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?
I don’t know what this landlord should do. Banging pots and pans together in your apartment is a violation of the nuisance clause which you can find in nearly every lease, but I’m not sure that a Berkeley judge or jury would allow a landlord to evict a tenant for doing what this woman is doing. She has a letter from her ‘psychic advisor’ that says that: “the negative energy vibrations” in her apartment are “off the charts.” (I wonder how you measure negative energy vibrations.) A lawyer advised this landlord to: “tell the tenants who are annoyed to call the police every time they are disturbed. Police reports would document the problem in such a way that the landlord would be less likely to be characterized as some sort of villain and would make it easier to evict if the problem persisted.” The landlord tried that, but the other tenants in the building don’t want to call the police. They told the landlord: “We want you to take care this.” I think they may be afraid of retaliation by the woman who is banging her pots and pans together.
I went to Google and looked up ‘negative energy’ in apartments. I was surprised to find that there are a lot of web sites that offer advice on how to remove ‘negative energy’ from an apartment. Several web sites specifically advise people to bang pots and pans together with their doors and windows open to drive out the ‘negative energy.’ Other web sites advise people to get rid of the ‘negative energy’ in their apartments by doing things that would create other problems for a landlord. For example, several web sites advise tenants with ‘negative energy’ in their apartments to walk though the building holding smudge pots full of burning sage. I think that might be even worse than banging pots and pans together. Walking though an apartment house holding a pot full of burning sage would be a huge fire hazard, it would likely set off the smoke alarms, and the other tenants in the building would undoubtedly complain about the smoke in the halls and the smell of burning sage. As I said, I don’t know what advice to give this landlord. I’m stumped. Have you got any ideas? I haven’t read all the web sites on Google on this subject. There’s too many of them. (Yeah, I know this sounds like another ‘only in Berkeley’ story.)
As Robert Reich recently wrote: “Jared Kushner’s real estate company uses arrest warrants to collect debts owed by low-income tenants. In recent years, the firm has sought 105 warrants for former tenants in Maryland, more than any other landlord in the state, according to the Baltimore Sun. The debts average less than $5,000, but Kushner tacks on thousands of dollars in legal fees. In some cases, people aren’t even aware they owe Kushner money because his company purchased the debt from a previous owner. When a tenant fails to pay, the company seeks an arrest warrant in a process known as ‘body attachment.’ This predatory practice can result in jail time. Kushner owns 9,000 properties in Maryland, which turn a $30 million annual profit. Since 2015, the company also received $6.1 million in rental subsidies from the federal government.”
The penalties for non-payment of rent have been much harsher at various times in history. For example, in ancient Rome, a landlord could have a tenant sold into slavery to recover unpaid rent. Incredibly, there are some places in Asia where this practice is still going on. In medieval England, if a serf’s house burned down, he was still obligated to pay his landlord the same amount of rent, and if he refused to pay the rent or ran away, he could be hanged. Now just in case you were wondering….In California, you cannot be arrested, sent to jail, hanged, or sold into slavery for non-payment of rent. However, you can go to jail in California for biting your landlord. That’s assault.