Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wearing the title criminal until I prove otherwise

It's a small thing, its a silly thing, no larger than a piece of yellow cloth, cut to become a star of David. But it hurts and the hurt isn't going away. Yes I wear the brand.. and short of selling up and moving which has been at least mentioned to me as an option, I'm stuck with the branding.. you see, I'm one of (and I can see now already the stigmatising) those Landlords, Land Baron even, that the city has decided need blaming for the actions of a minority of students who it seems the city has been incapable of effectively policing the behaviour of the last many years.

I moved here in 1981. I was a resident of this community raised children here, all at 41 High Street. I saw my neighbours come and I saw them leave... no lets be more factual. I saw two of my neighbours leave.. I saw two of my other neighbours die. The neighbour beside me, was son of the mother behind me. And also behind me was an elderly croat couple.. it is a strange thing. One remembers the young and one remembers the old. Well, they moved on or passed on. The neighbour most recently behind me decided to call it quits living north side of Columbia and is now more comfortable living in an apartment. Doesn't miss at all the problem of living here.

So where is here.. High Street is one street north of Columbia, just outside Northdale, and in Sugarbush. It is a little like being a frog in a vat of water living here. Most of the time not much happens.. but occasionally the heat gets turned up. There has over the years I've been living here been a migration of residents out of my community. We are one of the last few left standing here.

So some background. The city "officially" has minimum separation rules for students, and stipulates that licensed lodging houses be 75 meters or even 150 meters minimum distance apart. The official doesn't really apply where I live, because the official didn't become official until after unofficial was already defacto official. Here one in every three residential house on High Street has a license to provide lodging to students, and the same is true north side of Columbia.

Now, either as a frog in a very hot bowl, I've just not sense to grasp the temperature, or the fact that one in three houses on my street is licensed doesn't in and of itself affect me as a resident. I don't really know who lives in every house on my street. And when I greet those who live here, I don't know this is an owner, this is a worker at RIM, this is a student. Bit crazy but to me they are all just people.. with names I don't know mostly.

But the uncertainty about who people are, what they are likely to do, who will replace them when they move, and the type of turnover one has when one in four of all those who live in Ward 6 are students, creates identifiable risk for me. The reality of that risk, is that I've never had to live beside a lunatic, and that if I did they probably wouldn't be here long, while I've friends who live in normal places like London England, who have lunatics living beside them, whose idea of getting rid of the weeks rubbish is to dump it over the fence regularly onto my friends garden but that's another story.

Strangely given the cities concern about students, they are not my primary risk. My primary risk is development on the North Side of Columbia. Its ugly but it happens. You buy a property, plant trees see it age along with you, and one day those nice similar properties behind you get torn down and up go the apartment blocks. Where once one had light for a garden one now has row upon row of windows staring out of you. Time to move, and at that point past time to move. You are not permitted to have your home torn down (painful like loosing a friend that would be) to be replaced by similar apartment buildings. And when you find it time to thus move out, you won't find others thinking it therefore time to move in. Your property will sell for a loss, and you'll be left without a shirt to wear.

The smart move perhaps is just to turn out the lights and move on when one realises that the above is essentially inevitable. But there is an alternative and we bought into that alternative. You minimise the risk by taking ownership of the threat. We purchased the house beside us when it came up for sale, because simply it was very likely to be purchased by an absentee landlord, and it was no trouble for us to instead be that landlord. And with the stroke of a pen we became that ugly creature.. a landlord.

You have to be one to really know what it is like. Wear the shoes so to speak. Bit of a learning experience. Strangely ones tenants mostly seem to like you. They try to stay on your good side.. and as a landlord, if one no more than objects to something one is heard. If one of my neighbours told one of my tenants, its against the by-law to have a fire in a backyard, they'd likely be told to mind their own business. But if as was the informal arrangement, they instead called me -- I'd go over there.. object to the fire, and it would be promptly put out.. no questions asked.

The group which doesn't seem to like me (or not be very sympathetic to me anyway) is the greater society. Legislation is drafted which gives greater powers to my tenants than to me. I've friends who purchased a property and got damned unlucky off the bat.. they got a tenant who wrecked the air conditioning unit by running it on high but never removing its winter protection; who wrecked stuff in the house, and refused to pay damages. You'd think that a landlord would bit their tongue, take the lost and find a new tenant.. not easily done if the tenant also refuses to leave. The costs, the lengthy court case, the emotional trauma.. the friends up and left here and now live in North Bay.. and no, they'd not again consider being landlords. It's a risk, and it is a known.. the system wants to protect the disadvantaged.. and the presumption is that it is the tenant who is disadvantaged not the landlord.

Its not widely grasped but we are far move vulnerable to abuse than likely to abuse. The City of Waterloo just this monday admitted that there was not one recorded incident in Waterloo of a Landlord every abusing a tenant. But stories about tenants abusing landlords are common. We've been lucky.. did have a jerk, move his girlfriend in with him which I'd not much have cared to know, since as Trudeau famously said government doesn't belong in the bedrooms of the nation, but this individual was one of three sharing the lifestyle of having their own home next door to me. The other two objected to the fact that girlfriend was using the lions share of the facilities and paying nothing towards the utilities, and took the issue to the court of last appeal -- the Landlord. They felt the utility costs should be divided four ways not three, and we agreed completely with the reasonabless of this. But he refused.. he also refused to move girlfriend out -- we did ask him to. We waiting this one out and thankfully he moved out at the end of the tenancy agreement a few months later. Otherwise we would really have been in deep waters. A problem got rid of is a problem at least behind one.

In the only other contentious case we had a tenant move home for the summer, and refuse to pay those months of her lease. She claimed that another tenant had used her room in her absence, and so she no longer felt required to pay her rent for that same room. Annoying to say the least, particularly since we have no ability to be policeman of what happens in a property we rent. We need technically to give 24 hours notice, before even being permitted to enter these properties. This came close to being taken to small claims court. Fortunately the other tenant was more on our side than hers when she grasped she was pawn in a game of lies and shared with us the email in which she'd been told by the tenant she could use her larger bedroom for the summer, and the later email saying the other tenant had decided not to return because she'd found somewhere cheaper. But I hope it rams home the point. We Landlords within a modern society are at the mercy of being abused by our tenants in ways that we can't anticipate and can't reasonably be expected to avoid.

Long trek forward. We now own the houses behind us on Columbia too. So hopefully the feared apartment building cannot now go up behind us, as long as we choose to remain guarding our own fortress. So with three properties adjacent to us, and our own home does that make us Land Barons. Guess so.

So back to the Star of David issue. I'm no longer just a Land Baron, I'm also a suspected criminal, at least until I prove otherwise. I must according to new city rules have a police check done once every five years, in order to continue to be the ugly Landlord that they obviously imagine me to be. The city as far as I know doesn't conduct police checks on our councillors who manage the cities money, make the rules, and have the power if not the desire to be corrupt, but it does require that these checks be done on me.

This is insulting and demeaning.. it has alienated me from the very city I've done so much for. And why -- because a tiny minority of students in residential accomodation have for the last many years proved beyond reasonable doubt that the city is utterly incapable of enforcing any reasonable set of standards for behaviour in residential zones. This boggles my mind but it is the story I'm told. A bunch of very drunk students tell the arriving by law-enforcement official come to quell a rock band at 2am that they are all Father Christmas or whatever.. and the poor by-law officer doesn't know who to believe. He/She doesn't think to photograph the offenders, to lock them up, to demand id, or to contact the landlord to seek information about the renters of the house where large party is occurring.. they make it simple for themselves by issuing a warning to the air and leave. And ergo I as the landlord potentially kilometers from the offence am now to be labelled a criminal until I prove that I am not. I who have policed the houses I rent for as long as I've rented them. I who've kept my street what it is; a largely quiet peaceful one. I who routinely have to pick up the litter which those others now dump on Columbia. I who try to keep the sidewalks clear in the winter. I who've called noise enforcement to protest for a second time in two nights a rock band clearly heard two blocks away at 2 am at 45 Columbia.. in order to protect my own tenants from such behaviour.. I whose offered to be backup to a female police officer if she had qualms about the group of drunks at 45 Columbia. I'm now the criminal.

But wait.. maybe I'm more than a landlord.. maybe I'm a slum landlord.. maybe it is the environment I run that is criminal. Go ask to be shown round the places I rent. The quality of property offered is no different from my own. The houses are after all next door to my own. And we fix things properly and promptly.. we keep up our properties as well as our neighbourhood.. and though we might by most landlords be labelled insane, when we replace a rotting deck that is small we replace it by one three times larger.. we don't have a problem renting.. almost invariably as one student leaves a friend of theirs is invited to have their place. The tenants who now live in our recent aquisition -- friends of the tenants behind us. For we don't just keep up the properties.. we also offer probably below market rates for accomodation at our properties.. we don't want to be ripping off students.. we want to protect our initial investment here, and if we profit, it will be that while most are leveraging the fact that one house rises in value over time, we are leveraging the fact that in this case so do four.

Star of David.. criminal background check.. it hurts, it offends, it demeans.. I say this and people don't quite get it. One of my students at the university asked me, if I actually had anything to hide.. was I actually a criminal. Ok.. so the questions out there.. the simple answer is no, never have been, never will be. The long form answer. I did once do 80kph going down Lexington, find out too late that it was a 50kph zone and risk loosing points. But I fought the issue, and got it reduced to a charge of being 20kph over.. and accepted that charge. And I did once show up in court as a witness.. but that is as close as I've ever come to being the wrong side of the law. I wouldn't mind if everyone got to wear the same star, but I object when I consider who is excluded. I don't rent other things, but I imagine if I rented out my tent trailer so someone could use it for a vacation I'd not need to have a criminal check done on me first. If I owned the apartment buildings on the south side of Columbia I'd not need it done. The ones who decided that I must have this check done routinely are not themselves so checked (as far as I know). But rent the properties beside me and I do.

So bend over and take your medicine Ian.

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