5/11/2007

"Fair" to Whom?

Liabilities and restrictions on property owners have been continually litigated in U.S. courts. Perhaps the most severe law that affects property owners is the so-called "Fair Housing" Act.

By definition, Fair Housing prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability)."

Last week, a friend in the midwest went to post a "for rent" ad in the local weekly. As he included the specifics of that property to the newspaper office, he included, "no pets," thinking of his expensive hardwood floors. The classifieds operator quickly corrected him, saying, "No pets except for service animals." Because, obviously, his town has decided that pet urine/feces/scratching is endemic to discriminating against the "differently abled."

Several years ago, I rented out one of our properties to a military family with two hyperactive toddlers. When they broke their lease due to an overseas transfer, I walked through the building to find the toddlers had taken a black permanent marker to no fewer than ten white walls and two wood doors.

When I deducted the re-paint (it takes three coats to cover Sharpie, BTW) and door replacement from their security deposit, I received over a dozen phone calls from a military lawyer at their overseas base, who was threatening to sue my family if his clients did not receive a full refund. Of course, I had to pay our attorney hundreds of dollars to tell me, "It's not worth it. Return the money." I was also inadvertently paying for their attorney, who, courtesy of the U.S. military system, was representing the couple on the tax dime.

Particularly offensive to me was that I couldn't get a handyman to come paint in time to rent the following month. So I spent three evenings after work doing the work myself, charging them only for the necessary materials. If I had hired someone, their deposit would not have covered the entire cost of the work.

Since then, I am loath to rent to families with children. They're hard on properties. Same with pets. But I can't come out and say that, and the whole process frustrates me so that I've offloaded that part of my obligation to a family member with more free time.

But with the numerous restrictions that property owners experience, why should we be hampered with this Fair Housing nonsense? After all, in jurisdictions around the country, property owners are held liable for gang and drug activity conducted on their premises; it is becoming increasingly common for communities to pass legislation that forbids property owners from renting to illegal immigrants.

Ironically, except for a handful of states and cities with sexual discrimination laws, it is still acceptable to print "no gays." Personally, I find this highly offensive.

While the government wants to induct us into some sort of citizen police patrol, there are no guidelines for this. How would I know if the charming "student" that I might rent to is actually planning to cook meth in the basement? How would I know if the seemingly normal young couple are gang members? If the lady with an accent is a legal citizen?

So, in reality, various governments are forcing me to discriminate against housing applicants. But I can't say that one house is "within walking distance to a prominent synagogue" because it somehow implies that I'm looking for a Jewish tenant.

Now, the left-wing nation of Kalifornia wants to expand Fair Housing to roommate and house-share situations. As of today, it is still legal for me to write an ad that says just about any damn thing if I'm looking to share my own space with another human.

Enter bureaucrats and lawsuits:

"The Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley and the Fair Housing Council of San Diego are suing the popular website roommates.com for violating federal anti-discrimination law by allowing ads that express roommate preferences. The ads cited in the lawsuit—presumably the worst of the bunch—include one requesting “no drugs, kids, or animals” and one that specifies “no psychos or anyone on mental medication.” Another advertiser writes that he would “prefer a Christian male, no women allowed in home, living for Christ.'"

While a similar lawsuit against Craigslist was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Chicago, this new suit is headed through the notoriously left-wing Ninth Circuit. So I'm guessing there's a 60-40 chance the plaintiffs will win.

Why??? WHY?!?!? I don't want to even consider sharing my home with a nineteen-year old ecstacy-popping nightclub DJ. Similarly, I don't want to rent any of our properties to crazed breeders with an overwhelming sense of entitlement.

And why should I?!?!? I'm liable for their behavior; I'm liable if they hurt themselves on the property; I'm liable for the damage and destruction they may cause. So why do the legislative and judicial branches continually hamstring property owners?

In short, rather than expanding Fair Housing, I'd prefer to see the courts strike down Fair Housing. Because this isn't a national issue. It's a homeowner issue. And, as the Ninth Circuit will decide, it's an issue of how we live our lives in peace and security behind closed doors.

The government can't have it both ways. They can't decide that those who hold legal liability, whether a homeowner or lease holder, cannot mitigate said liability.


19 comments:

flailing forward said...

Extending fair-housing principles to roommate situations is pretty retarded, but there are still plenty of situations where fair housing is useful. For example, keeping apartment complexes in the deep south from discriminating against blacks, and helping keep already highly competitive urban rental markets from becoming more polarized and ghettofied.

If you only own a few rental homes, what are the odds that you would ever get confronted about anything anyway? Plenty of people in the dirty dirty only rent to honks, and they still get away with it.

pdb said...

Funny how people demanding 'fairness' are also the first people to complain about rising prices. D'ya think there might be a connection somewhere? Maybe?

You can't repeal the laws of economics, the more rules placed on the selling of anything, the more the price goes up. And it always hurts people on the low end of the price scale the most.

In my opinion, the family in your example should be ashamed by their lack of responsibility. When I was a renter, I damn well maintained the place and paid for any damage I caused. Including those air gun BB dents in the wall. Damn air gun shot right through a phone book! Whew knew? :)

Sprezzatura said...

I completely sympathize that it sucks when you have tenants who make a mess and then refuse to take accountability for it, but tossing out the Fair Housing laws is a really bad way to go about solving the problem. Increase the rent, or the deposit, or reword your lease, or do a photo walk-throught "before and after" for better documentation of why you're not returning a deposit .... all of those would help resolve the problem of a destructive tenant without resorting to discrimination.

Discrimination is wrong, and there OUGHT to be a law against it.

In my hometown, for example, it was well-known that a number of the 'best' apartment buildings in town simply did not sell to Jews. It didn't matter if you were so rich you could pay all cash for the place, you weren't going to be allowed into the building.

My grandmother was born in the Jewish ghetto in a town in Poland. We came to America to get AWAY from the ghettos. When my mother went into real estate, she made a point of never accepting listings from "those" buildings, reasoning that she was not going to sell a place that she herself would not be allowed to live in.

Akubi said...

That Fair Housing lawsuit is completely absurd. Kids that live next door can be annoying enough let alone having them as a roommate. Several years ago a socially obtuse 10 year old neighbor kept coming over and wanting to hang out with me. At first I felt sorry for her, because she seemed lonely, but eventually it started driving me absolutely crazy. I would try to explain I was trying to work and needed to focus and she just didn’t get it. Since her mom often left her home alone I began to feel like an unpaid babysitter. In a roommate situation, it would be much, much worse.
Also, why is it that one has to disclose pets, but not kids when selling a house? I think kids can be more destructive than dogs or cats.

Akubi said...

BTW where's Schnapps? We have a new 6 Degrees of Casey Serin™ game. This week's challenge is Donald Duck.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about the rest of CA, but being a property owner in San Francisco is horrendous. There are so many laws to protect the renters that it seems like the city has forgotten that it's the landlords who pay the property taxes that fill the coffers. I feel like the purpose behind Fair Housing was good, and noble, and such... but in practice it's just exploited. Extending "Fair" Housing to roommate and house-share situations is ridiculous. I have no words.

It's still acceptable to print "no gays"???? Are you serious??? ugh, I don't even want to know where. and I'd wondered why I stick to big cities...

While I do understand the whole "children are a major nuisance" thing, I'm pretty annoyed by it as well. I mean, hey, I was a model child (but then, I'm ohsospecial *snicker*) Where has the notion of accountability gone? I'd love to beat it into those loosers™.

Aspeth, you can be my roommate any day. *wink*

Sprezzatura said...

it seems like the city has forgotten that it's the landlords who pay the property taxes that fill the coffers

Property tax is a cost of doing business. If you're not factoring the tax into your monthly rent, then the more fool you. If you can't raise the rent high enough to cover your costs (including the taxes) and provide a reasonable ROI, then sell the property and put your capital into some other form of investment. It's not like being a landlord is the best or only option out there.

It's still acceptable to print "no gays"???? Are you serious???

People are racist. People are bigoted. People discriminate against just abou anything that they perceive of as being "other". The law can't change how people feel. But it can affect how they act, and that's what matters. And although Fair Housing laws are not the be-all and end-all, they at least send a clear message that discrimination is wrong and give some leverage to people who are discriminated against.

Anonymous said...

@sprezz:
If you can't raise the rent

In SF, other than for a new tenant, you can't raise the rent at the renewal of a lease by more than some fixed percentage of the current rent, not even up to market prices... rent control, y'know?

Anonymous said...

I think I should've added a disclaimer.

Disclaimer: IANAL (i am not a landlord), I know nothing about rent control, or rent (except that I have to pay it), or reality (except that it's out there and out to get me). I tend to stay the hell away from the monstrosities of the world (aka humanity) because it traumatizes my blood pressure. And because I think everyone's an idiot. And that I'm the biggest idiot of them all. =]

Khatie said...

Aspeth, I agree that some of the applications of Fair Housing may go to far, but as a person of color, I view it as a necessary evil for the reasons that Sprez so eloquently states. Not every state is California; I live in Virginia, and can show you properties that don't rent to "certain people."

Strange thing is, the deed to our house has a clause that says the house can only be sold to Caucasians. It's hysterical. We can have the draft redone and the clause removed, but we keep it there as a reminder that we, thanks to the efforts of the civil rights movement and laws such as the fair housing act, allow us to live where our grand parents could not.

Lucidiocy said...

Rent your properties???!!

Are you crazy???


Flip!!!


Have I taught you nothing???

Signed,

Casey Serin (Tamar by unofficial and unauthorized proxy)

p.s. Please donate to the Human Fund

Anonymous said...

)))Several years ago a socially obtuse 10 year old neighbor kept coming over and wanting to hang out with me.(((

Did you get any of that?

Akubi said...

WTF anon?

Schnapps said...

Akubi, Schnapps has been working the day job and the contracts on the side (and just got a nice chunk of change for a couple of contracts done awhile back). So the 6 degrees is late, although I do have something :> Its a bit weak in my mind though.

Subject change!

Yes, Aspeth, by and large I agree with you. My parents were landlords for years and finally gave it up because they ended up losing more time and effort than the income was worth, largely because of those reasons.

Like the two guys who didn't pay their hydro bill, burned candles for light (and heat), left wax in the carpet and sledgehammer holes in the walls. And my parents had to fight to keep their damage deposit (which didn't even start to cover it).

Oh and they had about 6 cats as well (the guys, not my parents).

I am, also, a strong proponent of social housing in a public-private partnership (yes, I am Canadian). Simply put, we've gotten to the point where we can support those who may have difficulties supporting themselves, whether that difficulty stems from a personal basis, or from a structural basis (e.g. - discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender/sex). And as fellow human beings, since we can provide for those things, we have a moral obligation to do so.

::end of rant::

Anonymous said...

This is blatantly unacceptable. Women advertise for female roommates because they don't feel secure having a male in the same house with them, and rightly so. How can they think to force a woman living alone to accept a males tenancy application? This is an open invitation to perverts and sex maniacs everywhere to answer a 'female roommate wanted' ad in order to get their foot in the door of a womans home with the courts backing them up. Also, what about people who can't live with an opposite sex roommate on religious grounds? There will be holy hell to pay if a Muslim man advertises for a male roommate and the courts force a female applicant on him as it is not acceptable in that culture for unmarried persons to co-habitate, even if it is platonic on the chance that he should violate the Koran by accidentally seeing her naked or something. On the subject of saying no pets, what about people with allergies or phobias about animals?? Should they be forced to endure animal dander or terror because the court forced a pet owner into the house with them? What about people who advertise no ex-convicts? Should the courts be allowed to place someone with a criminal past into the home of an honest citizen? I would hold the courts directly responsible if I suffered injury or loss of property because they forced me to take in a thug. How about sex offenders?? If I have children in my home and need to rent a room to make ends meet, I don't want a child rapist in my house, yet according this, it could happen. This is just going too far.

flailing forward said...

Wait, Muslims can't even LOOK at naked chicks before they're married? Lamest. Religion. Evar. No wonder they're always blowing themselves up. We should be air-dropping porn, not sending in troops.

Anyway, the whole fair-housing roommate thing is pointless because it's unenforceable. It's just something for mega-liberal politicians to crow about. All they will be able to control is what you print in ads. As long as you don't put "no gay thug Buddhists" or something you'll be fine. I do hope you can at least say "no furries".

One argument in favor of the measure though: think of the awesome sitcom possibilities! He's a gay Muslim crip. She's a naked blood snake-charmer. Thrown together by overzealous politicians in a world where everything is against them, they find a way to make things work. Go USA!

Dumbfounded said...

Before you get in too much of a tizzy, the fair housing laws do not apply in roommate situations. Nor do they apply for owner occupied properties of 4 units or less.

Google "Mrs. Murphy exemption" for details.

Sprezzatura said...

@anon -- you're a fool, or a troll, not sure which.

The courts are not going to force anyone to accept roommates against their will. All the courts can do is say that it is illegal to place advertisements with certain kinds of restrictions in them.

Anonymous said...

Dumbfounded,

They don't apply now, but that's what this is all about. This particular government wants to make them apply.