Letter in response to new city policy on releasing data on inspections complaints

September 8, 2014

Dear Editor (NorthNews):

Generally speaking, I am in favor of city government releasing as much information about its operations as possible to the public; however, there is something about the recent announcement by the city’s top inspections official that merits comment. Your article begins: “City-generated data may soon help people track buses from their phones and help monitor problem properties for things like noise violations and landlord abuses.”

I have been a private-sector landlord for twenty-five years. During that time, my particular occupation has been “lunch” for the city’s political infrastructure - the mostly DFL neighborhood groups, housing nonprofits, police-oriented block clubs, etc. - for whom we are uncaring business people that ruin neighborhoods and are interested only in making a buck.

Now I read in your article that Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, director of regulatory services, plans to use the new system to “help neighborhoods monitor problem properties and landlords”, “track violations in a building”, and also “help protect individuals from landlord retribution for complaints”. The article also quotes a tenant in south Minneapolis connected with a neighborhood group who said she lived in a “deteriorating” apartment building but had never seen an inspector or maintenance person.

The assumption behind these statements is that landlords as a class are bad people; and we need to watch these ----- to make sure they don’t abuse their tenants and other neighborhood residents.

From my perspective, there are both good and bad landlords, as with other groups. For a top city official to stress the latter is perpetuating a stereotype that would be unacceptable for most other groups. As often as not, it is politically motivated outsiders with access to “other people’s money” (NRP money, foundation grants) rather than tenants who are leading the charge against landlords. They want to organize the tenants to increase their political effectiveness.

I remember getting into a shouting match with then Council Member Don Samuels when I suggested that the first line of defense against a bad landlord is not to call the city but switch to a better housing deal. Rental housing is like any other commercial product. If someone offers you a high-priced or shoddy product, you do not buy from this person but go elsewhere. Samuels called this position “callous”. Of course, city residents needed his particular service. He, not the free market, decided what was acceptable housing and what was not.

Over a decade ago, a group of private-sector landlords operating as Minneapolis Property Rights Action Committee organized politically and helped get rid of a number of top city officials in the 2001 municipal election. But this happens once in a blue moon. Our fearless leader, Charlie Disney, died recently; and the weeds have evidently grown back. Anyone interested in what happened then can browse MPRAC’s archives at http://www.landlordpolitics.com.

Let me make another outrageous suggestion. Let inspections publish all the complaints received against landlords including their names; but also publish all the names of complainants. That way, you may begin to see a pattern, whatever it might be.

William McGaughey

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