As a professional Property Manager, I often describe my job akin to a ‘PCB transformer”; my process is to act like an adaptor between the power struggles of Owners and Tenants. It’s not uncommon to have sparks fly between the 2 parties. And like PCB chemicals, the mixture of emotions can occasionally get toxic. Over time however, my antidote has always been that ultimately – like AC and DC currents – we are all going in the same direction: We all desire to maintain a quality living unit at a reasonable rate in a safe community.
These days it’s getting more difficult – and in the rancor that has substituted for communication over the cures to Portland’s housing crisis – I fear we may have hit a power-grid failure; a meltdown that could have negative consequences for everyone involved.
Portland is one of the world’s 10 most desirable cities according to a recent list in Metropolis Magazine, along with Helsinki, Copenhagen, Sydney and Singapore. Oregon is the fastest growing state in America. There is no question we need to come together to address our housing needs. Yet –
Landlords are livid that the city of Portland is forcing them to pay for the relocation of tenants whom they just want out of their properties. Sometimes tenants are not safe and sometimes they are pushing good tenants out. Landlords are stunned that the government would interfere with contractual clauses that allow for the simple termination of an agreement. They are outraged that their income could be arbitrarily capped with no regard to the free market, at less than 10% per year (no matter how low they’ve been voluntarily kept for years). Mostly, they are heartbroken that they are not believed to be human beings with sensitivities (and budgets) of their own – but instead have been characterized as unfeeling, greedy and purely self-serving entities.
Tenants are also in conflict. Those that live in comfortable and affordable homes may not want to rock the boat – yet they live with the anxiety that it could all come to an end with a single notice. Maybe their landlord decides this is all too much and decides to sell. Other tenants personally feel the hardships of the rising economy around them, and have been forced to find substitute housing; to become roommates; move to less desirable locations. For them, that rental house is the center of their life, and not just their business.
And for those renters seeking new living quarters? They find a brutal and disorganized process with no similar representation such as they’d have if they were home-buyers instead of prospective tenants.
Meanwhile, tenant / landlord court cases are rife with accusations from both sides for unwonted damage and neglect left by the ravages and lack of care of that other party.
So I ask myself: What’s a professional Property Manager to do?
Without owners willing and able to invest in properties, I have no clients. And without tenants willing and able to pay rent I have no income. Has my job devolved into nothing more than a crisis center trying to ward off complaints, collections and lawsuits?
I often rely on basic rules to solve problems. One such rule is what I call the ‘zipper theory of life”. When a zipper disconnects, the solution is to move the clasp back to the point of separation and start again.
So how far back do landlords and tenants need to go in order to re-group? I’m not sure. But let’s consider the term “landlord”. This is a title stuck in the past. Who wants to be “lorded” over by a profiteer? We should re-brand property owners as “Rental Property Providers” and encourage them to re-consider the needs of their clientele.
Tenants need to consider their obligations as well. They should want to thrive in their abodes and respect the property they live in. Normal wear and tear shouldn’t be an excuse to allow mold to grow, grease to build up, yards to grow out of control or smoke detector batteries that save lives to expire.
As I move the housing-crisis zipper back even further, I find the most direct connection from the oldest book in print, the Bible: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another”. (Ephesians 4:31-32)
So, from my adaptive point of view, I am encouraged with the fact that while conflicts like ours have been sparking long before the discovery of electricity, there has always been hope that we can overcome them with decency and dignity in place of disrespect and drama. And I for one, would welcome the opportunity to be part of that process.