My Name is NOT Leona
When I found the handwritten letter shown below, I had just returned from a cross-country drive (representing myself pro se in Utah Family Court, long story) to find about half of my tenants didn’t think they had to pay rent any more because I had left town. When this happens, people get belligerent over late fees that accrue and sometimes refuse to pay them. That’s when, unfortunately, a landlord has to file to evict, which requires copying documents like leases and court notices and motions to recover real property.
Road trips were fun when I was younger, but disastrous things happen when the sheriff leaves town, and being a landlord is a little like being a small town sheriff. Going on two years ago, I found myself in a Staples making copies. Now and then, people leave their originals on the lens—I was startled to find an artifact from another landlord whose identity I conceal with a thick black line; suffice it to say his name is not Donald Trump.
I seized this document when I saw it and kept it in a safe place in my files. Its existence vindicated me when I came to the point where I knew I had to apply for food stamps and Medicaid. Hope House is sponsored by the local chapter of the Salvation Army. It is also a women’s shelter, one of many I have gotten tenant referrals from since I started landlording. In this handwritten letter, Mr. MJM says he’s sending copies of his mortgages, insurance and property taxes. I got hit pretty hard with property taxes myself last month. I only get $2,900 per month, and that’s just been reduced to $2,300 because the Department of Human Services cut their monthly payment to one of my tenants, forcing her to move with her 2-year-old daughter into a shelter. My city property tax payment for July amounted to just over $2,000. I sent them $40 because it was all I could afford. I am definitely NOT Leona Helmsley.
Living in the city, I qualify for the STAR Exemption, but since I didn’t know how to apply for it, apparently the City feels entitled to have overcharged me approximately $853 per year on the property taxes I paid since 2008. Let the record show that I have overpaid my City Property Taxes for four years, and my overpayment rightfully should be applied to City Property Taxes that I presently owe but cannot afford to pay. The landlords who live out of town and hire property managers let the buildings crumble until the City takes them. The landlords that live in Rochester and try to manage our own building(s) are not rich, although clearly the City Courts think we are. People who aren’t landlords themselves think managing property isn’t a full-time job or persuade themselves somehow that landlords live a carefree existence in Solla-Sollew and shake a money tree once a month.
Speaking of city landlords, I was privileged (you decide) to sit in on a meeting of Rochester City Slumlords (not what they’re really called) back in May of this year. They were lobbying (pretty successfully) to have Certificate of Occupancy laws revoked and to defeat city lead ordinances. When I told them about my problems with the City Court judges, a couple of the prominent (read: older with peroxide blond-haired) female members scoffed at my methods. They laughed at my signing tenants up on yearly leases and charging late fees. “Landlords are cheap,” one of them kept repeating over and over again. “Speak for yourself,” I wanted to tell her. It was clear to me where this collection of landlords chose to compromise their principles. I only have two buildings, whose combined value amounts to less than $150,000, but I keep them in good repair. City inspectors have complimented me on the condition of my buildings.
We hate landlords because nobody likes to pay rent, but we love our capitalist system, don’t we? Just get rid of all those social programs; true capitalism can only mean survival of the fittest! I’m getting ready to write an article for Rochester IndyMedia about how capitalism is a hothouse flower that only survives when we have people who cooperate, e.g., rich people who pay their share of taxes. Do you think it’s good to be able to own property, a house, a car, a boat? How about just one? Everyone ought to be able to own property in this country, not just the Leona Helmsleys, Donald Trumps and Mitt Romneys. Every American citizen. Just remember that if you don’t want corporations to own this Land of the Free from Sea to Shining Sea, you better speak up for small businessfolk like us private landlords that are struggling just to make ends meet right now.