3-6-2005 Open season on slumlords

Even though I had to work yesterday morning, I almost made it to the armory in time to welcome those 109th guys back. Almost. I was all but on my way out the door when the bossman told me to replace a leaking and smoking water pump in what we termite specialists call "The Pig Rig." Don't ask, it's silly.

This is somewhat disturbing. I found two SAYSO calls in the Leader that actually make sense.

This call is about Master Chemical and blocking the street down there in South Wilkes-Barre. What I would like to know is how many of those neighbors that are complaining so bitterly lived there before Master Chemical came into the area. I don’t think very many. And if you moved there knowing that Master Chemical was there and doing business, hey, that’s life. He has to make a living. He pays city taxes just like you and I, and probably a lot more. So, leave the people alone.

That's life? NOT IN MY BACK YARD!!!

My all time favorite NIMBY story is the semi-organized resistance to the windmills being erected up there in Bear Creek. I can't go a single day without hearing some well-meaning, but factually-challenged fruitcake carrying on about the need to better develop and utilize alternative energy sources. We must save the Earth. We must save the whales. We must save the Horned Mud Wafters in the remote parts of the Amazon. My hair dryer is ruining the atmosphere. My lawnmower is destroying the ozone layer. My Aurora HO racing cars are melting the glaciers. So some enterprising firm tries to slap up a few windmills in some remote forest too far from Wilkes-Barre to even qualify for "God's Country" status, and right on frickin' cue, some goofballs yank their shorts back up and jump right out of the poison ivy bushes screaming "NOT IN MY BACK YARD!!!"

Fine. We wouldn't want to save the Earth if it means civilization might creep within five miles of your bucolic compound. F**k it! Somebody get PP&L on the blower and tell 'em to add a third reactor down there in Berwick. Have UGI burn a few more tons of coal per day. No biggie. We wouldn't want to annoy those white folks who couldn't handle living down here in the Valley with the rest of "them."

Windmills? Put 'em in Mark's back yard. Put 'em next to some housing project. How 'bout somewhere in Ashley? Otherwise, f**k saving the Earth. Not in my back yard.

This Dudley, the jogger case, he gets convicted by a local magistrate and then he appeals. On his appeal, the district attorney’s office issues a subpoena for the arresting officer to appear. The arresting officer does not appear. And I was always under the impression that if you were served with a subpoena and didn’t show there were fines and penalties to be paid. Now, is this police officer going to be fined and penalized? Luzerne County justice again.

I don't think the subpoena angle is anywhere near accurate, but this really does happen all too often from where I'm sitting. Is it asking too much of the arresting officer in any given case to show up at the magistrate's office and prosecute a case that he set in motion? Heyna? Especially when the arrest itself caused some serious controversy and had the local NAACP folks suggesting to the media that the arresting officer was actually the "assaulting officer."

Whatever, man. It wasn't exactly a federal case or anything. Nobody got murdered, and nobody had any crevices violated. A jogger with a permanent tan is still on the loose in this city. And the cops better not look at him funny while he's sprinting through our streets well after dark. (???)

But we did make an arrest. And then we didn't follow up on it.

What was the point of this exercise?

The city had better reactivate the anti-grafitti hit squads. Or maybe we should just deputize them already and allow them to roam free as death squads. Some of those grafitti slackers put down their skateboards long enough to nail the South Street Bridge supports with some copious amounts of Rustoleum.

This stupid sh*t really gets on my last available nerve. It probably shouldn't, but it does. If a city cop caught somebody in the act of defacing public or private property with spray paint, I'd just assume have him beat the freaking tar out of the offending slacker, shave his fat, tattooed head, and spray paint his skull. Oh, and it'd be really cool if he could rip all of the piercings out of the numbskull's limp body. And kick 'im twice.

But until council sees fit to pass an ordinance thereby suspending the constitutional rights of the slacker pansies that never had to deal with any serious parental supervision, I'd be more than willing to patrol the city after dark if the city would simply spring for one of the following:

Air Soft Rifle

Something approaching, say, 700 feet per second would do very nicely.

Take THIS back ya f**king slackers

Just in case I wasn't clear enough for y'all, let's take a second and cover that parental supervision thingie.

If your teen-aged boy (or thereabouts) has body piercings, girlie earrings on, 'spensive and pointless tattoos, droopy drag-ass drawers, Goth apparel of any sort, multi-colored, green, purple or spiked hair, an NBA jersey large enough to be used as a tent, his ball cap sideways, any Eminem CD, a skateboard, or an interest in collecting spray paint; you are one totally suckful parent. And your wife and both of the ex-wives suck at it, too.

Sez f**king me.

I have a copy of the 28-page ordinance that is being referred to in the newspapers as both the tenant ordinance, and the rental ordinance. Despite the expected and necessary legalese, it's actually a fairly easy read as legal mumbo-jumbo documents go.

"We want to rebuild the city with people that you want to live next to.--Mayor Leighton, Citizen's Voice 3-4-2005

Check this one straight from the magic e-mail inbox:

From the e-mail inbox I cannot wait to read what your opinion of this renter ordnance is going to be. I am 100% positive your going to scald there asses for something as simple as trying to scratch out a decent living. You are predictably negative unless were talking about your elected heros.

Gordon Ave Resident

Negative? Predictable? Me? Let's explore the Times Leader (3-4-2005 story Landlords hitting the roof over rules.

“I guess they’ll just have to lock me up,” Summers said, laughing. “This might finally be their chance to shut me up.”

Summers, vocal in local politics and active with the county’s home rule charter movement for years, owns several rental units in the city. She said she has no problem with the fees or inspections, but draws the line at telling the city who rents her units.

“If you call the oil company and ask them who lives at an address, they won’t tell you, they’ll say they can’t,” Summers said. “It’s an issue of privacy.”

The city has said one of the reasons for the law is to find out who lives in the city and collect taxes from them, but Summers doesn’t see that as her job.

“I guess when the city starts paying me to help with tax collections, I’ll start helping.”

As for the fines and prison time, Summers said, “I’m more than happy to fight this out in court.”

Don't be fooled by her "privacy" schtick. She loves seeing her name in the local newspapers. All of these third party folks love to drum up dissent whenever possible. Afterall, this is the very same lady that chose to pay her taxes at city hall with buckets upon buckets full of pennies.

“I guess when the city starts paying me to help with tax collections, I’ll start helping.”

Help her with tax collections? The "penny" lady herself? Consider the source. Take her to court. She can have Martha's old cell.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Tom Leighton said the new rules would help good landlords tremendously and punish bad ones -- particularly the absentee owners who allow their properties to crumble.

“We are going to fix our residential neighborhoods, and that means dealing with bad landlords and bad tenants,” Leighton said. “Good property owners will see their property values increase and their neighborhoods improve and bad landlords will be gone. And good citizens living next door to bad ones will be protected.”

But Barbose, President of the Wyoming Valley Real Estate Investors Association, isn’t so sure.

“They’ve had that inspection law in place, but they haven’t enforced it. And why is it just about us? What about the crumbling properties that are owner-occupied? Do the colleges have to let people know the names of everyone living in their dorms? Are the high-rises going to have to deal with this? If this does help the neighborhoods, I’ll be in favor of it, but we’ll just have to see.”

As for identifying his tenants, Barbose said, “There are times when that’s not a good idea, like with a battered woman, to give out her information.”

Battered women? High-rises? The colleges? What exactly is his point? The guy is the President of the Wyoming Valley Real Estate Investors Association, so he knows the real deal. Either take care of your properties in Wilkes-Barre, or else. I feel so bad for these people.

I spliced two snippets from that Leader story together here:

Virgil Argenta says he will go along, but he’s not happy about it.

Argenta, a former city council candidate who owns about 30 rental properties in the city, said: “This actually only penalizes the good landlords, not the bad ones. I’ll comply and pay my fees, but the bad landlords won’t. That’s what makes them bad landlords.”

It should be pointed out here that Mr. Argenta does go out of his way to properly maintain his rental properties. In fact, I've seen the guy out well after dark removing snow from his rental properties as those winter storms were wreaking havoc on the city.

But I disagree with him to a point here. Yes, the good landlords will probably do the right thing and then suffer the increased costs and headaches associated with the "Tenant and Rental Ordinance." And, yes, some of the bad landlords will most likely do whatever they can to get around the new rules. There will no doubt be a feeling out period for the immediate future. But there are a couple of things we might want to consider here before we start suggesting that this will never work.

First, city council had the political will necessary to pass this somewhat controversial ordinance. Secondly, they face an interesting reelection battle one of these days, and I'm sure they're eager to claim that they improved the city's sagging housing stock when the babies start getting kissed. Thirdly, Mayor Leighton has shown a propensity for bold strokes when necessary and I think this move qualifies as yet another bold stroke. No, he didn't author this ordinance, but he sure as hell embraced it and then some.

Lastly there's this. Our Planning & Development Director, Butch Frati, will be implementing and supervising this new Office of Rental Inspections and if the bad landlords must continue to play their little slumlord games, Butch will see to it that they will live to regret it.

From the Citizen's Voice:

Planning and Development Director Butch Frati admits performing all those inspections will be a daunting task, but he thinks his office is ready for it.

"No question it's a difficult task, but I believe we're up to it," he said.

Frati said the city hired an inspector and moved two employees from other departments to new posts. Kate Lavery from code enforcement, Marc Murphy from the Department of Public Works and new hire John Livingston will be handling the inspections.

From yet another Voice story:

"It's a politician feel-good," said landlord James Casey, a city resident who owns between 50 and 60 rental units in Wilkes-Barre.

"If it's one of those things that helps the city image-wise, wonderful. For me, I own several units, all it's going to do is add expense," he said.

BINGO! We have a winner. It's going to add expenses for the folks collecting the rents. Let's not all cry at once, okay? This is where I will get a bit unruly.

Who's jerkin' who here? "It's a politician feel-good?" It helps the city "image-wise?" How does one become a landlord in the city of WIlkes-Barre? Let's go there, shall we?

While the following opining may be painting with a very wide brush, it's deadly accurate in most cases. How do you become a landlord in Wilkes-Barre? Hmmm.

You find an aging building with so many existing problems, it can be gotten dirt cheap. Then you do the bare minimum necessary to get it filled with tenants from God only knows where. Once it's filled to capacity, you divorce yourself from it, collect the rents, and pray that nothing ever needs repairing again. And if something does need fixing, there's probably some piece of used sh*t stored in the dirt basement of one of your other eyesores that could be taped on to almost fix the problem.

Needs a new roof? Slap some tar on it. Hole in the floor? Supply an old throw rug. Cracked window pane? Tape it or something. Cockroaches? Yell at the tenant that makes you aware of them and give them two half-empty cans of Raid Wasp & Hornet spray. The tenants won't spring for city bags and are piling garbage on the back porch? You'll never know if you never go there. Drug dealers are using the place as a warehouse and drive-thru store? Your hands are tied. It's tough being a landlord. You can't screen 'em all. They don't pay the rent. They won't listen to you. This is a tough business. The city is giving you a hard time. This is a tough business. This is a tough business. This is a tough business. Just keep repeating that bullspit until some ninnie believes it.

Guess what? If you happen to be a slimeball slumlord, it's about to get even tougher and your handsome profits are about to take a decent hit. Bummer. I feel so funking bad about that I could just giggle.

Listen to me tell it. I've been in rental units in this city overrun with roaches, mice, rats and bedbugs. I've been in rentals where the walls peaked out from behind the German Roaches every now and again. And I've seen 'em literally filled with loose garbage, sewage and, or cat sh*t. And in nearly every one of those nightmare dwellings, people were paying their rent and living there until the city got involved (usually quite by accident or happenstance) and condemned the damn places. I was in a basement apartment in the East End of the city that had braided rugs covering soil. No one should have to live like that. But their landlord was fine with that situation provided that those immigrant folks kept on paying their rent.

In my scrambled mind, until proven otherwise, the well-heeled folks currently calling themselves landlords in this city are guilty as charged until proven innocent. And I could care less how much money they have to spend, or how many properties they have to unload to clear their names. The end result will be a better Wilkes-Barre.

Massive kudos to councilman Jim McCarthy for getting this much-needed corrective ball rolling downhill. It ought to be really interesting to see who it rolls over.

It's open season on slumlords.

Mr. Frati, let the inspections begin!

Echo Valley igloo

Check the angle on those walls. January temps' in March. Rats!

Gotta go.