Should ATU help landlords? We get calls from landlords all the time. Obviously we’re going to get some calls from the landlords of our members, who are trying to resolve an issue. But we also get calls from landlords out of the blue. Some of the landlords call us to cuss us out on general principles, or to pick a fight about an article I wrote or a stand I took. That’s okay. When I’m not too busy doing my actual work of trying to make this a better world, I have to get my shits and giggles somehow. Sometimes playing with these guys is a nice, if twisted, source of amusement for me.
Some landlords are totally clueless and call us, Arizona Tenants Union, for things like help evicting tenants. Usually these are private owners who, if I try to tell them the right way to go about resolving disputes, they complain about what kind of organization we are, that we’re on the side of tenants and are not helping them at all!
But then there are landlords, again, usually private owners, who legitimately want to do the right (or legal) thing. They understand that we’re tenants’ rights, not landlords’ rights, but they call us because they know that we’ll give them correct information. I don’t mind helping these landlords because as much as I personally oppose the idea of housing for profit, as a practical matter, and as the director of a professional tenants’ rights organization, I want to see landlords do the right thing. I want to see them properly serve the right notices, follow the right procedures, etc. And there are landlords who want to do that. I may be jaded because so many of the worst slumlords – and human beings – come across my desk. But I really do understand that most landlords are not slumlords.
So the question is, should ATU help landlords? And if so, to what extent should we do so? Clearly, we could never allow them to join as members. But can we accept money from them? Would that create a conflict of interest? Should we have a “good landlord” sub-membership category? Who decides who is a “good landlord?” Can we accept contributions from those landlords? Should we have a list of recommended landlords for tenants looking to rent? (We already have a list of non-recommended landlords, which is pretty much every landlord we come in contact with.) Can we accept referral fees from these landlords? It might make a good source of income. But what if a tenant of a “good landlord” wants to break his lease for reasons other than landlord misconduct? Isn’t he the person we’re in business to look out for, even if his motives aren’t pure?
As with everything else in the world, landlord/tenant relationships aren’t black and white. Criminal attorneys, and indeed, due process itself, exists primarily to help not the innocent but the guilty, to make sure that they are afforded fair treatment, so that the punishment fits the crime. In landlord/tenant practice, I understand that I will sometimes be representing bad tenants against good landlords because bad tenants, too, are entitled to due process. So it is my personal view that inasmuch as it is our mission to represent tenants, that representation extends beyond the rightness or wrongness of what an individual tenant does. We therefore have to be very, very careful of how far we let landlords into our organization, even good landlords.
But this should not be my call. We are a tenants union. We are membership driven. Admittedly, we are not close to having the million or so renters there are in Arizona as members that would really allow us to be a major political force. But we do need to have an active membership if we are going to grow, and it is that membership that needs to make decisions about what the structure of ATU should look like. So it needs to be the membership, not me, to answer these questions and make these decisions. Should ATU help landlords?
So please, if you are a tenant, regardless of whether or not you’re having a problem with your landlord today, join ATU. Understand that tenants need to be in a movement if the rights they are afforded under the law are to have any meaning, and that if you are a tenant, that movement means YOU. And if you already are a member, please become more involved politically. Call us even when your problem is solved. Help us make a tenants movement in Arizona real. You know, I came to Arizona after having been a tenants’ rights activist in New York and Chicago, and when I came here I was shocked by the lack of a culture of tenant organizing (or really, any kind of community organizing). And people tell me all the time that it is unrealistic to expect tenants in Arizona to organize as they do in New York. But I know that’s not true. Organizing is organizing: it just takes someone to decide to stir the pot, and to find everyday leaders who want to make such a movement happen. We are Arizona tenants rights. If you are a tenant, that means YOU are Arizona tenants rights. So please, step up to the plate today. Visit http://www.tenantsunion.net.