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Letter: Tell it like it is about new rental ordinance

We echo the sentiments expressed by Ron and Betty Manfredi lauding the City Council for the passage of the residential rental inspection ordinance. But there’s the story behind the news story that went unreported.

Tribune coverage of the hearings failed to credit tenants, concerned citizens and progressive Realtors who helped turn the tide.

It was hard fought and ended with some Realtors trading insults and engaging in pushing and shoving. At the end of the day, the community was able to see through the hyperbolic rhetoric, disinformation and fear-mongering and we’re all better for it.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was famously quoted as saying, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Well, the community spoke and elected officials listened and acted. Bravo!

Crafting the ordinance was strictly a closed-door affair between staff and selected Realtors. No other stakeholders were invited. To the city’s chagrin, no amount of appeasement sufficed and things unraveled quickly. At the negotiating table, opponents did their best to eviscerate the draft ordinance. At the same time, they waged a public relations campaign to outright defeat the ordinance.

Slick mailers were followed by phone calls. The “Save Our Madera” campaign warned that passage of the inspection ordinance would be disastrous for the city. According to the spurious narrative pushed, passage of the ordinance would result in violation of the sanctity of private property, home invasions by city inspectors, reduction in the rental housing stock, increased rent, depression of home values, escalation of blight and a general economic downturn.

Quite the contrary, it is nothing of the sort. All cities regulate businesses from industries, manufacturing, restaurants to yard sales. Most importantly, the ordinance imposes no new law. It merely requires property owners engaged in renting property to comply with existing law.

People tend to resist change despite its benefits and rewards, and landlords are no different. Some are hardwired to believe that any change of the old way will make them worse off. What’s not to like? Inspections put landlords on notice as to what, if anything, is amiss so corrections can be made. The fees are de minimis. Moreover, it helps to dispense with future landlord/tenant disputes over the disposition of the security deposit following move-out.

Campaign proponents are quick to counter, if laws on the books why introduce a new law. The truth is that for every reputable landlord like Vera Coffeen (one of the lead opponents to the ordinance by the way) who leases decent, safe and sanitary rentals that comply with state housing laws, there are dozens of rogue landlords who continually recycle woefully substandard housing by evicting tenants who dare to complain.

By its own admission, “Save Our Madera” unwittingly coddles these slumlords. According to its core assertions, the ordinance is cost prohibitive causing landlords to sell off their property and scaring off potential real estate investors seeking to buy rental property because neither can afford to bring their rentals to code compliance.

Translated: Landlords getting out of the rental business are those currently renting substandard housing and want to continue to do so with impunity.

Likewise, the ordinance will deter real estate speculators from buying up substandard housing with the intent to flip them as rentals without investing money to make needed repairs. This is precisely what the ordinance seeks to address. Its passage is a win-win proposition, an example of addition by subtraction. Opponents’ logic by extension would lead to a race to the bottom, resulting in parts of the City looking like shanty town. It is high time for Madera to adopt an enlightened code enforcement program that proactively targets rentals since they are the most vulnerable housing in the City.

Well-maintained and safe rentals contribute to a positive neighborhood atmosphere that protects property value, increases tax revenue, leads to business development and creates an attractive community that residents are proud of and outsiders seek to move to.

Lesson learned: When the community leads, the leaders follow.

Baldwin Moy, California Rural Legal Assistance

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