Letter to the Editor: Burbank Landlords Could Use a Lesson in Civil Discourse

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Letter to the Editor:

There’s a tradition in comedy: punch up, not down. In other words, politicians and other people with power are fair game for insults and criticism, but avoid denigrating and dehumanizing members of already marginalized groups.

This sentiment also applies to the realm of civil discourse, and based on their remarks and behavior at last night’s council meeting, it would seem that many Burbank landlords could use a lesson not only in comedy but also in humanity.

Portions of last night’s general public comment period resembled a scene from a Parks and Recreation episode written not by hard-working human writers who deserve a living wage but a soulless A.I. infected with some sort of dystopian neoliberal virus. 

A loud, well-coordinated, and mostly ill-informed gaggle of property owners took to the lectern to punch down at tenants facing possible homelessness while denouncing a phantom rent control ordinance that the city is currently not considering. Since most of their arguments were a waste of time and energy directed at a nonexistent agenda item, I’ll refrain from expending much of mine debunking them at length.

Suffice it to say that their talking points were not the result of careful research into the merits and drawbacks of rent control (there is evidence for both sides, including studies that dispute landlords’ frequent claims that rent control always hurts tenants, inhibits the construction of new housing, or results in more vacant rental units) but rather a one-sided hodgepodge of cliched soundbites gleaned from Googling “Does rent control work?” and not vetting the results. That’s not a joke: one landlord literally said he did just that. And everyone knows the surest way to get accurate, unbiased information on an issue is to type a leading question about it into a search engine with an algorithm that prioritizes number of clicks over quality of sources.

Pleading for the council and public’s sympathy as they deal with the rising costs of practicing the only job in the world that guarantees an 8-10% annual raise, these property owners interrupted, heckled, and threatened tenants who were courageous enough to risk such public shaming – not to mention potential retaliation from their landlords – for sharing their stories of facing no fault evictions while dealing with a shortage of affordable housing and the very same increased across-the-board costs, without the concomitant increase in income, as landlords.

It should be noted that tenants and their advocates who present as white and male, such as myself, remained largely immune to such heckling during our public comments, while women and People of Color delivering the same fact-based arguments were met with jeers of “Move to LA!” and “Now we know who not to rent to!”

Interestingly, these witty and not-at-all-predictable barbs were levied by people claiming only moments before to be the type of “friendly Mom and Pop” landlords who support tenant protections and treat those who rent from them with respect and dignity. Nothing like a touch of racism and misogyny to spice up the general fear-mongering, incivility, ignorance, and outright lies.

As I stated in my public comment last night, I would like to believe that the few landlords who have recently expressed a desire to work together with tenants toward mutually beneficial compromises are operating out of good faith. However, actions speak louder than words.

Therefore, I call upon such landlords to organize with us for tenant protections that will ultimately benefit everyone and to publicly denounce the behavior of a supposed minority whom you claim do not genuinely represent all “housing providers.” After the events of last night’s meeting, I’m sorry to say you have your work cut out for you to earn the trust of tenants and their advocates, but we will refrain from judging you all based on the statements and actions of your more bigoted and predatory counterparts.

Jared Cavagnuolo
Burbank Tenants Union

    BurCal Apartments8715

    1 COMMENT

    1. Hi Jared,

      Thank you for your missive.

      I have been a real estate investor since 1987. My most recent Burbank real estate purchase occurred in 2007, which is a multi-family (apartment) building. I experienced a real loss, prior to taking depreciation, for many years. I viewed the investment as a retirement income option.

      Property ownership is a complex subject and in my examination of the facts, larger groups that own many properties do better than mom-and-pop investors. Most of the owners are good people.

      That said, long-term buy-and-hold investors like myself are far less likely to buy in a market with strict rent controls simply because these markets tend to attract flippers. When rent cannot cover the cost of mortgage payments, taxes and maintenance, the way to make money on these buildings is to flip them. For smaller buildings like those that I own, I see other property owners building ADUs and then selling the property for more money to capture their profits. This may not serve the tenants’ best interests long-term because flippers may not be attentive to tenant needs. I have seen this occur in other cities.

      Something to look at, the government has become a partner in the equation and frankly, I would encourage you to concurrently look to capping property taxes. Here is an example of how much a tenant pays in property tax (a property owner must cover this from rent):

      Actual property…

      1201 W Verdugo is currently for sale for $2,500,000; a 5-unit small apartment building with all units having 2 bedrooms and one bath.

      Property owners currently pay approximately 1.161456% in total general property tax levies, voter indebtedness and direct assessments on their properties.

      That would mean that the $2.5 million property owner would pay approximately $29,306 in annual property tax, with an increase in that amount every year as allowed by law.

      That comes to approximately $5,807 in property tax per unit. That is approximately $484 in property tax, per unit, per month.

      Nearly every election cycle, someone puts up one or more measures (such as a local proposed parcel tax) that would aim to raise those property taxes.

      Why not change the way taxes are handled? Someone who owns a property for a long time is paying less tax than someone who just purchased a property. Why not permit owners to simply itemize property taxes and charge them directly to the tenants based on some metric, such as per square foot prorated based on the entire square footage of the building?

      One of the complaints I have about property tax? Voters keep wanting to add to it. Perhaps if the tax were separate, on the tenant’s monthly bill, with rent being a separate expense, the voters would put the brakes on voting for these increases.

      $484 per month in property tax per unit is quite a bit of money if you ask me.

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