There is a duplex in SW MPLS that a number of friends have inhabitated. It is a rare positive example of the effects of an absentee landlord or slumlord. While the home is barely maintained, with extensive water damage and somewhat troublesome appliances, a room rents for a mere $150 a month. With this group of people, this is a more than a fair trade off. If the house were ever to become hazardous, my friends have the ability to seek out other places.
After reading an article in the
href="http://articles.citypages.com/2008-01-30/feature/the-slumlord-of-south-minneapolis/1/"> City Pages about the primary slumlord in Minneapolis, Spiros Zorbalas, I realized that many people are unable to easily move, due to lack of English skills, lack of money, children, etc. In the article, inhabitants of Zorbalas's reported that appliances broke, ceilings fell, utilities weren't paid, lead paint contaminated their children. When they would report issues they would be ignored and/or rudely treated. After some occupants claimed about broken appliances, Zorbalas threatened that he now had permission to enter without permission at any time. He raised rents past the guidelines and withheld deposits gratuitously. Those at the most risk are immigrants and families, were the resources and skills to move and organize resistance are very limited. With lead and mold, the health of the occupants is endangered.
I have been in the process of searching for a duplex with a realtor for aprox. 8 months, and in that period we have looked at standard MLS listings as well as some foreclosures.
One foreclosure property on Powderhorn Lake opened my eyes to the dangers of absentee landlord and dilapidated housing. When we first approached the property we noticed an unusual smell and a strong presence of refuse and coolers. Upon entering the first quadrant, a collection of tiny chopped up rooms filled with rotten food, dirty clothes and dishes, garbage, a man came in behind us and aggressively inquired what we were doing there. After explaining that we were checking out the property, where he presumably resides, he left. Going further through the house we saw extensive signs of mold and sewage coming through the pipes.
In the adjacent unit, the man took a moment to answer the door and remove the bars that were jammed between the doors and opposite walls, which he claimed kept his cat from escaping. The man was extremely overweight and extremely unhealthy from visually apparent drug addiction and the house. He explained in an idiosyncratic speech pattern how the landlord had never responded to any of the complaints of broken utilities and when he decided to stop paying rent, nothing happened.
While this may seem contained within the homes, negative effects ripple through the city. Spaces like this are havens for mass drug dealings and prostitution, several examples of this are given in the CP article. Environmental hazards can seriously damage and retard child development, creating a generation that is unable to take care of itself. It damages the nieghborhood by driving down property values and keeping potential resident-by-choice away. Also, it cheaper and healthier to maintain old homes consistently rather than causing cataclysmic change by massive bulldozing and rebuilding.
In the CP article, they discuss groups like http://familychildrenservice.nonprofitoffice.com/, which can help tenants organize or find better housing. Caring landlords are crucial to maintaining the vernacular and mundane housing of a city as well as providing safe homes where people can prosper and build strong nieghborhoods.