by another name
In honor of San Francisco Small Business Week, which ended yesterday, let me be the first to let you in on a little secret: landlords are small business owners.
And by and large they treat their customers— tenants — about the same as other small business owners treat theirs.If any tenants’rights activists read those two sentences, they’re busy creating voodoo dolls in my likeness. These are more than fighting words; they’re blasphemy.Until you think about it a little bit. In my opinion, much of the basis for the continuing demonization of Bay Area landlords is fallacious. It depends on highlighting the actions of a few sociopathic individuals (Hello, Kip and Nicole Macy!) and the carefully crafted image of landlords as wealthy fat cats, out to make a quick buck on the back of their overwhelmed and powerless tenants. There are several problems with this image. Th e majority of local landlords are — yes — small businessmen and women. Some are multi-generational property owners, old-school San Franciscans that time forgot. Others are recent immigrants, looking for a small slice of the American Dream. Only a few are large corporations. If I am wrong about this, it’s because thirty years of rent control ordinances have made owning rental property in San Francisco a fool’s bet, driving out small property owners who can neither afford to carry a mortgage unmet by rental income nor wait long enough for their investment to pay off . So let’s admit that landlords are actually small business owners. Their product: shelter. Their goal: to make a living. That this is fundamentally opposed to the needs of their customers is really no different than the relationship that exists between clothes shoppers and the owners of local boutiques. Clothing, like shelter, is a basic need. What you wear is determined in part by what you can afford, just as where you live is determined by what you can afford. To assume that both boutique owners and landlords are ripping off their customers just because they can suggests a pretty lousy world. Which, I guess, is exactly the world tenants’ rights advocates insist we live in. What a way to live.
In that world, landlords are not small business owners; they’re greedy misanthropes who must be defeated. If that means creating a continually-changing list of rules designed to limit landlord powers — better to put The Man on the defensive before he can do it to you — so be it. Thirty years of anti-landlord rhetoric has created an “I got mine” situation in which long-time renters are subsidized by new renters. It’s a situation similar to that of Proposition 13, often a point of reference for tenants’ rights people, two wrongs making a right, after all. For those lucky enough to lock down their rent, life is good. Parttime employment, world travel, casual time to really consider the mysteries of life — all await. If this ultimately drives small property owners out of the City to be replaced by that large consortiums that can afford to carry a few below-market rents without taking a hit, well, that’s what they deserved in the first place. Not my problem. But you’ll see Satan wearing Gore-Tex before you see Bay Area mayors get together to kick off “Landlord Week.” Any such event would be greeted by a phalanx of protesters and a crowded soap box sponsored by the Tenants Union. I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Th irty-plus years of eff ectively articulate, single-minded and occasionally hysterical opposition to this category of small business owners has created more than one generation of citizens who simply assume evil intent among all landlords, blithely driving small property owners out of their city even as they expend equal effort to protect other small, locally-owned businesses.
How about a little breathing space
for small property owners, too?
I hope you enjoyed the read as mush as I did.