"Your itinerary of self-destruction is a stellar one"
December 29, 2016 5:43 PM   Subscribe

What happens when your sabbatical tenant refuses to leave? A professor decided to rent her Berkeley-area home while she took a semester's sabbatical to conduct research in France. When her tenant, another professor, stopped paying rent, and her neighbors reported concerns about how her property was being treated, she tried to evict him. It was a far more difficult process than she imagined. Renowned scholars Judith Butler and Wendy Brown offered their support in the form of scathing emails.
posted by TwoStride (110 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Honestly, the experience depicted in the article wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Definitely a good reminder to always check credit and rental red flags on any tenant, ever.
posted by msalt at 6:25 PM on December 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Please let Karma be real. Please let Karma be real. Please let Karma be real.
posted by Beholder at 6:31 PM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Strange. Why did he mop the floors so much in that New York apartment and repaint the walls in Abel's?
posted by Panthalassa at 6:33 PM on December 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Both times I've known people to be very odd and dodgy about rentals in this manner, there was mental health stuff and either a history of or current addiction to what we used to call hard drugs when I was a kid. Both the people were decent, likeable people who none the less had a set of compulsions and addictions that meant that they could not deal with a situation normally. In each case, I truly believe that the person meant to live up to the housing agreement when they started. It would not surprise me at all to find out that this guy had some similar problems.

I'm glad he didn't take her furniture. Getting it out of storage is a pain, but not nearly as bad as finding all your stuff gone.
posted by Frowner at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2016 [37 favorites]


I once had someone do this in my house while I was still living there.
A longtime roommate of mine developed a serious methamphetamine addiction and his enabler network was perpetually in and out of our house. Eventually, he was arrested and went to prison, but one of his friends refused to leave. She had established legal residency without my knowledge, and it took months to get her out. My landlords helpfully offered to evict both of us when I appealed to them for help. Unfortunately, they wouldn't have been able to subsequently rent to me again, as it was against their policy to rent to someone with an eviction on their record. (Thanks!)

Despite this experience, and despite Abel's story, I shudder to think that these outlying cases could be used as rally points to weaken California's tenant and squatter protections. Ultimately, stories like this are the "welfare queen" or "McDonald's coffee cup lawsuit" of rental law. These laws are the last, thin defense the little guy has against huge, powerful interests and it would be a shame to see them eroded to protect against the vanishingly few opportunists who would exploit them (or, as Frowner points out and my experience confirms, people with serious challenges who can't really help themselves).
posted by Krawczak at 7:09 PM on December 29, 2016 [59 favorites]


My experience as a room sub-letter in a house during my university days taught me that you should never ever simply trust nice seeming strangers. I learned that there are all kinds of ways people can go wrong - from the sheer stupidity of cooking bacon in a toaster oven without a tray to getting a puppy in a carpeted fourth floor attic apartment when nobody will be home for 14 hours a day. People who didn't pay rent turned out to be the smallest and easiest to deal with problem and I only did this for one year!

At the very least do a credit check before renting out a whole furnished house.
posted by srboisvert at 7:27 PM on December 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


note to self for upcoming sabbatical

just using sabbaticalhomes.com is not enough

curls into ball in corner of apartment, rocking self to sleep

--

also "It seemed like the perfect house. He seemed like the perfect tenant. Until they asked him to leave."
posted by lalochezia at 7:34 PM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


also: fuck this guy
posted by lalochezia at 7:37 PM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Wow, if getting those scathing emails from Judith Butler Herself (<3) didn't phase him, I can't imagine what would.
posted by sockermom at 8:04 PM on December 29, 2016 [15 favorites]


Strange. Why did he mop the floors so much in that New York apartment

Cocaine is a helluva drug.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:08 PM on December 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


This is the tamest eviction story I've ever read. "Scathing emails?" WTF?

In CA you pay your $1000 (or whatever the going local rate is for eviction lawyers, show up to court on whatever day the lawyer tells you to, and then meet the Sheriffs on the 90ish day, depending on how busy the court was. What you don't do is have people write letters.
posted by sideshow at 8:12 PM on December 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I found it kind of hard to follow the events in the article - it sounds like he moved in sometime in January (presumably paying a deposit/first rent check), then paid February's rent a week late, and then never paid March rent? So in early April, after he also failed to pay April rent, she completely wigged out, moved home, and went off the rails? And then, aside from some weird stalking and talking to his employer, colleagues and friends, she followed the normal eviction process so that in late May he moved out, and then at some completely unknown date between then and now he began paying her the back rent he owed. Hardly an odyssey.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:20 PM on December 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


How fortunate this case is to balance out the thousands of stories of Bay Area landlords screwing tenants.
posted by zippy at 8:23 PM on December 29, 2016 [30 favorites]


What you don't do is have people write letters.

This was not the typical eviction. Otherwise we wouldn't be reading about it on MeFi in the first place -- if you're in LA, feel free to drop in on Department 94 for a peek at how it usually goes.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:24 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


A professor from a small liberal arts school supposedly had enough money to rent a large furnished house in Berkeley and this didn't raise any red flags? That's what $6-7K a month?
posted by fshgrl at 8:36 PM on December 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I don't think that the story is either that the experience was especially hellish for the lessor or that this is going to ruin tenants' laws in the Bay Area; it's morbid fascination at someone with a pretty impressive academic record methodically demolishing his own reputation.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:42 PM on December 29, 2016 [38 favorites]


Abel holds out hope that her experience could lead to a change in California's eviction laws

Sounds like ruining tenants laws in the Bay Area is at least part of her motivation for continuing to talk about it.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:44 PM on December 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


I also think that'a s pretty quick and smooth eviction process from the landlord perspective. He stopped paying rent in March, she started the process in April and he was out in May. So basically a month. That's hardly over-the-top pro-tenant madness.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:45 PM on December 29, 2016 [30 favorites]


it's morbid fascination at someone with a pretty impressive academic record methodically demolishing his own reputation.

Yes, this precisely. And the weird Butler connection. Just as some kind of odd cocktail party anecdote.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:47 PM on December 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


No matter what the actual average eviction time is, having your home squatted has to be traumatic and horrible. Unless you're a seasoned landlord it is a unique and terrible experience which would drive most people to do whatever they could to remedy the problem.
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:10 PM on December 29, 2016 [16 favorites]


I knew someone who would handle this by starting the eviction process the day the rent was late. If the rent got paid, then he stopped the process. But if it didn't get paid, the wheels were already in motion, so there was no dithering about waiting until eviction was a "last resort." But he explicitly set out to market his apartments to the very lowest end of the rental market, and he expected unreliability.

sabbaticalhomes.com leaves landlords vulnerable because it markets itself as one large web-of-trust via professional affinity. If you're all from similar academic and professional backgrounds, you assume everyone is similar to you and dependable, and obviously wouldn't want to ruin their reputation with colleagues, but in the end that just leaves the system very open to exploitation by someone who knows that the system works like this and decides to use the system to commit affinity fraud.

I wish there was some comment from Peritz's friends explaining just what the hell is going on inside his head given that he has done similar stuff like this multiple times. I guess some people have different weird odd compulsions, and it's possible his is the inability to handle the process of renting. But I really do have to wonder how these people explain themselves.

He stopped paying rent in March, she started the process in April and he was out in May

He stopped paying rent Feb 1st and left by memorial day, so 4 months of unpaid rent. Granted, that was still pretty quick all things considered, but that depended on his willingness to leave rather than drag things out.
posted by deanc at 9:18 PM on December 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


He paid February's rent, he just paid it late. The eviction process took about a month, so when it says it was way longer than she expected, it leaves me wondering what she expected, that you could just throw a person out with no notice? Even when the reason is non-payment, notice seems like a basic requirement of getting rid of a tenant, and a months notice is at the low end of standard.

All this business about professional reputation is odd to me. If someone told me that a colleague whose work I respected were doing this, I can't imagine I'd give a rat's ass. I mean I'd think it sucked for the landlords and it was a yucky thing for them to do, but it wouldn't affect how I related to them professionally or what I thought of their research. I would probably feel vaguely embarrassed to KNOW that they were doing this because it feels like something apart from their professional life and not a part of their life that is really my business. Like finding out a colleague's kink (no, I'm not comparing having a kink to committing fraud, my point is only that it's more than I want to know about my colleagues and is irrelevant to their work or our working relationship if we have one).
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:31 PM on December 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


And on that same note, I don't see the point of contacting his employer. What does this have to do with them?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 9:31 PM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Man, tough crowd. "What's up with this lady totally overreacting to the guy living in her house and not paying rent? It's not like he did it for *THAT* long. And why did she have to rat him out to his boss?"
posted by The Gooch at 9:54 PM on December 29, 2016 [60 favorites]


Oh, I get why she's upset. The furniture and re-plastering and painting the walls would freak me out, in particular.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:01 PM on December 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


I once attended a college where they hired a professor who within days of starting had seen twice leaving the gas station in town without paying. So yeah professional reputation means little.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 10:04 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I get why she's upset in this particular instance, but the general trend of landlords screwing over tenants in the Bay Area (including several suspicious fires) seems the bigger issue, which makes her suggestion that the Bay Area is too tenant-friendly not only ludicrous but completely ignorant of structural oppression. It's a dangerous conclusion to draw.
posted by lazuli at 10:06 PM on December 29, 2016 [31 favorites]


[T]he general trend of landlords screwing over tenants in the Bay Area (including several suspicious fires) seems the bigger issue, which makes her suggestion that the Bay Area is too tenant-friendly not only ludicrous but completely ignorant of structural oppression.

Yeah, I didn't really get "the system is too tenant-friendly" from this either. I got "fuck the 'sharing economy' because it enables selfish assholes who try to game the system." A credit check and a real lease with a right of re-entry clause would have saved a lot of headaches here.
posted by fifthrider at 10:10 PM on December 29, 2016 [17 favorites]


Why did he mop the floors so much in that New York apartment and repaint the walls in Abel's?

What came to mind for me is that it might have started innocently: he mentions his wife having very bad dust allergies, and moving the carpeting and soft furnishings and mopping the floor a lot is something your doctor might legitimately advise you to do in that case. For, e.g., someone with health anxiety on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum, or some other mental health challenge, it might have become a ritual. Total guess, just wanted to illustrate that there could be other explanations other than e.g. substance abuse.

The more I think about this article the more uncomfortable I feel about it... it's a great gossipy cocktail party story as others have said (a tenured professor did what with your furniture? Judith Butler got involved?!) and it sounds like a totally creepy, bizarre experience for Abel, but as a broad-audience article in MoJo I kind of worry about its effect on Peritz, who is pretty clearly in some kind of unspecified bad way: the linked blog says he's filed for bankruptcy, for instance. I'm glad Abel got her house back and her stuff was undamaged but I also hope Peritz is able to turn things around.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:17 PM on December 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


Can I say the very end of the article contains a poignant detail as to Peretz's mental state? And so given Peretz's behavior, it sounds like there's some mental health issues going on. If a colleague has been behaving so erratically from a psychological perspective, then Judith Butler's harshness (the bullshit about reputation, etc., the whole negative reinforcement approach) comes across as an old-fashioned response/reaction to that. Scathingly criticizing a person who demonstrably shows need for mental help support is exactly the sort of stuff that increases stigma. And maybe this is generational, maybe 50+ year old professors just haven't internalized these newer values but hopefully younger people are more aware. Or maybe it's cultural/socioeconomic, in that Americans are still more accepting of using overt hostility to resolve problems. And it's funny because the cops, in the article, come across as less fighty and more experienced than Butler. I'm generally an advocate for studying feminist philosophy and related fields, but the way these professors behaved in practice, in an interpersonal situation, came across as really problematic.
posted by polymodus at 10:18 PM on December 29, 2016 [16 favorites]


If you are renting a place out, it is temporarily not your home. It is temporarily someone else's home. That is why you are getting paid a lot of money. If you are not OK with that, then you really shouldn't be renting out your living space.

That's not to excuse a deadbeat renter, and possible intentional fraudster, but there clearly was more to this than just the money for this woman.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:28 PM on December 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


The more I think about this article the more uncomfortable I feel about it...

There's totally a bit of "how academic sausages are made" as explained by Mother Jones journalism, it's a brief view into a rarefied world, and both the facts and interpretations are just really unpleasant, because recontextualizing into a public article is itself a transgression while exposing some ugly parts of our social reality. In that there was totally a journalistic opportunity out of something like this, but a deeper longer article, about broader problems and experiences, would have been better.
posted by polymodus at 10:35 PM on December 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


the way these professors behaved in practice, in an interpersonal situation, came across as really problematic.

One thing that I've learned from Metafilter is the concept that that impact is more important than intent. If it's true that it doesn't matter why you did a thing, then I don't see why mental illness (if that's really what's happening here) is any excuse for being an asshole.

Not paying rent, messing with your landlord's things after you've made an agreement not to, refusing to leave when (reasonably, because of the non-payment thing) asked, lying about previous rental situations... those are the actions of an asshole, and I can't really blame the other academics for teaming up to try to defend their friend from an asshole.

As to the "scathing" emails and the reputational threats: sometimes you need to use what leverage you've got -- when the courts won't help you, and the cops' hands are tied, and you're not willing to show up and threaten violence, professional consequences that don't involve libel or slander seem like a pretty damn civilized method of getting justice.

We can go down the victim blamey road and talk about how Abel isn't qualified to be a landlord (no credit check, really? you're so attached to your home that you can't handle the walls being painted? don't rent it out!), but Peritz is the bad guy here, and the system is broken for letting him take advantage of a senior citizen*.

* this is not to say that the system isn't also broken in the other direction, allowing predatory landlords to screw over renters, but things obviously failed here and Abel was lucky that Peritz was willing to take a deal.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:39 PM on December 29, 2016 [34 favorites]


A baby boomer who owns a home in the Bay Area is inconvenienced. Let me play the tiny violin I rent for just such an occasion.
posted by paulcole at 10:43 PM on December 29, 2016 [18 favorites]


A credit check and a real lease with a right of re-entry clause would have saved a lot of headaches here.

Not a CA lawyer, but I believe their law is much like NY's: residential landlords can't make forcible entry regardless of what's in the lease.
posted by praemunire at 11:00 PM on December 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can I say the very end of the article contains a poignant detail as to Peretz's mental state? And so given Peretz's behavior, it sounds like there's some mental health issues going on. If a colleague has been behaving so erratically from a psychological perspective, then Judith Butler's harshness (the bullshit about reputation, etc., the whole negative reinforcement approach) comes across as an old-fashioned response/reaction to that.

If your mental health is sufficiently intact as to enable you to repeatedly rent properties, teach at undergraduate level at elite liberal arts universities and muster quasi-effective legal defences to the charges people are levelling against you, then the primary problem here would seem to be that the guy is an asshole who doesn't give a fuck about the people who he's exploiting, and the harshness seems completely appropriate to me.

There are a whole lot of mental health issues that are exacerbated by the ability to manipulate others into enabling your antisocial behaviour. If your thinking and reasoning is sufficiently intact as to be able to effectively teach the material he's teaching, I'm pretty sure he's also capable of exploiting all the available goodwill he's been able to burn through.

I can't find an easily accessible bibliography of his publications. I wonder if they're all some distance in the past? Google Scholar has references to people thanking him for his contribution to their work that were published relatively recently, but of course, he might easily have made that contribution ten years ago.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:17 PM on December 29, 2016 [21 favorites]


One of his fall courses at Fromm included a section on "C. New Forms of Precariousness as Illustrated by Housing."
Why is Sarah Lawrence acting all innocent?
posted by Ideefixe at 11:24 PM on December 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you rent a furnished home, it is reasonable to expect the furnishings to remain as they were. I can't rent an AirBnB and move all the furniture for funsies to a storage shed.
posted by corb at 11:24 PM on December 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


a giant property company taking advantage of tenants is one thing. it can absorb nonpayment forever with no harm done to any real person, and so the benefit of the doubt should be given to the tenant. on the other hand, a solo landlord renting her house through an app who doesnt receive payment for several months is a totally different story. she doesnt have corporate insulation or insurance to cover her losses or lawyers standing by on retainer. this idiot had no right and no excuse, and should be punished criminally in my opinion.
posted by wibari at 11:25 PM on December 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


Honestly also - property management companies have the money for spur of the moment lawyers. Most reasonable people don't.
posted by corb at 11:27 PM on December 29, 2016


Ideefixe: "Why is Sarah Lawrence acting all innocent?"

They really aren't acting innocent. They are declining to be part of this whole thing because it is literally illegal to fire - and in some cases even just publicly say awful things about - tenured professors who do stupid or even illegal things in their private lives if those things don't have any impact on their professional work.

As it very much should be - and as Judith Butler et al clearly were aware, which is why they addressed him directly and not Sarah Lawrence. What this guy has done is awful, and he is most likely mentally ill and going through some shit. He needs to stop breaking the law and violating other people's lives. But that is absolutely not something Sarah Lawrence has any right to take part in.
posted by koeselitz at 11:34 PM on December 29, 2016 [14 favorites]


I wish there was some comment from Peritz's friends explaining just what the hell is going on inside his head given that he has done similar stuff like this multiple times.

He's probably going to publish a very interesting paper on social contracts, the sharing economy and inter-generational economic inequity. I hope so anyway, that would be fantastic.

As far as the the professors sending him mean emails, you have to understand academics come in two versions: completely unaware of the social repercussions of their actions and keenly aware and eager to share! I've seen equally scathing emails written over temporary parking privileges associated with the conference room chair re-upholstering committee (the smaller conference room). This is why I don't work in academia. Very few completely sane people do.
posted by fshgrl at 12:03 AM on December 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


polymodus: "... both the facts and interpretations are just really unpleasant, because recontextualizing into a public article is itself a transgression..."

Absolutely, this. I don't entirely blame anyone in this story, even if I find some bits are very ugly; but the airing of it in a national news source with wide impact is something I have a hard time understanding or forgiving. It's crass in a deeply disturbing way, opportunistic and apparently only beneficial insofar as it enriches the writer by entertaining an audience. The story ends with the guy making his first payment in a legal agreement set up to resolve the situation; this isn't perfect amelioration, granted, but it's the beginning of something like justice. An article like this can do nothing but make that agreement hard to keep, make it harder for an apparently hard-pressed and unstable and yet clearly hard-working and professionally competent person to make amends and move on with his life, and even reflect harshly on Judith Butler and her colleagues, who do not come off looking very nice. The whole thing - particularly the decision to name names freely - is really troubling. Why in the world would someone write this, except that they had a deadline, bills to pay, and no scruples about who gets hurt?
posted by koeselitz at 1:28 AM on December 30, 2016 [17 favorites]


His student feedback on Rate My Professors is ... interesting. Lots of stuff about how he's a great guy, but chronically disorganised and late for lectures.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:32 AM on December 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


... and here we are, blithely going along with Ian Gordon's apparent disregard for anyone's privacy, digging up whatever we can for any clue about this guy. I know a professor is by profession a public figure, so this researching and googling is entirely legal and not necessarily an inherently unethical thing. But maybe we should keep in mind that this is a human being we're talking about, one who by all accounts is actually trying to repay his debts. We're certainly all wondering the obvious question - "why would he do this?" - but we shouldn't rush past the very real moral problems that internet exposure of private lives presents just to satisfy our own curiosity.
posted by koeselitz at 1:41 AM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


People could also avoid the invasion of privacy of reading the FPP article itself if they, as I have, scanned through the comments first. Normally I'm just being lazy but today I am a champion of privacy rights.
posted by XMLicious at 1:52 AM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


RMP is hardly a secret, koezelitz. It's on the first page of Google results. The guy's had international news coverage and an entire blog devoted to how awful he is; mention of publication metrics and student reviews is pretty small potatoes next to that.
posted by Sonny Jim at 1:54 AM on December 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


The re-plastering and painting the walls is weird. My place is nearly 30 years old and yet there is not a single picture hook in my walls. I can't believe that no one ever hung a picture and those 3M removable ones weren't around back then. Maybe once there was a tenant like him here.

The Dean receiving a letter like that.... hahaha. I can imagine the eye rolling if we received a letter about one of our academics. Especially if we knew they were nuts and we were enjoying their sabatical to the other side of the country.
posted by kitten magic at 2:09 AM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


If it's true that it doesn't matter why you did a thing, then I don't see why mental illness (if that's really what's happening here) is any excuse for being an asshole.

Because mental illnesses affect cognition and behaviour to a lesser or greater degree. Sometimes that degree is greater.

It's not true that it doesn't matter why you did a thing. That's why even in the legal system, which assumes transparent, self-caused rationality, there's a difference between manslaughter and first degree murder, and why mitigating circumstances are taken into consideration, etc.
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:32 AM on December 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


when the courts won't help you, and the cops' hands are tied,

But the courts *did* help. We aren't talking about how he's still there in her house because the courts threw up their hands and said fuck you he lives there now.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:37 AM on December 30, 2016 [10 favorites]


I heard about a local band that fired their sax player but he refuses to leave. He just keeps turning up at the gigs. Band meetings and stern talkings-to have no effect. He will not go.
posted by Jode at 2:50 AM on December 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


I suppose painting a short-term rental is weird, but I've painted plenty of places I rent and it's never caused a problem. Generally the landlord doesn't even notice since I don't change the colors.

My mom's landlord recently stopped by and commented how it's amazing she's kept the place looking so clean and nice for 12 years (I personally painted that interior twice during those 12 years).

Hell, I even painted my shared office at Google one Saturday afternoon because it was looking really dingy. Nobody even caught on that it had been repainted, they just perceived it as being cleaner and tidier.

What I'm saying is, paint your house, even if you rent. It's easy and it will look nicer. If you do a decent job, your landlord won't even notice.
posted by ryanrs at 4:00 AM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


It's maybe $1500 to get someone evicted in Southern California. It's probably a bit pricier in Northern California because tenants have more protections. It's a simple process. You go to lawyers that do this all the time because a reasonably knowledgeable tenant can easily delay, delay, and delay some more. Once you hire the lawyers, then you follow their advice. This seems like a pretty quick eviction.

The answer is to not rent your house using an app unless you've factored in what can go wrong. Landlord/tenant conflicts are a really well settled area of law. Being university professors doesn't make anybody in this story special but even now I bet it would be hard to convince any of the participants in this drama that that's true.
posted by rdr at 4:01 AM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


One time, my housemates and I subdivided the living room of a rental to create a third bedroom. When the property manager came around for the yearly inspection, he kept walking back and forth, before asking us if we had built the wall. We said that we had, and that we'd put everything back to normal when we moved out. We told him, "Look at our wall. You can see we are competent at drywalling and painting. Everything will be just as it was." He thought for a bit, then said "Ok."

We did remove the wall when we moved out, and got our full deposit back.
posted by ryanrs at 4:07 AM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


I guess what I'm saying is that as a tenant, it's much easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission. If you're an honest and competent tenant, that works out fine. You paint, you fix, and you generally manage your house as if you had to live in it, which you do. If you're not competent, then I suppose you can get yourself in all sorts of bad situations.

As a landlord, I bet that gives you the heebie jeebies. That's why I don't ask for permission.
posted by ryanrs at 4:13 AM on December 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


I am from Berkeley. This is not new. Judith Butler was the reason this article got written. The reason people go to sabbatical homes, airbnb, etc. is they don't want the headache of registering their properties as a rental with the city of Berkeley because it would fall under rent control. She could face retroactive fees and due process from the rent board.
posted by parmanparman at 4:18 AM on December 30, 2016 [16 favorites]


If only Judith Butler would write like that the rest of the time.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:28 AM on December 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


The whole thing - particularly the decision to name names freely - is really troubling. Why in the world would someone write this, except that they had a deadline, bills to pay, and no scruples about who gets hurt?

I think some of it is academia inside baseball, because academia has a uniquely terrible "missing stair" problem. HR is meaningless in that setting, tenure ties supervisory hands, and there are rarely repurcussions for people doing unethical (or illegal) things to their colleagues, students, and coworkers.

EVERY warning I ever got or gave in academia was off the record, and usually verbal (so there would be no trail). You often have to know someone for years before they consider you trustworthy enough to warn about another person's lack of scruples when it comes to [X]. So you have whisper networks to help you figure out who to work with and who to avoid, who will respond to emails for six months and then fall off the radar, who will agree to be on your dissertation committee but end up refusing to read any of your materials until you lose funding. Dr. Y will make sure you get a fellowship, but then ask you to get his mail and manage his correspondence whenever he goes out of town (and he only does this to female students). Dr. Q will seem really engaged in class but frequently forgets to show up for oral examinations. Dr. Z has never once shown up for an in-class observation, which are required for your teaching portfolio. And on and on.

My guess is that part of why people went on the record is that this is an egregious violation of culture-specific norms, and the people involved had evidence the dude was running this scam on both coasts-- plus, due to the inter-disciplinarity of his work, there was no guarantee that their professional networks would be able to warn everyone (it would have trickled out to people in the English and GWS spheres, for example, but maybe not poli-sci and ethics).

I hope this guy gets some help. But I'm a little puzzled about the urge to protect him from consequences. Allowing him free rein to run the same scam nationwide wouldn't be a kindness to him, and it certainly wouldn't be much help for his victims. His wellness is not more important than the wellness of his future marks.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 4:37 AM on December 30, 2016 [49 favorites]


Being a landlord doesn't need to be easier for most people.
posted by amtho at 5:05 AM on December 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


All this business about professional reputation is odd to me

The entire site functions as a concept only because the assumption is that academics, who depend on their personal reputations and connections with others, would. It want to endanger their reputation and goodwill by screwing someone else over. Furthermore it relies on the assumption of shared norms and understanding of what renting a place for the short term means when you are visiting another institution.

I might add that if someone is basically congenitally incapable of following up on rent and has a string of evictions from these sort of short term rentals, maybe seeking them out isn't for him. It's not like his alternative was homelessness-- he had a home near is home college.

As someone with a similar academic/professional background as this guy who has a steady income, I can't possibly understand what is going through this guy's head. We aren't talking about a guy on a rent strike trying to force a landlord to do maintenance or a family having to make a choice between paying rent on time and buying food, or even a person who suddenly lost his job and needs to keep his address while he finds something else. He seems either lacking or willfully defiant of the understandings of a short term professional rental.
posted by deanc at 5:54 AM on December 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


there clearly was more to this than just the money for this woman.

See, this is where the difference in understood norms falls into things. Legally, yes, it is "not your home" when someone else is renting it out, but house exchange/house sitting/short term rental agreements are very common in academia (and between friends/colleagues/neighbors/etc). Like a longer term AirBnb, the understanding is that you get a nice place to lay your head for a few months at a good price without having to worry about furniture. It's not considered an opportunity to redecorate.

I have to say it's interesting seeing the divide between Holy shit, what an asshole fucking over his colleague and digging in his heels about it!" vs. "This is just how renting works and what you have to deal with sometimes."
posted by deanc at 6:11 AM on December 30, 2016 [15 favorites]


Can we maybe drop the mental-health angle to this? It sounds like this guy is just a plain old garden-variety asshole who has figured out a way to exploit landlords in tenant-friendly states. Landlords who are renting out a single property are uniquely vulnerable to tenants like this, and no amount of background checks is going to catch all of them. My parents faced a similar situation a few years back, and it was emotionally and financially devastating. This was after they paid for a background check, and the tenant was the son of one of my father's friends, so the references seemed sterling. And yet the same thing happened: two months into the lease, the payments stopped coming. It took them nearly a year and a half to evict their tenants, and they still haven't seen a dollar in back payment. Maybe Mother Jones will run a story on them, too?
posted by Mayor West at 6:14 AM on December 30, 2016 [16 favorites]



Can we maybe drop the mental-health angle to this? It sounds like this guy is just a plain old garden-variety asshole who has figured out a way to exploit landlords in tenant-friendly states.

With no more info then what is in the article this guy's behavior sounds so much like a guy I rented a room in my house too who ended up being a cocaine addict and a dealer. The cleaning, the rearranging of furniture, painting, filling holes in. he did it all even with me and my other roommate living there. He didn't like a lot of my stuff and was constantly agitating about getting new things. He had a minimum of 4 showers a day and since he always had to use the a clean towel the laundry was always going. One day I came home and all of my bathroom toiletries were on the floor against the far wall of my room. I found out I hadn't put a bottle back in the 'exact right place' so this meant all of my stuff was thrown into my room in a rage. I came home one day and he had painted his room black and he told me he was going to start on the hallway on his next day off. We argued and he didn't but it got to the point where I was nervous every time I came home.

Then (and I kid you not) the drug dealer kingpin stereotype started showing up at any hour, shiny white suit, super nice sports car with a couple of big muscle guy types. They'd disappear into this guys room for an hour or so then leave.

It was not a pleasant experience and as a found out there was no short term legal way to get the guy out. I called every one. I even called the police and even with telling them everything they couldn't do anything, though they were happy enough to take descriptions and license plate numbers. I put on lock on my bedroom door, something that in five years of living with multiples of people I never felt the need too.

Eventually my Dad came to town to see if he could do something about it. He sat down with the guy and somehow managed to get the guy to talk himself out of the house and agree to leave but not before the guy tried to convince my Dad that it was all just a figment of my imagination because 'omg Jalli smokes pot!!'

The next person that came in was a friend and someone I knew for several years. When they started repainting the room and rolling light colored paint over the black walls, pentagrams and messages about Satan bled through. Before painting he had written all over the walls with a black marker.

After this was done I found out more about the guy. Apparently he was well known in the towns cocaine scene which I didn't have anything to do with so was oblivious. He was known as a bad dealer who did too much of his own stuff so was dangerous.

I did hear that he was arrested within six months and went to jail.
posted by Jalliah at 7:10 AM on December 30, 2016 [20 favorites]


all of the people "but the rich/babyboomer/profs wah wah wah", "won't someone think of him".

this is her ONE home - this isn't some multiple apartment owning 1%. she bought in the bay area when that was something that normal middle-class people could do, and if she wasn't as privileged as she is she would likely be bankrupted and homeless because of the actions of this person.

she sublet it so she could move to another home to work for a fixed period of time, and the fucker tried to steal it from her. the thief isn't some person on the edge of homelessness......or an oppressed person sticking it to the man. he's a tenured professor with a history of scams and a scumbag, who by his sociopathy is destroying one of the few fiduciary systems of trust left in the US (home exchange between professions).

i give precisely two fucks about this guys supposed mental illness (whatever happened to "not diagnosing people over the internet")- it doesn't excuse the behavior any more than other crimes exploiting the protection of the weak to aid the fucking over of the normal by the sociopathic.

I'm all for everyone in academia knowing what this guy does - referring to him as "the thief david peritz" for ever. Why? To act as a warning to others - "just because tenant protection laws* favor your planned exploitation of others don't think your name won't be mud for ever",

* insert your favorite law here
posted by lalochezia at 7:19 AM on December 30, 2016 [46 favorites]


And he spackled over the holes in her walls! The monster!
posted by gyc at 7:28 AM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, this poor woman. She is older, raised her kid in this house. Clearly this guy violated their shared understanding of how he would use this place.

I find it pretty sad that she wants to change tenant laws though. And that the very smart Wendy Brown would tell the guy he'll never work at Berkeley again. It's like when something bad happens to us personally, our critical thinking skills, especially about systems and underlying causes, goes out the window.
posted by latkes at 7:46 AM on December 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


And he spackled over the holes in her walls! The monster!

...after he removed the artwork, photographs, and hanging apparatus from the walls of her home, yes. How is that not just super weird for someone to do in a sabbatical home rental? Would you do that in an AirB&B?
posted by cooker girl at 8:10 AM on December 30, 2016 [16 favorites]


I have to say it's interesting seeing the divide between Holy shit, what an asshole fucking over his colleague and digging in his heels about it!" vs. "This is just how renting works and what you have to deal with sometimes."

I mean, it's clearly both, but when the article literally ends on a plea to have tenant protections removed, the latter becomes more important and urgent.
posted by Dysk at 8:11 AM on December 30, 2016 [14 favorites]


I can't help but think he would never have done this in a male academics's house.
posted by corb at 8:11 AM on December 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


When they started repainting the room and rolling light colored paint over the black walls, pentagrams and messages about Satan bled through. Before painting he had written all over the walls with a black marker.

oh my god. a fave does not communicate the levels of Oh My God. Jalilah. Wow.

Okay, also, am I the only one who is kind of annoyed that the UCB faculty is using a national publication as their version of the "DO NOT RENT TO THIS MAN" posts in a local Craigslist's rants and raves section? Like, obviously Dr. Abel needed to get this guy out of her house, but I still have a handful of friends at Berkeley and every so often I'll hear stories of things like tenured or golden doctoral students battering their grad student partners at faculty parties with no consequences. Stuff like that or other serial predation is never going to go beyond anything than a whisper campaign at most, and yet this guy being a tweaker and a chronic bad tenant merits an article in Mother Jones???
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


Saw metafilter post that mentioned Judith Butler.

Clicked link.

Read article.

Observed that squatter was a man and owner was a woman.

Surmised that majority of metafilter commenters would argue that owner was wrong and bad.

Read comments in thread.

Was not surprised.
posted by medusa at 8:52 AM on December 30, 2016 [14 favorites]


The squatter was bad and terrible here, but intersectionality, hey: the landlady signs off with "and this is why tenants need fewer legal protections" which is awful and hardly represents a blow for equality against oppression.
posted by Dysk at 8:58 AM on December 30, 2016 [22 favorites]


Yeah, not just intersectionality-- this is also coming less than a month after the Ghost Ship fire, which a lot of people are ascribing in part to the SF Bay's housing crisis. Any Bay Area landlord talking about tenants needing less legal protection is not going to go over well, even if she was 100% right about this particular tenant and even though it seems like Peritz is a serial scammer and con artist. It's just not a good time to be expressing those sentiments.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 9:13 AM on December 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


It seems clear that the tenant was a jerk, and the "colleagues-of-colleagues" angle is interesting, but something about the tone of the article made it very hard to sympathize with the victims here.

That the New York couple who claimed to be out $5.3K, with broken furniture, missing paintings, and a stripped floor didn't bother to leave a negative review is really strange. That they "didn't contact his supervisors at Sarah Lawrence. . . because they feared a lawsuit," rather than because calling someone's employer to bitch about a tenant dispute is shockingly unprofessional and unethical does not engage my sympathy.

The call for reforming bay area laws to make it easier to evict people is incredibly short-sighted, selfish, and ugly. (And particularly surprising given the focus of the landlord's work.) It's also hard to take seriously a professional academic and user of niche property-lending startups who claims she couldn't possibly have created a blog because she "wouldn't know how to." I'm pretty sure I don't want to spend time with any of these people, perpetrator, victims, or author.
posted by eotvos at 10:29 AM on December 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


Medusa, I suspect the more relevant dynamic here is that a lot of Metafilter commenters are tenants, rather than landlords, and a significant chunk are Bay Area tenants.

I practice landlord tenant law in Berkeley, and I find it frustrating that this sort of "terror in the middle class!" story gets traction, rather than stories in which landlords, who have legal, economic, and political leverage over their tenants, abuse their power. We now get garbage like this, arguing that the real problem is liberals and their damn tenant protections.

I've had tenant clients whose landlords have violated them more fundamentally than the landlord here was violated, but nobody wrote articles about them because they're poor, they're transient, and they don't have social networks which will earn them media attention and sympathy. This landlord now advocates taking away legal protections for these people, and she's getting an audience. That bothers me.

(It also grates on me personally because my landlord tenant law practice is basically a pro bono side line to my main practice. If folks like this landlord thought, "Hey, I'm basically starting a business here by selling access to one of my most treasured possessions, maybe I should be cautious and consult a lawyer first," then the practice of landlord tenant law would be viable for a solo practice.)
posted by factory123 at 10:32 AM on December 30, 2016 [37 favorites]


The thread of feminism that says "if a woman and man are involved in a conflict, then the woman is right and the man is wrong" is not the thread of feminism that I am interested in. Gender plays into this story, but it's not the only power dynamic at work here.
posted by latkes at 10:49 AM on December 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


76 comments before that straw man sticks his head in. That's progress of a sort.
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on December 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


When it's your home, not just an investment, you react to protect it when you are threatened. I was a landlord - 2 family home. This was my fear. I had scammy renters and lost money that I needed for the mortgage. I had moronic tenants who put the grill too close to the house, melted the vinyl siding, which makes it even uglier, and could easily have started a fire. Many other incidents along these lines, including a crazy girl who tried to threaten me with her warlock pals. And I always checked references, except that friends come to visit and end up staying as tenants, references may be faked or lie, blah, blah. I also had excellent tenants who were pleasant neighbors.

As property is bought up by large rental corporations owned by big investors who need places to put their cash to make more cash, the need for tenant protections grows.

He's a serial con artist. She seems to be a bit ivory-towered. I notice that he and she are white and educated, and her privilege led her to believe that a white professor would, of course, be trustworthy.
posted by theora55 at 11:07 AM on December 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


The call for reforming bay area laws to make it easier to evict people is incredibly short-sighted, selfish, and ugly.
Exactly; it's not the fault of vulnerable Bay Area tenants that she was too naive to do a credit and reference check and draw up a short term lease. I'm surprised that Mother Jones is publishing a piece that seems to support that stance. Overall, this seems beneath MJ.

Regarding the mental illness angle (sorry I'm late to the convo) it is possible to be seriously mentally ill and accomplished. I don't think it's very common, but it can happen. Elyn Saks, noted m.h. advocate, is a dean at USC and a MacArthur grant recipient. And of course, famously, John Nash; both have/had schizophrenia. I've known very accomplished people who are bipolar. Both can lead to paranoia and rage. I don't know that mental illness caused his behavior but it's possible. It certainly might explain why he thought he could keep doing it without it catching up to him; using SabbaticalHomes and not expecting negative ratings and a bad reputation amongst his colleagues is pretty stupid for a highly educated guy. Short-term cons, running away from them, blowing up bridges seems more like the behavior of a fulltime grifter than a highly educated working professor.

Also, a former friend of his who didn't want to be mentioned said he didn't want to add to Peritz's woes; I think if Peritz were simply a bridge-burning asshole, his former friend wouldn't have been so charitable. There would be people lining up to trash this guy if he was just an asshole who didn't elicit any sympathy. Of course, it still could be that he's an asshole and not mentally ill, but I think his former friends and acquaintences would be reacting differently.

On painting a rental, I've painted mine but I've lived here 25 years and plan to paint it back if/when I ever leave. My friend, however, short-term sublets his place for the summer and one tenant not only painted it, but put in shelving and new blinds. Pretty weird; turns out he was a tweaker. I still think that's an odd thing for a tweaker to do.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:06 PM on December 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


On balance, I'd say the guy has a drug problem. This story is way too gossipy and trivial for a national magazine.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 12:18 PM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Medusa, I suspect the more relevant dynamic here is that a lot of Metafilter commenters are tenants, rather than landlords, and a significant chunk are Bay Area tenants.

This. I've been renting for near a decade of my life. My apartment *is* my one and only home. It is where I keep all my stuff. I've never been rich enough to outright own a house. I pay a big chunk of my salary for a lease to have an apartment be mine, if for a limited time. And my interest is in having landlords respect this and be professional.

Like. It sounds like she was tremendously worried about her stuff, and yet the article mentions nothing about a security deposit. As someone who's rented, it seems basic knowledge that it's going to take at least 30 days to force someone to move out, and add on a couple weeks for legal wrangling - that seems to match the article's claim of up to two months for an eviction process. If she had been professional and trusted the system to work, called a lawyer and started the proceedings to kick the bum out, he would've been gone by May 1st. If she had required the usual security deposit, she could have used it to pay for people to repaint and clean and move stuff back so that she'd come back to her house in good condition - even if the pictures would be slightly in the wrong places.

Instead, she freaked out, tried to solve the situation through social pressure rather than legal means, stirred up all sorts of professional drama, cut her sabbatical short to worry over things and still got worse results.

Now I'm not going to get into whether she should or shouldn't have known how the system works. But she stumbled into a situation, failed to use the standard tools available to solve the situation appropriately, and now is blaming those tools, wanting them changed. And those changes would threaten a great number of renter's homes. That is why she's rubbing people the wrong way here.
posted by Zalzidrax at 12:23 PM on December 30, 2016 [16 favorites]


Well, it's pretty clear that she's not a professional landlady, and the bit near the end that a lot of people seem to be obsessing over is pretty vague: "Abel holds out hope that her experience could lead to a change in California's eviction laws, or at least keep someone else from being duped." [emphasis mine] This is someone in her early seventies who leased her place to someone largely on a good-faith basis, and got threatened with a libel suit in return. This Is Not Your Predatory Landlord.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:36 PM on December 30, 2016 [9 favorites]


No, she's not a predatory landlord; what happened to her is really shitty. Why she's getting blamed here is because she's calling for tenancy laws to change, and what people are saying is that there are already safeguards, she just didn't use them. That doesn't mean we should make it easier for people who are predatory landlords. Many are already breaking the laws we have.

This is why we have security deposits and background checks and leases, even month-to-month ones. Other tenants shouldn't have to suffer more evictions because she didn't do due diligence.

Of course, there should be repercussions. The guy needs to pay up, he should be blocked from housing apps; that's happening. But this doesn't need to be addressed in a national magazine as if there is this crisis when the root problem was a lack of a background check.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:04 PM on December 30, 2016 [14 favorites]


Or what Zalzidrax just said.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:05 PM on December 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is someone in her early seventies who leased her place to someone largely on a good-faith basis, and got threatened with a libel suit in return. This Is Not Your Predatory Landlord.

Exactly. This is not a situation about which one can usefully generalize, except as a cautionary tale when it comes to using Sabbaticalhomes or similar sites. I used the UK equivalent when I needed to spend several weeks in London on my last sabbatical; the owner of the flat drew up a lease and requested a chunk of the rent up front, both of which were sensible. But the site still didn't have any provisions for credit checks, bank statements as proof of financial viability, etc.

As an ex-LL (thank goodness for the ex- ), I should note that it takes some work as a private individual to run decent background checks because of the security requirements for information storage. So I can see people being discouraged.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:12 PM on December 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


.This Is Not Your Predatory Landlord.

No. This is a useful dupe. A wonderfully sympathetic little old lady who is too hazy and sweet to know about laws and won't somebody think of her furniture and heartbreak and maybe we should let old ladies just evict people in a weekend instead of that nasty court process?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:18 PM on December 30, 2016 [7 favorites]


I moved into a house while the owners were on sabbatical, and took care of their cats. That was in 1983. I am still friends with them.
posted by acrasis at 3:05 PM on December 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I heard a fairly similar story from our attorney (while waiting to go to trial to evict someone for non-payment) about a similar type of situation except instead of an academic it was a minor celebrity (younger sibling of a someone with a huge media presence.) The homeowner lost a ton of money because they in good faith waited for the tenant (they're rich an famous of course they'll pay and not fuck up the house!) rather than taking the proper legal steps as soon as the rent was late.

Like Deanc's acquaintance, our policy was to file an eviction notice immediately after the grace period was up. It both protected the owners legal rights and kept me from getting hit with accusations of fair housing violations for giving a break/preference to one group over another. If they paid up in 72 hours, or at first appearances, or made a stipulated agreement (and kept to it) everything was cool. If not, it was about a month to get the property back.
posted by vespabelle at 6:28 PM on December 30, 2016


This is someone in her early seventies who leased her place to someone largely on a good-faith basis, and got threatened with a libel suit in return. This Is Not Your Predatory Landlord.

I'll acknowledge up front that as somebody who's been renting in the Bay Area for more than 25 years, I'm not instinctively inclined to side with a landlord. And while I sympathize with her for the way this situation went weird, I'm shaking my head in bemusement at the idea of renting out one's property without educating oneself about one's rights and responsibilities under California, Alameda County, and Berkeley law.

Nolo Press are both local and well-regarded, and have a good selection of advice for landlords. (Also good advice for tenants, which is how I'm most familiar with them.) Last I checked, Berkeley Public Library had most of them on the shelf.
posted by Lexica at 6:31 PM on December 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


A baby boomer who owns a home in the Bay Area is inconvenienced. Let me play the tiny violin I rent for just such an occasion.

What? What's the point of raising a generational issue? It's okay to not pay rent to someone because of her age?

She should have been more careful but he clearly violated the rules. And you don't, as a short-term tenant, paint the walls or remove the furniture. That's crazy.

I rented most of my life, but now own and rent out part of my house. The tenants, all scientists, have been great; I rent through a connection to a laboratory. But once, I rented out through Craigslist, and deeply regretted it. In addition to occasionally simply not paying on time, she immediately moved in a loud and obnoxious boyfriend, who then had mail sent to the house, which apparently gave him tenant rights. I was told by a lawyer that they would be difficult to get out.

They wanted me to put up a fence to corral my dog, even though I'd had the dog when she rented and knew it, and were quite pissy about it. He would sit in his car at night, drinking and smoking who knows what with his friends, to the point all the neighbors complained.

There were lots of other smaller issues, so I just did my best to be personally unpleasant when I had to see them, and eventually she moved out. This may seem like minor stuff, but I'm not wealthy or able to deal with other people's problems in my house. I take care of it but I need a tenant to do what they promise to do when they sign a lease.

I am very sympathetic about renting, having rented myself for such a long time in an area where rentals are extremely overpriced. But sometimes tenants do stupid things.
posted by etaoin at 7:18 PM on December 30, 2016 [6 favorites]


She should have been more careful but he clearly violated the rules. And you don't, as a short-term tenant, paint the walls or remove the furniture. That's crazy.

Has there been anyone here that actually says this guy was within his rights, or it was a gray zone, or (given the facts of the article) didn't deserve to be evicted?

This is a perfectly good story about a tenant from hell. It'd make sense in a bar. Like is happening here, it'd prompt people to tell similar stories they experienced or know with tenants or roommates. My guess is that if you share with a half-dozen story it's fifty-fifty whether someone has a first or second hand story about someone crazier renting a place. Maybe suitable for a local paper when those existed, though read the denouement ("after getting back from several months abroad the ordeal continued--she needed to get furniture out of storage and re-hang paintings") to see there's really not actually that much beyond the story of a bad tenant and dealing with the legal eviction process.

FWIW I think everything Abel did was understandable. Although almost everything except the actual eviction* was probably unnecessary in retrospect, it's retaliation to a guy who threatened a libel suit and scared you.

But, as I wander around to the point, there's a subtext (sometime bubbling up into the text) of this being a loophole in laws or discovering weaknesses in landlord rights. In Mother Jones. And happened in Berkeley of all places, to Berkeley academics.

In the workplace the equivalent would be hiring someone without bothering with a reference check, finding they barely show up and when they do they are incompetent, dealing with the union grievance procedure, and getting them fired a month later. There's a lot of outrage about that already, I don't need to read it in Mother Jones. If a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged, then maybe a libertarian is a socialist who had a bad tenant once?

"I'm going to make this personal dispute professional because I'm friends with people who influence hiring decisions about you." Hiring a PI. The wink-wink I-don't-know-who-set-it-up blog (not that I think Abel did it herself.)
posted by mark k at 8:17 AM on December 31, 2016 [8 favorites]


Someone currently in her 70s is on the cusp of the Silent Generation, not necessarily part of the Boomer cohort, right? But older property-owning liberals (in the Bay Area but also elsewhere) undermining housing protections and availability for younger and/or more vulnerable populations unfortunately seems to be part of a trend.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:27 AM on December 31, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is why we have security deposits and background checks and leases, even month-to-month ones. Other tenants shouldn't have to suffer more evictions because she didn't do due diligence.

So, I think the problem is not "the regular system that usually happens is too damn lax". The problem is, that as this situation illustrates, when people are trying to be good people, they can get really screwed, with a penalty instead of a benefit for being good people.

Like, ideally we'd want to encourage a situation where this lady feels comfortable giving a little leeway on rent timing, but still has protection should the guy be an egregious ass. The answer shouldn't be "you should be forced to ask for a security deposit up front or you're an idiot", or "you should send eviction notices after every late rent payment", because honestly not everyone can afford a security deposit up front and eviction notices are crazy stressful, and it's a net good for more apartments to be open to people who are having a hard time.

I don't think a system is a good system if it forces people to be assholes to protect their rights.
posted by corb at 4:15 PM on December 31, 2016 [1 favorite]


The answer shouldn't be "you should be forced to ask for a security deposit up front or you're an idiot"

As mentioned, I've been renting in the Bay Area for more than 25 years now. I have not once been offered a place without a security deposit being required. This is just basic good practice, not some kind of extraordinary circumstance.

because honestly not everyone can afford a security deposit up front

This is true. This is a problem. And at the same time this is idealism and has nothing to do with how things actually work in the Bay Area in 2016-going-on-2017 (or even back in 1988-going-on-1989, as I remember it).

All the legitimate, above-board, on-the-books, not-renting-from-friends-or-family rental property I've ever encountered in 25+ years here has been on a "first month plus last month plus security deposit" basis. (Some places try to charge an additional "pet deposit", which is illegal and raises the question of whether to challenge the illegal request or wave off on the grounds that you don't want to rent from people who try to put illegal clauses into the lease.)

Saying "one shouldn't have to require a security deposit" is talking about ideals. In reality, renting here requires paying a deposit.

Like, ideally we'd want to encourage a situation where this lady feels comfortable giving a little leeway on rent timing, but still has protection should the guy be an egregious ass.

This is why if you're talking about what actual Bay Area landlords do, they require last month paid up front and security deposits. It doesn't mean they think the tenant is a bad person, it's basic good practice.

As I said above, I sympathize with her for the ways this went weird. And I think anyone who's thinking about renting out their property needs to educate themselves about what that means.
posted by Lexica at 9:27 PM on December 31, 2016 [2 favorites]


The problem is, that as this situation illustrates, when people are trying to be good people, they can get really screwed, with a penalty instead of a benefit for being good people.
This is a sensible response. Surely it's possible to find a way to protect people who need to temporarily rent out the houses they live in for various reasons without weakening standard tenant protections. That's probably what Abel really wants, and to me, that's reasonable.

I'm kind of stunned at all the victim-blaming going on in this thread.
posted by tully_monster at 9:37 PM on December 31, 2016 [5 favorites]


honestly not everyone can afford a security deposit up front
But the whole reason of having them is to protect against damage; and if you're renting out your house, completely furnished, to a stranger, why would you not protect yourself? I really don't think it's an extraordinary thing; when I rented out the ghetto shithole that I live in now & has since been gentrified, I paid a security deposit. That is totally standard; it's not extreme, it's not unusual. This is how people protect themselves from damage to their property; it doesn't even have to be intentional damage done by a probable drug addict; just wear and tear.

She was just too trusting to do normal protections. That's not the failure of the safeguards; that's failure to use them. I'm not blaming her for being a "nice old lady", but laws do not need to change because of this case.

Also if someone can't afford a deposit, how are they going to afford living in your home in Berkeley? It's going to be a given that the rent is steep. Someone renting a house is going to need to be moderately high-income, otherwise they're probably not an appropriate tenant for you.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:58 PM on January 1


I should clarify that when I moved into said ghetto shithole, it was when my neighborhood was full of dealing and prostitution and so on. The person who lived in my unit before me went to prison. And I still paid a security deposit.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 11:12 PM on January 1


This is how people protect themselves from damage to their property; it doesn't even have to be intentional damage done by a probable drug addict; just wear and tear.

Security deposits are emphatically NOT for wear and tear or refurbishment of materials at the end of their 'useful life' (typically flooring, curtains, etc) and that potential misuse is what creates a lot of the tension around them. Especially since LLs and tenants tend to have different ideas of what's 'normal' wear and tear.

California's version of the rule is at Civil Code sec. 1950.5. There's also this page at the Dept. of Consumer Affairs which goes into some detail and gives examples.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:41 AM on January 2 [5 favorites]


Surely it's possible to find a way to protect people who need to temporarily rent out the houses they live in for various reasons without weakening standard tenant protections. That's probably what Abel really wants, and to me, that's reasonable.

There's a decent argument to be made for adjusting the law to keep people from so easily holding over rentals like airbnb's by gaming landlord/tenant laws in the absence of other regulation, but a tenancy of this length is pretty much a standard short term lease and the sabbatical website is really a matchmaking service, not a marketplace/reservation system.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:47 AM on January 2 [1 favorite]


The law doesn't need to be adjusted for short term rentals. I believe the rule in California is that tenants' rights kick in at 30 days. Obviously, never let your AirBnB rental go that long. Once you go past that then you as a landlord have a bunch of legal constraints and obligations which you can't just ignore because you believe you're right and the the tenant is wrong, even if you are right and the tenant is wrong.

There's an existing process for dealing with problem tenants. Evictions will cost the landlord money and time. How much money and how much time is not always predictable but you should factor that risk into your rental price. For your own sanity you have to be willing to step back and let other people deal with the problem. They are more experienced in navigating the process and getting personally involved with an eviction can make the eviction more confrontational and it is likely to make the eviction take longer.

Peritz was a bad tenant. Professor Abel was morally correct but the things she did; coming back from her sabbatical, demanding to move back in by a certain date, moving in across the street, hiring a private detective, and getting colleagues to write e-mails. None of those things were advisable. She's very lucky that things worked out as they did. If Peritz had been a different flavor of grifter/crazy person it could have been many more months before she was able to move back into her house.
posted by rdr at 5:00 AM on January 2 [4 favorites]


Without going into detail, under California law a tenancy over 30 days can become a month-to-month lease.

This isn't my typical practice area so I wouldn't want to say how the usual L/T rules apply to Airbnb's rented for shorter periods without actually doing some research.

(My sentiment was more general: to the extent new rules are needed, it would be better to make special rules for short term sharing economy stuff, as needed, than to disturb well established L/T law. And this was 90 days plus anyway.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:12 AM on January 2


What happened to the landlord sucks.

That the landlord then did some creepy doxy stalky stuff sucks, but maybe less.

That the landlord uses their experience as a platform to undermine tenants' rights for all tenants sucks at such a magnitude it requires scientific notation.
posted by zippy at 12:54 PM on January 2 [5 favorites]


Security deposits are emphatically NOT for wear and tear or refurbishment of materials at the end of their 'useful life'

Hmmm. I've had landlords use that on me, like on floors. So that was my experience; I guess it wasn't legal. But my point about damage is the same in this context; Peritz did deliberate damage which would've been covered.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:31 PM on January 2


I don't think a system is a good system if it forces people to be assholes to protect their rights.

I don't think standard procedures constitute being an asshole; there's an agreement between two parties to meet their end of the deal. There's often a grace period for late rent; after that, you might be fined by the day and served a 3 day notice or quit. That's not really being an asshole, it's just enforcing a contract and preventing (as much as can be prevented) an even longer drawn out process. Tenants know to pay the rent on time and not mess up the property; if they don't they can expect action. It's not really being an asshole, it's just the responsibility of being a landlord and the expectations of a responsible tenant. Peretz is probably a tweaker who doesn't seem to think the rules apply to him; it's all very bizarre that a professional would act like a grifter who floats from place to place.

Moving in across the street, reporting him to his employer etc, was weirder behavior. She chose an odd means of action. In fact, jeapordizing his employment was way more assholey than just asking for a security deposit and requiring a lease.

Also, I don't know what Sabbaticalhomes.org presents in terms of background checks; it sounds like she thought they did that. It seems that she thought a referral from them was enough; and it doesn't sound like they actually provide referrals but are just an open system of connecting people and that terms and procedures are on the landlords.

That's the system that failed; both renters and the app need to be clear on the process which is different than a typical rental situation. This is a sharing economy problem.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 1:44 PM on January 2


Re unforseen sharing economy fallout, I'm reminded of this thread on assumptions vs realities of security and standards using Airbnb and unexpected tragedies.. It appears that sharing apps are not necessarily more secure or reliable than Craig's list but that because of marketing and cultural assumptions, there is an assumption that there is some kind of quality control and safety on the part of both renters and landlords. In the link above, the renter's father died on the property and there was no guarantee of safety, no inspections, no liability or redress, nothing. These are unanticipated situations, unlike traditional rental situations in which anything can and does happen thus there are procedures in place, therefore you don't have to get creative like Ms. Abel did.

I'm not entirely blaming users because I think apps seem to be marketing themselves as far above Craig's List, which we all expect to be risky, but like Ms. Abel, standards and security are assumed when the appmaker is just providing an upscale version Craig's List in that there are no quality controls, no background checks or inspections, there is no liability or recourse when things go wrong. Apparently, there needs to be an awareness about the limitations of apps that appear to be more secure than they are.

(I should add that I've never used any sharing economy apps, I'm just inferring here based on people's experiences).
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 2:37 PM on January 2 [1 favorite]


It appears that sharing apps are not necessarily more secure or reliable than Craig's list but that because of marketing and cultural assumptions, there is an assumption that there is some kind of quality control and safety on the part of both renters and landlords.

The impression I get of the sabbatical sites is that there's an assumption that other professors are "the right kind of people," not necessarily that the site's doing much background checking. (The website Abel used says, "The integrity of our members forms our distinct community.") This article makes it seem more like Abel was surprised by Peritz violating professional norms, rather than sharing-economy norms.
posted by lazuli at 2:49 PM on January 2 [3 favorites]


^I do recall her saying something to that effect. But between this and the other article I linked, it seems there's a gap in the sharing economy model where people are getting a false sense of security when there really is no safety net. This still has more to do with using the app and making assumptions than it has to do with the traditional rental market practices. Since tighter regulation isn't likely under Trump, it seems that consumers need to be more aware of this. Caveat emptor
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 9:42 PM on January 2


This article makes it seem more like Abel was surprised by Peritz violating professional norms, rather than sharing-economy norms.

This is my sense too, and would be why the involvement of other academics could possibly be appropriate. The sharing economy thing is sort tangential with a lease for 90+ days.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:51 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Without going into detail, under California law a tenancy over 30 days can become a month-to-month lease. This isn't my typical practice area so I wouldn't want to say how the usual L/T rules apply to Airbnb's rented for shorter periods without actually doing some research.

There was an infamous case in Palm Springs in 2014 involving two brothers with a history of evictions and Kickstarter scams who paid up front for the first 30 days of an AirBnb and immediately stopped paying as soon as they crossed the threshhold.

Month to month leases actually are the hardest to evict tenants from, a process that can extend to 3-4 months. In this heavily publicized case, it ended up taking about 2 months.
posted by msalt at 12:39 PM on January 3


Here is the SabbaticalHomes's tips on scammers; I wonder if that was in place before or after this case. It doesn't talk about security deposits, and it seems more geared towards internet scams. Here's their guidelines. It seems pretty minimal, and doesn't seem to anticipate major conflicts, except maybe someone returning early.

Also I think she should've had Noam Chomsky come by and change the locks.
posted by GospelofWesleyWillis at 10:04 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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