I’ll bet your dying to know what happened. And I will tell you! But first I have to tell you why.
I’m a landlord. My husband and I have been landlords since 2008 when we decided rental real estate was the only way we were ever going to stay on the good side of the poverty line. The two of us had been struggling in media careers for years, with varying degrees of success. I had what was considered one of the “good jobs” in the radio industry – but more on that in a future blog. Let’s just say the second time I was passed over for a promotion, instead of buying shoes to cheer myself up, I bought a 6 unit apartment building.
We’re not rich. I was making a salary that may have put us in the middle class, at least in Northeast PA. Maybe. My husband was making even less, working for Public Radio/Television. Our first apartment building cost $140,000. We had the cash for the down payment and the credit for the rest. And Good People Good Homes was born. Our vision – take a rundown building, fix it up, rent it out to some decent tenants, make money, buy another building, rinse, repeat – and you could revitalize an entire block, neighborhood, city…
Our vision really came to life when we took the boards off an abandoned gem on West River St near Wilkes University. (Check out the Times Leader article about us here- http://archives.timesleader.com/2008_26/2008_07_23_Betting_on_a_belief_-business.html
The Citizen’s Voice wrote about us, too!) That was also the first time we really got shellacked. We hired a contractor with good references from New Jersey to do the rehab, and after two days of subpar work and a shutdown notice from the city for “forgetting” to pull permits, they ran off with our $10,000 deposit! I was standing in one of the unfinished apartments wondering what we were going to do now when a Wilkes University pharmacy student stopped by, looked around, and said she wanted the apartment. She came back that afternoon with her mother – and a check for a year’s rent in advance. About $10,000. I took that as an encouraging wink and nudge from God.
A small business grows
Fast forward 7 years – we are not as naïve as we once were when we started Good People Good Homes. Tenants have put us through the ringer – people do things that boggle the mind! To be fair, we have had our share of great tenants, responsible people who took care of our properties and who were great to know. But some of the bad ones… let’s just say I have some stories that will make for entertaining future blogs! We even considered changing our name from Good People Good Homes because maybe it led bad tenants to believe they could take advantage of us. We thought about The Dilligaf Corporation (Do I Look Like I Give A F…?) but decided that GPGH Management would be the name tenants would know. We had become street smart. We had several buildings by this time, and had hired a friend to help us manage the growing list of tenants. We were helping other investors buy in the area, fix up their properties and manage their rentals. And that is how 110 Madison St., Wilkes-Barre came into my life.
We managed that property like we manage all our properties. The same 26-page lease (we try to cover everything!) The same application process and tenant screening – employment, references, a criminal background check clean of violence, sex crimes and felony drug charges. We have a dedicated property manager. Contracted maintenance. And the owners of the management company (Steve and myself) are local and hands-on.
**what is One Strike**
In August of 2013, the city of Wilkes-Barre enacted an ordinance known as “One Strike.” It allows the city’s code enforcement office to shut down a rental property for 6 months if anyone is arrested on the property. A tenant, a visitor, anyone really. And they only have to be arrested, not convicted. Mayor Tom Leighton put the blame on the city’s uptick in crime squarely on the shoulders of landlords.
I scoffed in disbelief. They try that once and they’ll get sued so fast it’ll make Mayor Leighton’s bald head spin! But then they did it. To a poor guy named Adam Peters who owned a double block on Carlisle St. His tenant’s babydaddy, who was not on the lease, was busted in the apartment on drug charges. Mayor Leighton posed like a douchebag in front of a big sign posted on the door, smiling triumphantly for the news cameras. I waited for the lawsuit.
It never came. One year later 27 apartments had been shut down. Not a peep. I held my breath – we ran a tight ship but it was only a matter of time before it hit us. OH BUT WHEN IT DID I was going to open a can of whoop-ass like the world has never seen! Several more months went by.
Finally, in January 2015, vindication. The landlord on Carlisle St. had convinced the ACLU to take his case! And they had a little press conference of their own when they filed the federal lawsuit on Constitutional grounds. I was jumping for joy!
But they city remained defiant. They would battle the ACLU in court, and they would continue to enforce One Strike. A whole lot of taxpayer money was about to be lost to this, I was sure. Idiots!
And then my number came up.
A Landlord’s Nightmare
Around noon on February 12th I got a call from my property manager, Illana. She said the 3rd floor tenant on Madison St called – a gun had gone off on the 2nd floor, a bullet went through the ceiling, up through her floor! Are you kidding me? Was this a joke? An elaborate excuse as to why she was behind on her rent? I got a hold of Steve. He arrived at the building just as the police were walking out. They told him the same story our tenants would tell us – the gun went off accidentally, it wasn’t their gun, it belonged to their friend, who freaked out and ran. The police left to find the friend. My husband specifically asked them if our tenants had committed a crime, was there anything we could evict them on? They said no.
We evicted them anyway. Illana told them to get out by the weekend. But before we could file the paperwork, their father stepped in, informing us he knew their rights. We could fight them in court, or just let them move out quietly at the end of March. We went to the police department to get an incident report. They would not release that to us. We called the owner of the building, who opted to avoid a tenants’ rights lawsuit.
On March 5th, 2015, there was a police raid.
Our 19-year-old second floor tenant was busted for possessing a shotgun and several baggies of marijuana on his kitchen table. He had moved in October 1st from his parents’ home with a squeaky clean criminal record. His older brother had a few misdemeanors – so we thoroughly checked out their references before letting them in on a provisional 6-month lease. Ironically, the brother with the misdemeanors was at work at the time of the raid, and no charges were filed against him. Yet he was evicted from this apartment along with his younger brother without due process under Wilkes-Barre’s One Strike Law.
And we, the landlords, are not allowed to rent that apartment to anyone for the next 6 months.
And that is why I found myself storming into that building to confront a known drug dealer named Moses. I was on Madison Street, talking to neighbors, trying to find out what happened because neither the police nor the Code Office would not tell us ANYTHING! The next door neighbor gave me an earful. And she told me she thought she saw this Moses hanging around my building. I flipped. That SOB got me shut down by One Strike! I lost my red-headed mind. I “ginger snapped.” And went marching in there to throw him out.
So what happened when the landlord confronted the drug dealer?
Nothing, really. Moses wasn’t there. Obviously, because I’m still alive! I’m pretty scary when I’m angry, but I’m not bulletproof.
The upstairs tenant knew who Moses was. He’s from the Block. He’d been arrested earlier in the day, so I wouldn’t see him. Unless I came back later. Moses always comes back to Madison St. “But not to THIS building,” I emphasized. “Not to this building,” she assured me. I want to believe her. But I have a feeling Moses and I are destined to meet.
What Ginger Snapped is all about
This blog is about the trials and tribulations of a Mom who would rather be minding her own business than fighting City Hall. But it’s a war that has to be waged, because this is not the Soviet Union. Everyone is entitled to due process in the United States of America. And I am not about to let an overreaching municipality interfere with my livelihood without pushing back. Hard. And at high volume.
I will be blogging about this One Strike Fight, the various odd realities of being a landlord, and the struggles of being a Mom, still working at a full-time job while trying to grow a business. I promise you it will be a good read. Make sure you check back every couple of days!