Monday, February 29, 2016

ON THE AVENUES REPRISE: Die hard the Hunter, or the political "impossibility" of rental property registration in New Albany (2015).

Earlier this morning: Pat Harrison's Enduring Gestapo Fetish in Six (6) Easy Pieces.

My column (below) was published on March 12, 2015, just shy of one year ago. It ties up a few loose ends with regard to Harrison's Slumlord Uprising of 2008, but far more than, with the issue about to come bubbling to the surface yet again, this  morning's posts reinforce the salient point of New Albany's record of rental property registration and code enforcement since 2007:

Nine years passed, NOTHING achieved.  

You're forgiven for questioning how New Albany's political caste, comprised primarily of politicians identifying themselves as Democrats, manages the feat of sleeping at night.

But you see, vampires -- they're both dead and undead, right?

Conscience doesn't factor into it ... does it?


ON THE AVENUES: Die Hard the Hunter, or the political "impossibility" of rental property registration in New Albany.

A weekly web column by Roger A. Baylor.

Rental Property Registration is an essential tool for creating a code enforcement system that effectively identifies problem properties and, through random inspections, deters landlords from engaging in deferred maintenance and lax property management. A strongly‐enforced rental registration program “lets the owner understand that he is known to the municipality and accountable for his actions with respect to the property.”
-- "An Analysis of Rental Property Registration in Austin"

The calendar reads 2015, and as we meander yet again down the weed-choked, trash-strewn garden path of pervasive legislative impotence in New Albany as it pertains to building codes -- an exercise sure to be made even more flaccid by the imperative to waffle and pander during an election cycle -- it’s fairly clear that this ongoing abdication of responsibility over a period of decades constitutes the single biggest failing of this city's purported "leadership" caste.

Today we turn back the clock to 2008, a full seven years ago, and a series of NAC posts referencing what surely was among the city’s most theatrical of rental property registration failure.

Read them and weep, because nothing has been achieved, and cannot be for so long as value extraction and decay management remain the dominant motifs of our ever-helpful duopoly of major political parties.


Boss Hogg and the meaning of life
Roger A. Baylor

While we may have been on opposite sides recently, at-large councilman John Gonder is intelligent, well intentioned and conscientious. Saturday morning, he’ll be convening a meeting. As explained at his blog:

The committee formed to address the issue of rental registration and code enforcement will hold its first meeting this Saturday morning, August 23, at 10:00 A.M. in the Elsa Strassweg Auditorium in the Library.

This meeting is expected to be brief. It is intended to simply outline where the committee is headed.

Those interested are welcome, and encouraged to attend.

Of course, Gonder played a prominent role in the (perhaps) concluded smoking ban saga, which turned on a “yea” swing vote by none other than Dan Coffey. The extent to which Gonder cultivated this amazing turnabout is unknown, although it’s fair to surmise that all the council’s quasi-progressives were forced to grudgingly raid their comic book collections to achieve the elimination of workplace smoking through Coffey’s surreal ballot.

The reason I muse aloud about these topics has much to do with my personal feelings about rental property registration, inspection, reform, and whatever other action is necessary to establish three simple facts.

Owning a rental property is a business.

Rental housing is a matter of public health.

Such a business is indeed the city’s business.

I made several predictions with respect to the smoking ordinance, and the majority proved correct. Last evening Coffey was overheard commenting that the council was about to establish a strong rental property registration package, and in honor of this, I’ll make another prognostication (and hope I’m wrong).

When push comes to shove, Coffey will unceremoniously kneecap any meaningful rental property reform, and while doing so, he’ll laugh at – not with – Gonder.

Like I said, I hope I’m mistaken. But color me skeptical. I see the miraculous smoking conversion as a one-off, the true price of which we’ll never know. Now we’re going to get the real Cappuccino, once again … and to the detriment of all.


Steve Price on rental registration and code enforcement: "This is a bunch of (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted)."
Roger A. Baylor

Before we document the 3rd district uncouncilman’s revealingly ill-tempered sex-act-and-defecation outburst at the library on Saturday -- that's right, within whispering distance of the kiddie section -- let’s look back at a bit of pertinent information posted here last week.

Owning a rental property is more than an investment — it's a business. You have to be willing and able to commit the time and resources necessary to run your business successfully.
--GMAC Mortgage website

Did you know that to search the Internet for “rental property” + business is to generate more than 3,000,000 hits?

Yesterday, my colleague Bluegill documented the scene following Saturday’s first rental registration and code enforcement committee meeting. In the comments section, Gina Coyle asked if Price really lost it, and Jeff replied:

Yes, G, (Price) said it, apparently right after he told Lloyd Wimp that he'd do whatever he could to fight it (rental registrations).

He played most of his in-meeting comments to the landlords in the crowd, bemoaning what a tough business rental property is, which I'm sure you saw.

It's paraphrased but here's the gist:

After the meeting, an already angry Steve interrupted my conversation with another committee member.

"You're wrong. Rental property ain't a business", he said.

I told him that it is and asked what he did for a living.

He then went into a semi-intelligible tirade about how it wasn't. I asked him what he did for a living.

He told me my house (which serves as a family residence only) was a business. I asked him what he did for a living.

He hollered that he didn't want to pay any more taxes. I asked what taxes he was talking about since there hadn't been any additional taxes discussed. And then I asked him what he did for a living.

When he started to say something else unrelated, I told him to answer the question about what he did for a living.

"I'm barely breaking even", he said. "I'm living off my council salary."

"Just because your business is struggling," I said, "it doesn't mean it's not a business."

With that he turned for the door, repeated some of the stuff he'd said earlier about people wanting guys with clipboards running around, and then finally pronounced "This is all a bunch of fucking bullshit" as he headed out.

The funniest part to me is Price's unintentionally candid (and ever elastic) definition of "business": It's a business if you're making money, but not if times are hard. Price isn't making any money off his rental properties, therefore, they no longer constitute a business.


It hasn't stopped him from incorporating a business entity, has it?

I'm guessing Price's state of affairs has more to do with business expertise and the normal cycle of business than the nature of business itself, but perhaps I'm misunderstanding him. That's an easy thing to do. Listening to Price speak publicly is rather like trying to read a goat path map of Tibet -- upside down.

But those priceless expletives … well, the meaning is clear. Ironically, taken together, they also aptly describe the quality of the “work” Price has done during his tenure as councilman.

The same general attitude also helps encapsulate our eternal gratitude that council president Gahan has appointed the transparently biased Price to the rental committee. Before this, Gahan gifted the Urban Enterprise Association board with precisely the same befuddled personage (attendance record: 3 "present" and 5 "absent" so far this year).

Thanks, Jeff.

Actually, "fucking bullshit" describes Gahan's recent attitude toward the community in general just as pithily as it does Price's historically cavalier disregard for his 3rd district neighbors.

Perhaps, then, we should file this under "be careful what you wish for," because having asked for consistency, Gahan's now giving it to us.

Good and hard.


Dude -- you guys live over in that product over there?
Roger A. Baylor

Tonight at the rental property inspection committee meeting, Mr. Haesley, the owner of Property Solutions, made these assertions.

(a) His business is located at (insert Floyds Knobs address here).

(b) All the many houses this business owns, from which the business derives income (dare we imagine … makes a profit?) by charging people a fee (that’d be “rent”) to live there, actually are not properties. They are products.

(c) Does a department store have to register each and every one of the products it sells?

I’ll leave it to Bluegill (who filmed the meeting) and others – was local media present? – to provide the in-depth coverage of the evening.

All I can say is this.

(a) Okay. I have an address, too. It isn’t a post office box, either.

(b) The beers I sell aren’t products, mind you. They’re dreams. How can we tax/register/license a dream?

(c) Pick an item in any store. Every step of the way, licensing is involved. Even if it comes from an unregulated Chinese sweat shop, the product is subject to some manner of importation licensing. What of the truck that delivered it? A licensed driver, of course. I'm sure we could follow this further. Why bother?

A product, huh?

Earlier in the session, Councilman John Gonder took a poll of the people in attendance, asking whether they were for or against a simple rental property registration program without registration fees. The vote predictably split along landlord/activist lines. Gonder did not permit stronger views to be enumerated.

Count me among the latter, though. So long as rental property owners insult my intelligence with arguments as weak as Mr. Haesley’s, then I advocate licenses for every rental unit in town.

Am I am extremist? Maybe. All I know is that my business is in fact a business, it is regulated to the hilt by multiple governmental agencies, and I accept regulation as the cost of doing business.

Business is business … right?


See also the late, lamented Lloyd's account of a chat with Haesley, here.


The next video should be instructional.
Jeff Gillenwater

A video feed of the second rental registration and code enforcement meeting will be posted as soon as I can get it done. The process takes hours and, seeing as how I'm trying to do the traditional media's job with a 12-year-old video camera I bought off eBay nine years ago, patience is appreciated. I think I'll leave the rig at home next time and just smoke a cigarette in the meeting room. Then you can watch it on the 11:00 news.

One needn't view the video in it's entirety, however, to grasp the essence of the situation. Amidst the embroidery of humorously bad arguments, irrelevant anecdotes, and sanitation fantasies, at least one thing is plain:

No one knows the law.

Over and over again, the questions arose: What legal obligation does the city have to notify property owners of code violations and what can legally be done if they don't respond? For that matter, what enforcement and collection options, according to the state, does the city have if they do respond? Every time, the answer was "I don't know".

Given the number of times the building commissioner has expressed exasperation with those unknowns, you'd think finding them out would be the crux of his efforts. If thinking was the hallmark of New Albany's past couple of decades, though, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

As much credit as I give John Gonder for displaying the fortitude so lacking in previous councils, there's not much sense in continuing the foray into chaos until those legal questions are answered. Otherwise, we'll be seeking to build an enforcement mechanism based on faulty remembrances rather than contemporary understanding.

And with all the superfluous talk throughout this conversation of how great things used to be, another myth is the last thing we need.


Time passes. Pins drop, and crickets chirp. Somewhere in the night, a dog barks.


The ordinance against "no-brainers" is subject to multiple interpretations.
Roger A. Baylor

There's good coverage of common sense in the morning newspaper, with our own Bluegill in an advisory capacity.

A code of safety: Some feel crime and code enforcement are linked in New Albany, by Daniel Suddeath (News and Tribune)

Lax code enforcement welcomes a criminal element into New Albany, according to Jeff Gillenwater.

Gillenwater, a New Albany resident who has lobbied for tougher rules through his work with several neighborhood associations, said deteriorating houses and rentals impact more than merely property values.

“Make it look like nobody cares and potential residents will believe you, including relocating criminals,” he said.

Mayor Doug England promised to lay out his code enforcement plan to the City Council when he returns from back surgery and rehabilitation, which will likely be the first week of January.

Alas, another year has passed during which New Albany's city council has acted boldly on trivial pursuits, such as the currently unenforced (duh) ban on novelty lighters, but proposed nothing of substance to curb the city's empowerment of slumlords, a situation that derives not from ordinance, but from generations of outright political cowardice.

To be sure, there have been fact-finding meetings, and CM John Gonder waxes optimistic, telling the Tribune's Suddeath, "I am very hopeful. I have no reason to think that they will pull out a toothless tiger."

Gonder gets it, and yet toothlessness is such a part of New Albany's heritage of unresponsiveness that it surely must be written into the city's genetic code. According to our political DNA, measures to combat the unchecked reign of the slumlord are DOA. It's going to take more than words. Think: Deeds ... irrespective of the political fallout.

Uncouncilman Steve Price, who by his own testimony yearns to be regarded as a "hobbyist" rental property owner who makes nothing from it (and they call me a socialist), said it best back in August after the initial rental property registration committee meeting: "This is all a bunch of fucking bullshit."

It is, but as usual, not in the way that Price unimagines.

None of us currently know the dimension of the mayor's plan to address the reality of New Albany's default state of non-enforcement. I remain hopeful, although we are well advised to refrain from holding our breaths.


Postscript: Doug England did nothing through the end of his term, after which Gahan (seeking re-election this year) has done nothing since the beginning of his. 

Gahan’s 2015 primary opponent, David White, has had nothing to say on the matter, while the GOP’s rental-property-owning mayoral nominee, Kevin Zurschmiede, has led the current effort to reform building codes – without a rental property registration component. 

Fear has its use but cowardice has none.
-- Mahatma Gandhi

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