The Berkeley city council voted unanimously last week to ban gender-specific words. That means that words like ‘landlord’ and ‘landlady’ are out. So – what am I supposed to call myself? Should I call myself a ‘landperson’? To me, ‘landperson’ sounds like a person who lives on the land, as opposed to a person who lives in the sea, like Aquaman. I suppose we can’t say Aquaman either in Berkeley. ‘Aquaman’ is gender-specific. I guess he’s now ‘Aquaperson.’ I asked an aide to a councilmember what city employees intend to call landlords now. He said ‘property owners.’ I told him that ‘property owner’ and ‘landlord’ do not mean the same thing. Most property owners in Berkeley are homeowners, not landlords. He said he knew that; however, a lot of the new words the council approved do not mean the same thing as the words they replaced. For example, according to the new law, a ‘sportsman’ is now to be called a ‘hunter’ in Berkeley, but those 2 words don’t mean the same thing. You don’t have to kill something in order to be a sportsman. A yachtsman is a sportsman. So is a professional soccer player. In most European languages, the word for ‘landlord’ doesn’t carry the emotional baggage of the word ‘landlord’, which sounds sinister and arrogant. You know, we aren’t actually ‘lords of the land.’ In most Latin-based languages, the word for ‘landlord’ means ‘proprietor.’ In French, the word for landlord is ‘propriétaire.’ That sounds far nicer than ‘landlord.’ In German, the word is Vermieter, which means ‘he who rents’. That also sounds nicer than ‘landlord.’ So back to my original question – what am I supposed to call myself now?
A ticket for illegal parking within 10 blocks of Cal stadium on football game days will now cost $225. These tickets used to cost $98, but I think this big increase is understandable. Cal students who live near the stadium have been charging people $100 to park in their driveways and on their lawns on game days. A lot of people coming to Cal games have been intentionally parking illegally on the street in 1-hour zones and at meters that they know will expire long before they return to their cars. They figure that a $98 parking ticket costs about the same as parking in somebody’s driveway, so why not? That’s why I say this big increase is understandable. Parking tickets should discourage illegal parking.
The Fraternities. My guess is that this big increase in the cost of game day parking tickets will have the full support of Berkeley’s fraternities. All of Berkeley’s frat houses are within a few blocks of the stadium. On the night before football games, the guys in the frat houses park their cars on streets outside the restricted zone. Then on game day they charge $100 to park at their frat houses, and some of the frat houses have a lot of parking spaces. Now that illegal street parking is going to cost $225, the fraternities will be able to charge more than $100 to park on game days, perhaps a lot more.
Once a year, I conduct a safety inspection of my Berkeley rentals and fill out a form, Schedule A, as required by the city of Berkeley. Below is an article that I recently wrote for the Berkeley landlord association newsletter regarding this form:
I fill out the Berkeley Rental Housing Safety Inspection Program
Schedule A, I would like to answer several questions with: “I don’t
know. In order to answer this question, I would need the ability to see through walls, and I can’t do that.” There are a number of questions on Schedule A like that. For example, one question asks landlords if the wiring inside the walls of an apartment is greater (thicker) than 14 gauge. Well, undersized wiring is dangerous, but without the ability to see through walls, I have no way of knowing if there are undersized wires inside the walls of my rentals. I have good vision, but I can’t through walls. There are several other questions on this form like that.
There is a question in the plumbing section that asks landlords if
there are any vent pipes that terminate inside the walls of an
apartment. Well, vent pipes that terminate inside walls is quite common in older buildings, and it can be dangerous, but without the ability to see through walls, I have no way of knowing for sure where the vent pipes go. I could guess, but the city isn’t asking me for my best guess. This
form gives landlords only 2 ways of answering questions. A landlord can
answer the questions with either ‘verified’ or ‘not applicable.’ There
is no place on this form for landlords to answer questions with ‘don’t
know’ or ‘unable to determine.’ Now before you laugh at this, remember –
we landlords have to answer these questions and sign this form under penalty of perjury!
I attended the meetings at which this form was originally put together,
and I raised this issue then, but I was ignored. I keep hoping that
someday the city of Berkeley will revise this form and eliminate
questions that require landlords to have x-ray vision in order to answer
them, but that never happens. It never seems to occur to the people who
run this program that landlords cannot see through walls like Superman.
The apartment house at 2711 Shattuck Avenue is nearing completion and will be ready for occupancy soon. The entire building has been rented to the university, which will sublease individual units to individual graduate students. The apartments are all 310 square feet, which is very small. These apartments were built in China and arrived at the Port of Oakland in standard 8′ x 40′ shipping containers. The apartments came fully furnished and ready to move in. Each studio apartment will rent for $2180 a month and are all single occupancy (one student per apartment). This apartment house has no amenities aside from a coin-operated laundry room on each floor. There is no lobby, no yard, and no elevator. That means that if you live on the 4th floor of this building and have 4 or 5 bags of groceries, you have to shlep them up 4 flights of stairs as best you can. There is only one parking space (that’s not one parking space per unit. It’s one parking space for the whole building.) Pre-fab apartments from China are popping up in San Francisco and more are planned for Berkeley. Try to imagine what it would be like to live in an apartment that is only 8 feet wide.
Every now and then, a tenant will ask me if he can pay his rent with a credit card. My answer is No. All of my leases state that the rent must be paid by check or money order. I don’t accept credit cards. Why? It’s the bank fees. Most of the new apartment houses in Berkeley and San Francisco allow tenants to pay their rent with credit cards, but that’s because credit card fees are an insignificant expense for them. A 2 bedroom apartment in a new building in downtown Berkeley rents for $4,000 to $5,000 a month, but I’ve seen some that are over $6,000 a month. If I was getting that kind of rent, I would accept credit cards too!
A growing number of landlords are allowing their tenants to pay their rent with Bitcoin. I really, really don’t understand that. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are not currencies, they are not money, and they are not legal tender. I don’t know what they are, but I do know that I can’t pay my property taxes, garbage bills, fire insurance, etc. with Bitcoin. I can’t buy cocoa beans with Bitcoin either. I think some businessmen accept Bitcoin because they think it’s tax-free income; however, income that you don’t report on your tax return is not tax-free income. That’s called income tax evasion, not tax-free income. You don’t need to be a CPA to know there’s a difference. Supposedly, Bitcoin transactions and transfers are completely secret and untraceable, but I wonder if that’s really true. I suspect that the IRS has figured out how to crack Bitcoin’s computer codes.
Military Grade Encryption. People tell me that there is no way the U.S. government can get into Bitcoin computer records because they use military grade encryption. But what does that mean? Does ‘military grade encryption’ mean ‘unbreakable’? As you know, I teach history, and history tells me to be very suspicious of unbreakable military codes. For over 5,000 years, governments have been trying to create unbreakable military codes, but without much success. During World War 2, the Germans thought they had an unbreakable military code, but Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt got decoded copies of Hitler’s most secret coded messages to his generals before the generals to whom they were addressed got their decoded copies! That went on all through the war too. During World War 2, the U.S. also broke the Soviet diplomatic code and several Japanese codes.
The Battle of Midway. The biggest naval battle of World War 2 was the Battle of Midway. There will never be another naval battle like that again. The Japanese were hoping to win a decisive victory that would knock the U.S. out of the war. The Japanese thought they were going to catch the U.S. fleet by surprise; however, the U.S. Navy had broken the Japanese naval code, so they knew where and when the Japanese were coming. Instead of ambushing the U.S. Navy, it was the Japanese that got ambushed instead. The U.S. Navy sank all the Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway. As a result, Japan also lost hundreds of their best pilots. After all the Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk, Japanese pilots had no place to land. When they ran out of fuel, Japanese pilots crashed their planes into the sea and drowned. Midway was a disastrous defeat for Japan from which they never recovered. Prior to Midway, Japan was always on the attack. After Midway, they were always on the defense. OK you say, that was then, but what about now? Now we have military grade computer encryption. Well Yes, we do have that, but you know, Vladimir Putin didn’t seem to have much difficulty getting past U.S. computer encryption during the 2016 presidential election. I think that people who do business in Bitcoin in the belief that they are fooling the IRS may actually just be fooling themselves instead.
Last month, the House of Representatives passed a tax bill that made college tuition waivers taxable income. Senate leaders removed this provision from the final draft of the tax law just after strong national public uproar against this provision. Had this provision remained in the final law, tens of thousands of graduate students would have been forced to drop out of college because they would not be able to pay this new tax. The tax on tuition waivers would have taxed the discount graduate students receive for working in labs and teaching classes. The problem is that you can’t pay income tax if you have no income, and a discount is not income. The House bill would have eliminated the deduction for interest on student loans as well, but this too was eliminated in the final law due to public outcry.
All over the country, state legislatures are passing laws designed to make college education less affordable. Did you know that in a lot of states, if you don’t pay your student loans on time, you can lose your job? For example, if you are a physical therapist and you get behind in your student loans payments, your license to work can be revoked in 20 states. If you default on a student loan, you can be fired as a schoolteacher in 11 states. And in South Dakota, Iowa, and Oklahoma; if you don’t make your student loan payments on time, the state can take away your driver’s license. In other words, if you went to college and are not making your student loan payments on time, the state can take away your ability to work in your profession. Then how do you repay your student loans?
SOUTH DAKOTA. South Dakota has perhaps the most punitive student loan default laws. If you default on a student loan in South Dakota, they can take away your driver’s license. However, if you default on your mortgage on a multi-million dollar mansion overlooking Mount Rushmore – well – that’s OK. The state’s DMV can’t take away your driver’s license for just that. Taking away a person’s driver’s license, and in a largely rural state like South Dakota, for failing to repay a student loan on time seems just plain mean-spirited to me. Also, in South Dakota, if you get behind in repaying your student loans, you can also lose your license to work as a registered nurse, a physical therapist, or a speech pathologist; and if you are employed as a public schoolteacher in South Dakota, you can be immediately fired. Plus, at last count, about 1,500 people living in South Dakota were denied hunting and fishing licenses for failing to repay student loans on time. So, if you are behind in your student loan payments in South Dakota and you work in a licensed occupation, not only are you barred from working in your profession, but in addition, you can’t legally hunt or fish for your dinner. You can legally eat vegetables that you grow in your backyard. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?
BERKELEY. Here in Berkeley, the main driver of college student debt is the cost of housing. A 2 bedroom apartment in a new building near campus costs $4,000 to $5,000 a month, but I’ve seen some that cost over $6,000 a month. Everyone in Berkeley city government is aware of this, but no one seems to be concerned about it. Quite the opposite. The mayor and Berkeley city council are constantly passing new laws and regulations designed to raise, not lower, the cost of building new apartments near campus. For example, a permit to build a new apartment house in Berkeley near campus now costs between $100,000 and $200,000 per apartment – and the council is planning to raise the price of permits next year. Now – who do you suppose ultimately pays for these astronomically expensive building permits? It’s just who you think it is! It’s the tenants who live in these buildings.
College students all over the U.S. are graduating with more and more student debt, and the cost of repaying that debt keeps rising. Every American should be very concerned about this. If a college education becomes just a privilege of the rich, as it was in Colonial times, we are in serious trouble as a nation. An industrialized society that does not value higher education is doomed to poverty and becoming a third rate and third world nation.
#1. THERE IS NO ‘RIGHT TO PARTY.’ A lot of tenants (not just college students) think that as an American citizen, you have a legal right to have parties in your apartment, but that is not true. There is nothing in the Constitution about a ‘right to party.’ It’s not in any state or local law either. Lots of leases contain provisions prohibiting tenants from having parties of any kind on the premises or that limit the number of people who can attend a party or that set limits on the dates and hours of parties. Lease clauses restricting and prohibiting parties are legal and enforceable in every state.
#2. YOUR NEIGHBORS HAVE A LEGAL RIGHT TO GO TO SLEEP AT A REASONABLE HOUR EVERY NIGHT. Disturbing the peace is illegal. You can be cited and fined for it, and in some cases even arrested. You are not being considerate or courteous to your neighbors by telling them in advance that you are going to have a party that will prevent them from sleeping. It is legally useless and could be dangerous for you.
Robbing Bank of America. Simply announcing in advance that you intend to do something that is illegal does not give you the right to do it. For example, it is not O.K. to rob a bank providing that you tell the bank in advance that you intend to rob them. Somebody actually did that here in Berkeley. There used to be a Bank of America on Ashby Avenue across the street from the Ashby BART station, 2 blocks from my house. It was where I did my banking. A man once robbed that bank with a gun. He didn’t wear a mask because he didn’t see any surveillance cameras in the bank, and so he assumed that there weren’t any, but he was wrong. This guy wasn’t very smart and was quickly caught. At his trial, the bank robber compounded his folly by acting as his own lawyer. He thought he had an airtight defense that was going to get him off. The bank robber told the jury that that he mailed a letter to the manager of the bank a week before the robbery stating that he intended to rob the bank. He included the date of his planned robbery in the letter. The manager of the bank testified that he received the letter but did nothing about it. He thought the letter was a practical joke or a fraternity initiation prank. The judge told the jury that simply informing the manager of the bank in advance that the defendant intended to rob the bank was not a defense. The bank robber went to prison. Surprisingly, this happens fairly often – that a criminal informs his victim in advance of the crime that he intends to commit in the belief that by doing so, it will give him some sort of legal cover if he is caught. That doesn’t work. As I often tell people – playing amateur lawyer is dangerous.
The idea that it is O.K. to have a loud party late at night providing that you told the neighbors in advance is an urban legend that gets college students into trouble all the time. Berkeley has one of the toughest noise pollution laws in the United States, and they enforce it. Berkeley policeman have decibel meters in their patrol cars. People having loud parties late at night in Berkeley are regularly issued large fines. Also, it can be dangerous to tell your neighbors in advance about your parties. Some people will interpret your notice as an invitation to come to your party, which can lead to awkward situations. Even worse, dishonest neighbors may come to your party to rob your place. Yes, that does happen.