landlords aren’t going to demolish their buildings and move them somewhere else.