Housing Policy • September 1, 2006
THE TWILIGHT ZONE?
You’re driving down a desolate road. No one is in sight. Not a car, a truck, or a cop. You say to yourself, this is the time to unleash those horses. You step hard on the accelerator. In a moment, you hit 60, 70, and then 80 miles per hour. The road curves. Undaunted and feeling that thrill of getting away with something, you press harder. No one sees you, so you hit 100 then 110.
Suddenly blinding lights come up behind you. You see flashes of red and blue. You know it’s over. You’re busted and there is absolutely nothing you can say because you are dead wrong.
You pull over and the cop walks up to you. With surprising politeness, the officer says: “Sir, I don’t need to tell you why I pulled you over, do I?” You get that caught in the cookie jar look on your face and say, “I’m sorry, I guess I got carried away. Can you give me a break?”
Not persuaded, the cop says, “Just because you think no one is looking, that is not an excuse to break the law.” He gives you a ticket and a notice to appear in Court.
For the next several weeks, you torture yourself. How could I have been so stupid? I am going to have to pay a million dollars in fines. I’ll lose my insurance. I may even spend some time with the boys in cell block 13.
Two months later you and the cop show up in Court. The Judge looks down from the bench and snarls. You know someone is going to jail. Just as you are about to break down and cry, the Judge says that the cop, not you, must serve three months behind bars.
The court room goes silent. No one can believe the cop is facing time. Then solemnly, the judge explains that even though you knew you were breaking the law, the cop was required to tell you why he pulled you over. He didn’t, so he must pay a fine of $2,500 and serve three months in jail.
Sound impossible? You haven’t been to Sacramento lately. AB 2210 (Goldberg) is just that crazy.
In what has to be the most punitive anti-landlord bill this session, Assembly Member Goldberg is pushing legislation that provides that people who illegally park their cars on private property have notice rights that must be complied with or the landlord who has the car towed can be convicted of a misdemeanor and fined up to $2,500 and sentenced to jail for as long as three months.
A little background. Allegedly, there is a problem with bandit tow truck operators who go around parking structures snatching cars that they claim, without justification, are illegally parked. Ms Goldberg introduced AB 2210 to regulate these guys. No problem so far.
Then she decides that landlords are partly responsible for the bandit conduct. So, her bill requires that a landlord must give written authorization before a tow truck operator can remove an illegally parked car. The written authorization must include, among other things, a statement of the grounds for the removal of the vehicle. In addition, as introduced, the bill required the landlord or his agent to be present at the time the car is towed.
The rental housing industry resisted the bill for many reasons, but one of the most pressing problems was the requirement that the owner had to be present at the time the car is towed. The impact of this requirement was bad for all landlords because it required landlords, or their agents, to be in confrontational situations with angry people. But it was even more of a problem for small to midsize owners. Since they do not have resident managers, they would have to travel to their properties every time a tenant complained that someone was in his or her space.
When the other members of the legislature realized the burden that this placed on small to midsize landlords, they agreed upon a compromise for owners of properties that had fewer than 15 units and no resident manager. If a tenant provided a written or electronic statement that included the required information about an illegally parked car in his or her space, the owner could then give authorization to have the car towed. We still did not like the bill, but thought this was the best compromise that we could reach.
Nine days after this compromise was reached, Ms Goldberg quietly introduced a killer amendment. If a small landlord has a car towed in reliance upon a tenant statement and the required writing or electronic message does not contain all of the required information, the landlord is guilty of a misdemeanor and can be fined up to $2,500 and sentenced to three months in jail.
This is insane. Just like a speeder knows darn well he is breaking the law, the person who illegally parked his or her car in someone else’s space knew full well that they parked illegally. And, just like it would be crazy to punish a cop for not telling the speeder why he was pulled over, the idea of making a landlord a criminal because he or she enforces parking rules is absurd.
What happens if this bill is passed? Nurse Jones comes home from a long night in the emergency room. She wants to look in on her kids, take a shower, and get to bed as quickly as possible.
When she arrives at her parking lot, she sees that someone has taken her space. She calls the landlord and demands that the landlord have the car towed. The landlord tells her that he cannot take any action because he does not want to go to jail. She asks, “What am I to do?” The landlord responds, “I am sorry, but you will have to park around the corner and wait until the space is free.”
Nurse Jones follows the advice. She leaves the safety of her gated parking lot and parks on the street. As she gets out of her car, two thugs rush up and rob her. During the altercation she is seriously injured.
Outraged, Nurse Jones sues the landlord and alleges that he failed to provide a service to which she was entitled and failed to protect her safety. The media picks up the story and writes a scathing report about uncaring landlords.
Other tenants in the building start complaining that this has happened to them. They form a tenant union and conduct a rent strike against the landlord. Nobody pays rent and the building deteriorates. Good tenants move out and they are replaced by drug dealers and gangsters. Surrounding neighbors, fearing for their safety, move away. Over time, the community suffers a downward slide and turns into a ghetto.
Think this is a stretch? Look at South Central, Compton, and Watts. These and other cities have declined, in part, because of a plethora of laws that protect the “rights” of bad actors and prevent landlords from controlling the conduct of tenants in their properties.
Unfortunately, for good tenants and landlords who want to enforce their rules, in Ms Goldberg’s way of thinking, the suffering of the innocent is a small price to pay compared to the anguish that the owner of an illegally parked car would endure if he was not told why his illegally parked car was towed.
No, this is not the Twilight Zone. This is the California Legislature.
Needless to say, we will do all we can to defeat this bill.
View the entire text of the bills in this report at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/bilinfo.html
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