And what a story it was! It felt good to write it all out. Steve and I have been through a lot, and we’ve accomplished quite a bit in the realm of real estate. We own 25 rental units across 9 buildings. 5 of those buildings were abandoned, boarded up, blighted properties that are now providing functional housing for 14 families. Not too shabby in itself – but there’s more! We rehabbed a hopelessly outdated little Colonial in a desirable neighborhood, turned it into a modern, open-plan masterpiece with granite, tile and bamboo flooring throughout. That is our current residence – making our former residence in Pittston a great rental for another family. And on the day we leave our little Colonial, another family will move in and enjoy its modern amenities. It won’t go the way of so many older homes in NEPA, outdated and neglected. We saved this little house, too.
Please, allow me to bend my arm a little further patting myself on the back…
We flipped three more houses in the same fashion – Main St., Avoca, which was sold to a new family last Christmas. Ridge St., Ashley - now home to a rent-to-own tenant who wouldn’t otherwise be a homeowner. And 12 South Regent St in Hanover Township, which is now available for rent or rent-to-own. Call or text Steve at (570) 237-0124 if you’re interested. Here’s the link: http://m.realtor.com/#details?property_id=4215292771&rdc_return_url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.realtor.com%2Frealestateandhomes-detail%2F12-S-Regent-St_Hanover-Township_PA_18706_M42152-92771
I continue to work a “day job” allowing my husband to work our real estate business full-time. He’s involved in flipping two more houses in New Jersey. He has taken several properties off the tax sale roles here in NEPA, wholesaling them to other investors. And he’s used his expertise in rehabbing rentals to help these investors bring 9 other properties back to life from their formerly blighted state.
Wilkes-Barre’s One Strike Ordinance. Yes, it’s time to talk about that again.
One of those properties was the building on Madison St. This past March the city of Wilkes-Barre shut down the second floor unit under their One Strike Ordinance because the tenant was arrested. He was a 20-year-old small-time pot dealer and he got caught at his kitchen table. The landlords, according to the ordinance, were supposed to know what this kid was doing at his kitchen table. And we were also supposed to have the ability to do something about it, even if we did know.
One good thing that came from that whole experience: I started writing this blog. I don’t know how many people are actually reading it but I’ve had a few people tell me they have, and they look forward to it every week. I enjoy writing and I feel like I have something to say about real estate. I also have some insights on starting a business, running a business, being a woman in business, working with your husband, raising a child while running a business and holding down a “day job.” I didn’t really need the Fighting City Hall angle, but that’s what got this whole thing started.
After the apartment was shut down under One Strike, I sprang into battle mode. I used my local media connections and made sure reporters and TV cameras were at the appeal hearing. That whole experience is chronicled in earlier posts on this blog. I was incensed – hence the blog’s title, Ginger Snapped.
The Million Landlord March
I don’t align myself with the Tea Party conservatives, but I do admire their activism. It’s very similar to the hippies of the 1960s and ‘70s, protesting for less government interference in their lives. Only now the tables have turned – conservative values of Liberty and Property have suddenly become anti-establishment. I joked with my friend, a conservative radio talk show host, who is also a Wilkes-Barre landlord. I told her I was thinking of organizing a Million Landlord March beginning with a rally at Kirby Park, marching over the Market Street Bridge to City Hall. Her reply, “What a target of opportunity that would create!” Indeed. Everybody hates landlords. And we’d all be in one place to be easily picked off!
But why does everybody hate landlords? We’re working Joes, the lot of us, just trying to make a little money that isn’t dependent on a paycheck from a job that may disappear at any time. People like my husband and the investor who owns the Madison Street house are literally pulling the boards off blighted abandoned properties and putting them back on the city tax rolls. Jim Yarwood, who runs the Wyoming Valley Real Estate Investors Association, agrees with me that landlords need an image makeover. He asked me to “run the PR campaign.” I’m not sure I’m qualified to do something like that on my own, but I do have some ideas. More about those in future blogs.
Don’t Poke The Bear
Things got weird after the appeal hearing. Not surprisingly, we lost – the same governing body who dreamed up the One Strike ordinance made the decision. The next step would have been a formal appeal in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, followed by an appeal in Harrisburg, which we’d have a good chance of winning on Constitutional grounds. No landlord has ever taken this fight even to the county level. No one wants to Poke the Bear. I, however, wanted to give the Bear a proctology exam with a hot skewer. The cost of this legal battle would be between 5 and 10 thousand dollars. I was perfectly fine with cashing out a retirement account to pay for that if need be, but I was also preparing a speaking tour of real estate investment group meetings across the state to raise the cash. If I could find 500 investors willing to donate $20, I’d have my 10 grand. But…
The investor whose company name was on the deed to the building did not want to continue the fight. And that was his call, not mine. He had zero interest in Poking the Bear.
Steve & I had business with an attorney on an unrelated matter. The subject of One Strike came up in conversation, and that attorney advised us not to Poke the Bear. Wait for the ACLU, he advised. A suit was filed by the ACLU in January. It’s still making its way through the muck and mire of the legal system and may take another year before any resolution comes of it. Check out the Washington Times article here- NEPA always makes national headlines for the wrong reasons! http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jan/22/aclu-one-strike-eviction-law-unfair-to-landlord-te/?page=all
A local property manager told my husband she was afraid to work for us and our investor friends because we had been hit by One Strike, and that I was Poking The Bear with this blog and my activism. Well, working with us is not something she will ever have to worry about, but that’s beside the point.
Another attorney told me to be prepared for intense scrutiny of my business. If I insisted on Poking the Bear, the Bear would be looking for any chink in the armor. Then I started getting really paranoid.
The One Strike fight was over, at least for now. The unit that was shut down did not belong to me. The investor it belonged to did not wish to take the fight further. I’d have to wait for the city to shut down one of my own units. And while I waited, I’d be well-advised to tighten up my ship. If and when I went to war with the City of Wilkes-Barre, my business would need to be 100% infallible. Every “I” dotted. Every “T” crossed. I would give them absolutely no ammunition at all. That is what I have been doing for the past nine weeks as I’ve been blogging about the history of Good People Good Homes.
The Exodus from Wilkes-Barre?
One of the first orders of this business was protecting our friends. I didn’t want to drag our investors we’d worked with into any grand battle with the city, so it was best to cut ties with them. Steve will still work with them as far as finding any properties in the area they’d want to buy, but if they want to rent the units we are strongly advising they sign on with a licensed PA real estate broker. They can self-manage if they want to, but we advise against it, due to the One Strike bullshit.
And on that note, we took our own advice.
Good People Good Homes, and all our associated rental companies, have signed on with a PA licensed brokerage for property management. How is that going? Well… that’s a future blog. It’s really too soon to tell. But Steve and I both feel that’s a step in the right direction. The accounting is going to get a heck of a lot easier. Maintenance and tenant complaints will no longer be our problem. And at the point where we are satisfied that our licensed broker-sponsored property manager is skillfully managing our rentals, Steve and I will no longer be tied geographically to Northeast PA. Maybe it’s time we went back to a state that believes in property rights and individual liberties. Maybe it’s time we went home.
You won, Mayor Leighton. You can keep Wilkes-Barre. It’s not worth fighting for. You can change the slogan from I Believe to I Used To Believe.
I can already hear him telling us not to let the front door hit us in the ass on the way out.
I’m not sure how this is going to end. We’re here at least another year. I want to flip another house. I want to get our rent-to-own project up and running. I want to work with Jim Yarwood and the Wyoming Valley Real Estate Investors Association to unite area landlords under a common set of goals and ethical standards, and promote that. And make no mistake, I will go to war over One Strike if the Bear pokes me.
I have a feeling my work here isn’t quite done.