One Strike allowed city code enforcement to shut down a rental unit for six months and immediately evict any tenants living there if someone on the property was arrested for a crime involving guns or drugs. The suspect did not have to even reside in the unit, and they didn’t need to be proven guilty in a court of law. The landlord and tenants would be sentenced immediately.
Wilkes-Barre settled with the ACLU, rather than going to trial. Mayor Thomas Leighton has left office, as has his cousin Assistant City Solicitor Bill Vinsko, and One Strike was their baby. The city is distressed as it is, it can’t afford losing a lawsuit like this at trial. Mayor Leighton obviously didn’t care about that. The fortunes of the city are no longer his problem, after all! The taxpayers are going to be stuck with a $100,000 bill for each of the three landlords and two tenants who were plaintiffs in the ACLU suit. There will be additional money due for the legal fees, but that hasn’t been added up yet. The court agreed the ACLU attorney’s time was worth $400/hour, so it won’t be cheap.
I think the money should come directly from Leighton’s pockets.
We can invest in Wilkes-Barre again!
I’m sure many landlords are breathing huge sighs of relief, as am I. And since I truly care about Wilkes-Barre, I see brighter days ahead. For one thing, I am planning on investing more in my Wilkes-Barre properties. We have a great six-unit on West River St. that I’d like to really class-up, and that’s going to take some money. The first phase of landscaping is going to be about $2,500. I couldn’t justify spending that money on a property that could be shut down at any time for reasons well beyond my control! Now that threat is gone, and I am free to pursue my vision.
What a change from a year ago, when I was ready to sell them all and move back to New England to get away from these crazy people. Of course, we couldn’t sell them – who would buy rental properties in Wilkes-Barre with that law on the books? So we hired a property manager and started planning our escape.
This May we made the decision to stay put, and went back to self-management. One Strike hadn’t been enforced since the new administration took office, and I had faith the ACLU would prevail. I’m so glad I was right!
Landlords and city officials need to form an alliance!
Now that we’re no longer sworn enemies, it’s time for landlords and the city government to join forces. Mayor Leighton blamed landlords for Wilkes-Barre’s crime problem. Because we slumlords were renting to these out-of-town scum druggies, right? Because all we cared about was getting a rent check, right?
No, you idiot, that’s not the case at all.
Landlords rent to people under the rules of the Fair Housing Act. Sure, a criminal background check that comes back with a major offense can cause an application not to be approved. But drug dealers aren’t stupid – they recruit people with clean backgrounds to rent the place, then move in secretly or hang around as visiting guests. As a landlord, I’ve seen this many times. A tenant moves in, usually a single woman. Then we notice a man at the apartment all the time. We can ask her about it, and she can say, “He doesn’t live here.” And that is the end of what we can legally do. When her lease is up we can choose not to renew, but that is the extent of our rights in this regard. If we have concrete proof that the man has moved in we can evict on a lease violation. But how does a landlord legally obtain such proof? Stealing mail is a Federal offense. I suppose if he dropped his wallet in the street and his drivers’ license bears our address, we have a case, but how often does that happen?
And what if we suspect there are actually drugs involved? Not much we can do there, either. We can smell marijuana in the hallway and call the police. The police will tell us to get a life, they have real criminals to chase. We can try to evict the tenant on suspicion – and the magistrate will throw the case right out of court.
Then there’s the matter of personal safety. If there really is drug activity going down in one of my units, do you really think it’s wise for me to personally confront the drug dealer? I’ll admit I’m pretty scary when I’m pissed off. But I’m not bullet proof. Confronting suspected drug dealers is the job of an armed, trained police officer. It isn’t mine.
With One Strike off the table, it’s nice to know I can call the police now. In the past, I wondered if it was a better idea to stay under the radar.
I would really like it, however, if the police would call me. If they are watching my rental property for suspected drug activity, I want to know about it. I can help! I can give the cops a key so they don’t have to break down the door. I can turn over all the information the tenant gave me during the application process – there are emergency contacts and next-of-kin listed on there the police may be interested in talking to. If I know these people are involved in the drug trade, I can exercise my right not to renew a lease. Or I can file eviction for non-payment of rent if they’re a day late as opposed to making the arrangements I’d normally make with a tenant. Or if the police tell me it’s better for their operation that I let them stay in the unit, I will work with them. As it is now, the police tell us nothing. We find out our unit was raided when we see it on the news.
Maybe this will change now that Mayor Leighton is gone, One Strike is gone, and the new city government seems to no longer think landlords are part of the crime syndicate. This is our city, too. We are heavily invested in it. We pay an awful lot of taxes! And we want the same things.
One Strike has been struck down. I’m popping champagne. Let’s raise a glass to a new era for Wilkes-Barre! Welcome back to America.