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How renters work the system to live for free in one of America's most expensive cities
August 12, 2008 8:47 AM   Subscribe

"In fact, [Getzow] was one of the most successful 'serial evictees' in San Francisco, a select group of tenants who take advantage of the city's lenient courts and tenant-support nonprofits to tie up landlords in court for months while they live practically rent-free in one of the most expensive cities in the country."
posted by geoff. (96 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
You'd think there'd be a hall of shame website with pictures of guys like this.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:09 AM on August 12, 2008


""I'm a gay man, so I know a lot of people who work it real hard"

Huh?
posted by inigo2 at 9:18 AM on August 12, 2008


You'd think there'd be a hall of shame website with pictures of guys like this.

There are, but landlords have to pay membership fees to access those sites and not all of them do.
posted by XMLicious at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2008


What a dick.
posted by boo_radley at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2008


""I'm a gay man, so I know a lot of people who work it real hard"

Huh?


Thanks to his experiences as a gay man, he can spot a scheming con man. This assertion doesn't stand up to scrutiny for me either.
posted by Daddy-O at 9:26 AM on August 12, 2008


This sounds a little too much like the outrage over cadillac-driving welfare queens (remember the 80's, kids?) for me to read it without skepticism.

What agenda is being pushed here?
posted by edheil at 9:28 AM on August 12, 2008 [9 favorites]


The article says there are between 20 and 100 serial evictees in S.F.

You wonder, then, how many thousands of people take advantage of the various laws and restrictions on a looser basis, that don't rise to the level of "serial evictee" status. Maybe you're a little light this month, but instead of living on ramen noodles, you decide to "work the system." Next month, you get back on track.

You wonder, then, how much lower rents would be, city-wide, if the "help" available wasn't quite so aggressive, and landlords didn't feel the need to raise rents to compensate.

Yes, I know rents are determined by demand, but buttressing revenue against risk plays into it, too.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Have none of these people seen Pacific Heights (1990)?

I think in the grander scheme of things, 20-40 serial evictees in San Francisco doesn't sound like that big of a problem to me. Now if we were talking serial killers....

Of course if this happened to me I'd just have the guy shot.

And, inigo2, I think the gay comment was that he's used to a hard sell. As in being hit on a lot. I don't see the comment any more offensive than a woman talking about a man being aggressive, but maybe it is, or maybe I read it wrong.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:30 AM on August 12, 2008


Around the middle of Page Four, I saw the following:

Herlihy was taken to the hospital, Gittens says, though the police report contains no information about the extent of her injuries. Getzow retreated to a nearby crepe restaurant..."

At first, I read that last phrase as "creep restaurant". Seems kinda fitting.
posted by spoobnooble at 9:43 AM on August 12, 2008


People like this should be shot. Take 'em out and put one in their brain. I mean seriously--all this guy does if fuck things up for everyone else: landlords, other tenants who have legitimate problems, etc.

Bike thieves, spammers, dickheads like Getzow... get 'em up against the wall.
posted by dobbs at 9:48 AM on August 12, 2008


It seems like this would be trivially easy to prevent, but maybe CA has more protection over personal protection. Here, at the very least a landlord could search the Circuit Court records in a few minutes to find out if the person was previously evicted.
posted by drezdn at 9:49 AM on August 12, 2008


The thing that boggles my mind is that the contortions you have to go through to scam free rent -- moving constantly, forging documents, undergoing self-imposed house arrest for at least five days, according to the particular instance in the article, constant legal battles, etc. There's a sickness here that's more than just semi-clever criminals figuring out how to game the system. This is a pathological need to be "the con man" that blows the effort to accomplish the con far beyond whatever you might have gotten out of life if you'd just used all that intelligence and energy to live a normal life.
posted by Shepherd at 9:57 AM on August 12, 2008 [10 favorites]


I hate it when assholes abuse the system that is put in place to protect innocent people from evil or conniving landlords, because it makes it that much easier for people like Cool Papa Bell to take it as a sign that the system must be changed to make it even easier for landlords to screw you.

Let's not forget: And San Francisco has its share of heartless landlords. One extreme example is the terror tactics allegedly employed by property owners Kip and Nicole Macy, who were charged with numerous felonies earlier this year for, among other things, cutting the support beams from one tenant's floor, burglarizing another's apartment, and cutting off utilities to another.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:57 AM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


What agenda is being pushed here?

SFWeekly run a con-man cover story once every 6 weeks.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 10:13 AM on August 12, 2008


San Francisco is notoriously anti-landlord. It's a city where 65% of the inhabitants rent. It's only seven square miles, has pretty old housing stock and fairly strict limitations on new construction, ie building height restrictions in most of the city.

The rent control laws are pretty draconian but in an expensive city with a huge rental market, it's very difficult to balance the needs of people in fragile situations against market forces. If you only allow the market forces of supply and demand, only the rich could live there but little guy landlords can easily get screwed and not just by people like Getzhow. It's very difficult to get a non-paying tenant out of an apartment.
posted by shoesietart at 10:21 AM on August 12, 2008


And the SFWeekly is the worst of the free papers. They usually support the most fringe left-wing positions.
posted by shoesietart at 10:23 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's hard for me to work up much sympathy for landlords after having had one continually scam me for electricity money (small amounts, but hey) and another literally tell me they were too busy to care about me when I was trying to find another unit in the same building to move into. These people sound like dicks (if they really exist), but about the only outrage I can spare is for the idea that they're making things harder for the rest of us renters. We certainly don't need that.

Bike thieves, spammers, dickheads like Getzow... get 'em up against the wall.

All Spammers Must Die

I, Adam Schneider, accept the Daemon
posted by adamdschneider at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2008


What agenda is being pushed here?

I don't think any agenda is being pushed, I took from it what Shepherd did. I can't imagine having so much fun gaming the system that I'd let it control my life. What an incredibly Sisyphean struggle this must be, this is definitely not healthy behavior.

Any system that's not perfectly optimized will have its inefficiencies, this is just an expression of it. A landlord who doesn't take the time to run a background/credit check is taking a risk. For the majority of people the price of the check pales into comparison to dealing with a serial evictee. Just like you'll see people selling puts, making money and eventually blowing up.
posted by geoff. at 10:38 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I happen to have a very good landlord, so I can empathize with them in this instance. In my building, just in 2.5 years, the following has happened:

- Apartment set on fire due to a drunk leaving a pizza in the oven for several hours
- Ant infestation (thanks, whoever that was /grumble)
- Garbage chutes ruined numerous times (they now have a sign that reminds people to not put printers and computers down the chute; it doesn't help)
- Crazy, naked man, screaming from his balcony at midnight
- People launching fireworks from their balcony, at the parking lot across the street.
- Just last week, someone actually stole the tiles from the elevator flooring... WHAT. THE. HELL.)
- A brawl started on the 7th floor, worked it's way down the stairs, and ended in the front lobby; 2 hallway doors ripped off their hinges, blood in the stair-wells, and a smashed front door.
- 3 other (drunk) tenants tried to break into my apartment; one of them broke their hand on my face, and it did not end well for them.

And this is in boring-as-Hell Ottawa... So yeah, I can empathize with a lot of landlords, based on my own experience with insane tenants. Hell, the apartment I was supposed to move into (2 floors up from the one I have) ended up not being available because the occupant decided she just wasn't going to move; or pay rent; and it was November, so good luck kicking them out.

All-in-all, apartment living is it's own little world. Full of mystery, odd smells, and strange folks. And some times criminals. Can't forget them...
posted by Dark Messiah at 10:42 AM on August 12, 2008


The article said he was an Obama fundraiser. I wondered if this was true and I found the guy listed on a 2007 Q3 Obama staff listing. I wonder if he is still active.
posted by notmtwain at 10:44 AM on August 12, 2008


Babcock, who got to know Getzow fairly well while they lived in the same building, says Getzow has a lot of potential, and it's a shame that it goes to waste. "If he just put the same energy into a profession that he puts into not paying rent and spending time in court, he would probably be a very successful man," he says.

Yeah, and I'm sure the world would be a much worse place for it if he did. Can you imagine a guy like this running a "legitimate" business? Even if they followed the letter of the law he certainly wouldn't be running it in an ethical manner.
posted by delmoi at 10:45 AM on August 12, 2008


This is why we can't have nice things.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 10:46 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


Bike thieves, spammers, dickheads like Getzow... get 'em up against the wall.

If this is truly your position, why should you not be shot as well for jaywalking, or perhaps speeding?

Obviously Getzow is a person manipulating the law to cause suffering for others, but to advocate shooting people for that behavior is barbaric.
posted by demiurge at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the whole tone of the article seems fairly alarmist to me. As a portrait of a conman, it would be fascinating. But the headline of "How renters work the system to ... " seems disproportionate. 20 to 100 rent scammers, who can live from 45 days to sometimes up to a year for free? Does this really warrant turning the whole system inside out? I'm fairly certain there are more shoplifters in San Francisco than rent scammers, who probably cost the city more money as well (shoplifters cost the nation $10 billion a year - a city the size of San Francisco probably accounts for a decent chunk of that) yet I don't see multiple-page articles about shoppers working the system to get free food/cosmetics/DVDs, written with a persistent ominous tone of "something needs to be done about a system that allows this to happen".
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 10:56 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:58 AM on August 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


posted by Pope Guilty I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

Clearly, you're not a homeowner.
posted by optovox at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


it makes it that much easier for people like Cool Papa Bell to take it as a sign that the system must be changed to make it even easier for landlords to screw you.

I can't hear you. Can you step out from behind that fucking enormous false dilemma you have set up in front of you?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:12 AM on August 12, 2008


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

I'm having a tough time figuring out how the living conditions of people in every major US city would be if there were no rental properties. At the very least, moving to a distant city to go to college would be very difficult.

There are good landlords and bad landlords, but the mere fact of providing someone a living area for a monthly fee is no more parasitic than providing someone water use or food for a monthly fee.
posted by demiurge at 11:13 AM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

Oh, come on. There are good landlords out there. I happen to be one of them, albeit by accident, not by design.

Property is a great investment in the long term, and there's nothing wrong with investing in your future.

Plenty of landlords are just ordinary people, acting ethically toward their tenants.
posted by padraigin at 11:14 AM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


San Francisco's housing laws favor the tenant much more than similar laws in other cities. For instance, I very much enjoy knowing that I have the option to move during any month, instead of being locked into a lease a year at a time. (This can be overridden, but the default lease people tend to get has a 1 year minimum period, and then is month-to-month, with the tenant's option to leave (with some notice)). And you know what? My landlords have been nice people who have charged reasonable amounts, made repairs when necessary, and whom I would encourage other people to rent from.

That said, it is stuff like this that makes friends of mine not want to own land in SF. Obviously being a landlord carries risk, but here it carries more risk. Is the article alarmist? 100 scammers out of 750,000 residents is a small number, but rent is a lot of money to lose.
posted by Phredward at 11:19 AM on August 12, 2008


Even if you could live this way, why would anyone want to? Moving every few months, keeping enough distance between each eviction notice and getting sued by every other landlord you've had in the last six years...it doesn't sound like "living" to me. More like, living between the loopholes created by lazily-applied laws. After all this time, wouldn't the satisfaction derived from getting one over on somebody -- insofar as any non-pathological person could find that satisfying at all -- have diminishing returns?
posted by contessa at 11:19 AM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

That's a pretty absurd notion. You could apply that to restaurants, taxis, and any other number of services. Neverminding the fact that home owning is not the ideal -- or even practical scenario -- for a lot of people.

Unless you're implying we should all be living on communes, what exactly is the solution to the rental situation?

If I moved into a town for a few months on a temp job, why in Hell would I buy a house? If I was an out-of-town student, why in Hell would I buy a house. (insert other specific scenarios here.)

Sounds like you've had some shitty landlords, and your view is coloured very badly. (Or you are privileged enough to have never had to rent.) Yeah, a lot of landlords are assholes looking for a quick buck; but the rental property concept is far from how you portray it.

Yes, if you have the luxury of the option, owning is far better than renting. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but you seem to assume that renting is 100% good for the landlord, and 100% bad for the tenant. You'd be wrong.

I don't have to worry about the following: property taxes, property repairs / vandalism, lawn maintenance (anything under that vague umbrella), nor do I even have to pay a utility bill for anything beyond my phone / Internet. They can't even raise my rent by more than 1.5%, per year.

Compare that to owning a home; paying utilities (heat, hydro, water), property taxes, mortgage, phone, TV (optional), Internet (optional, but not for the sake of this audience), and possibly even requiring a vehicle due to accessibility issues. (Apartments are closer to public transit, and areas with grocery stores, pharmacists, etc).

It's not nearly as black / white as you claim it to be. I can't speak to anyone's specific circumstance but my own, and I do live in Canada so I don't know much about the US in that regard. But still, to pretend being a landlord is akin to being a tapeworm is just absurd.
posted by Dark Messiah at 11:21 AM on August 12, 2008


I can't hear you. Can you step out from behind that fucking enormous false dilemma you have set up in front of you?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:12 AM on August 12


You wrote, and quite plainly, sir, that you wished tenants had less help available to them.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 11:37 AM on August 12, 2008


Some people have more free time than money or sense, apparently.
posted by mmagin at 11:55 AM on August 12, 2008


metafilter: Some people have more free time than money or sense, apparently.
posted by ornate insect at 11:59 AM on August 12, 2008


... I'm fairly certain there are more shoplifters in San Francisco than rent scammers, who probably cost the city more money as well ...

posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:56 PM on August 12 [+] [!]


Eponysterical.
posted by eclectist at 12:02 PM on August 12, 2008


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

At least in my state, I'm mostly paying my landlord for the use of the property which is owned by the bank. Many of my landlords have actually lost money on the deal. I know that to buy an equivalent property I'd be losing money too. Even as an investment, the capital gains when the property is sold are usually outweighed by the loan interest / up-front money. If I were in the top tax bracket it might be different.

Some of the people I know who rent property are losing money on it, but are so upside down on their equity due to the soft market that their only other option is to let the house be foreclosed on and/or declare bankruptcy.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:04 PM on August 12, 2008


Optimus Chyme, I believe Cool Papa Bell used those quotes around "help" for a reason.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:06 PM on August 12, 2008


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

That's a pretty absurd notion. You could apply that to restaurants, taxis, and any other number of services.


Well, services require the employment of a factor of production (labor). A land owner merely owns the land. They provide maintenance service as well, of course, but the price they charge is well above the cost of this service. In purely economic terms, the entire situation is hugely inefficient. In fact, economists use the term "rent" to refer to a generalized version of this kind of inefficiency, but things get complicated and controversial pretty quickly in that direction. There's an influential school of thought, called Georgism, which holds that rents derived from natural resources, like land, should be shared by all society; e.g. no individual has the right to derive profit from mere ownership of a piece of the earth.

Yes, if you have the luxury of the option, owning is far better than renting.

This is the Big Lie of the American Real Estate Industry, and blind belief in it is one reason why the economy is in the mess it's in right now. There are many situations in which renting may be more economically advantageous than owning (even over periods as long as 30-50 years), particularly when the housing stock is wildly overpriced.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:08 PM on August 12, 2008 [7 favorites]


You wrote, and quite plainly, sir, that you wished tenants had less help available to them.

Actually, I said "You wonder, then, how much lower rents would be, city-wide, if the 'help' available wasn't quite so aggressive, and landlords didn't feel the need to raise rents to compensate."

Which is to say, I wonder how much ALL the citizens of S.F. would benefit from lower rents if the tenant services weren't so aggressive that they are apparently so easily abused for high costs.

You managed to black-and-white that sentiment into "(CPB wants) to make it easier for landlords to screw you."

That's a false dilemma. Adjustments to policy do not have to be black-and-white things.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:13 PM on August 12, 2008


This is the Big Lie of the American Real Estate Industry, and blind belief in it is one reason why the economy is in the mess it's in right now. There are many situations in which renting may be more economically advantageous than owning (even over periods as long as 30-50 years), particularly when the housing stock is wildly overpriced.

I'm speaking in terms of the "I don't want to pay for something I can't keep" vein. In the end, rent -vs- own is highly specific to the person. I'm not disputing anything you're saying here. But if I had the option, I wouldn't be sharing walls with anyone.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:14 PM on August 12, 2008


Restaurants, Taxis, and other services also include capital (overhead), not just labor. Just as with rent, fees for service include such costs.

My wife recently complained about a $400 dental procedure involving 5 minutes of the dentist's time and one very, very expensive laser scalpel. I asked if her if she'd rather have 60 minutes of the dentist's time, an old school scalpel, and five times as much recovery time for the same price. Point taken, but she still had a hard time getting over the fact that it was only 5 minutes of his time.

Not all landlords are fat cats, especially compared to the banks and lenders that prey on them. It's high risk for moderate reward.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:16 PM on August 12, 2008


I'm having a tough time figuring out how the living conditions of people in every major US city would be if there were no rental properties. At the very least, moving to a distant city to go to college would be very difficult.

The solution IMV is to tax land values aggressively and NOT tax the capital improvements thereupon at all.

In my personal philosophy profiting from providing the shelter of your housing good is a social good, while profiting from the location value of your property is the actual parasitism.

Before I discovered the Georgist argument 6-odd years ago I lacked the education to be able to see the difference between private property in Land and private property (aka capitalism) in general.

Nobody makes Land[1] so to charge for access to it is, arguably, a form of theft.

[1] landfill is improving land, not making it.

posted by yort at 12:21 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


My wife recently complained about a $400 dental procedure involving 5 minutes of the dentist's time and one very, very expensive laser scalpel. I asked if her if she'd rather have 60 minutes of the dentist's time, an old school scalpel, and five times as much recovery time for the same price. Point taken, but she still had a hard time getting over the fact that it was only 5 minutes of his time.

You've brought up another classic example of economic rent! Doctors and dentists operate a kind of cartel: you need to be spend a lot of money, spend a lot of time in school, and jump through state-controlled examination and licensing hoops in order to finally earn money in one of these professions. Of course, these hurdles to the profession serve to assure customers that the medical professional servicing them is an expert. But they also artificially restrict competition and increase the price of medical services. There is some economic value to the assurance of expertise, but any value derived by the profession above this is rent. The establishment of formal barriers to competition is one example of what economists call rent-seeking.


Also, yay Georgism!
posted by mr_roboto at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


I've always thought the "owning is far better than renting" idea was dumb. Thanks for mentioning Georgism mr_roboto, it's really interesting.
posted by XMLicious at 12:32 PM on August 12, 2008


Are there similarities between Georgism and Geolibertarianism/LVT Libertarianism?
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:34 PM on August 12, 2008


Never mind, your wikipedia link answered my question.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:35 PM on August 12, 2008


While I can appreciate the idea of Georgism, it's one of those ideas like Communism that works in theory but fails miserably in practice.

If land belongs to everyone, then it must have equal value to all, yes? Therefore, homes in a crime-ridden ghetto would be equal in worth to the homes in a beachside resort. Further, if land and the resources contained therein belong to everyone, what recourse does Country A have if Country B decides to invade Country A and take its resources?
posted by optovox at 12:46 PM on August 12, 2008


This is why I love MeFi ... until this moment, I had never heard of Georgism.

Not sure I agree with it after a 30-second skim of the Wikipedia link ... but now I've learned a little something new. Yaay, MeFi.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:51 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


If land belongs to everyone, then it must have equal value to all, yes? Therefore, homes in a crime-ridden ghetto would be equal in worth to the homes in a beachside resort.

No! Two points: First, the value all pieces of land is clearly not equal. Fertile farmland has a higher intrinsic value than barren desert, and the value of land in a manufacturing region will vary according to ease of access to transportation corridors. Second, Georgist economic theory considers only the value of land itself not the value of improvements to the land. Economic actors (individuals, corporations, governments) can make improvements to the land and own those improvements as private property, capturing any economic value they might generate.

In practice, Georgist theory is implemented with a land value tax. You can read that Wikipedia article for further details, including some examples of real-world implementations.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2008


Further, if land and the resources contained therein belong to everyone, what recourse does Country A have if Country B decides to invade Country A and take its resources?

That's more an issue of political theory than economic theory, but I would argue that the clear solution to this problem would be the abolition of counties.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2008


Er. Countries.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:56 PM on August 12, 2008


From the wiki page on Georgism:
[Karl Marx] argued that, "The whole thing is...simply an attempt, decked out with socialism, to save capitalist domination and indeed to establish it afresh on an even wider basis than its present one." . . . On his part, Henry George predicted that if Marx's ideas were tried the likely result would be a dictatorship.
In your face, Marx!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:03 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


If land belongs to everyone, then it must have equal value to all, yes?

Uh, no. That doesn't follow at all. Things that belong to everyone do not have equal value to everyone.

For example, the US military belongs to everyone and defends everyone, but it has way, way more value to shareholders of defense industry companies than anyone else, which causes us no end of problems as a nation.

Mud belongs to everyone - or at least it isn't owned by anyone - but it has much greater value to the average four-year-old than it does to the average adult.

Disabled access ramps in public venues belong to everyone and anyone can use them but they have much greater value to people in wheelchairs.
posted by XMLicious at 1:05 PM on August 12, 2008


posted by mr_roboto First, the value all pieces of land is clearly not equal. Fertile farmland has a higher intrinsic value than barren desert, and the value of land in a manufacturing region will vary according to ease of access to transportation corridors. Second, Georgist economic theory considers only the value of land itself not the value of improvements to the land. Economic actors (individuals, corporations, governments) can make improvements to the land and own those improvements as private property, capturing any economic value they might generate.

Okay, I'm just a gum-chewing kid from the East Bay (and I am not trying to argue), but even I can understand right there is where the theory fails. If the land belongs to everyone, what's to prevent Oil Corporation XYZ from drilling for oil right under the Golden Gate Bridge, in Golden Gate Park, or in my backyard?

posted by XMLicious Things that belong to everyone do not have equal value to everyone [...] Disabled access ramps in public venues belong to everyone and anyone can use them but they have much greater value to people in wheelchairs.

I agree, and I think that's why Georgism fails. If the land belongs to everyone, then everyone must be able to use it.
posted by optovox at 1:32 PM on August 12, 2008


I think you are reading "land belongs to everyone" in too literal a fashion. Perhaps, "land belongs to no one" or "land is held in trust for everyone by the government" would fit better. It does not imply that regulation is absent or unenforceable. It's just a philosophical basis for taxation based on the idea that if you go far enough back in history each plot of land at some time had no one owning it.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:41 PM on August 12, 2008


Being a landlord is tedious and unrewarding work. My dad owned a couple of small houses that he rented out to decent people - mostly military familes. Nevertheless, when we went in to clean up, repaint and repair every three years or so when they rotated out, I was astounded at the level of filth in the places. Just stupid crap that boggles the mind, stains all over the walls like someone had projectile vomited and never cleaned, holes in the walls, chunks cut out of the carpet, burn marks, broken fixtures. Freaking astounding. Renting to packs of dogs would have meant less cleanup, and these were "nice, decent" people, not crackheads or scumbags.

My wife has always wanted to buy and rent out properties - my experiences growing up working for my dad have really put me off the idea. Also, I have been very sympathetic to the people who owned or ran the apartments we have lived in, and I never, ever had trouble from a landlord - they were always decent people and I always got along with them great. I know that's not the case with all of them, but there are decent landlords out there.

I used to work for a guy who owned rental properties in Bakersfield, about 120 miles from his office. He was constantly on the phone with the property manager, and about every two months or so he was having to start eviction proceedings on someone. It took a tremendous toll on him and his primary business.

Ira Glass' This American Life had a great broadcast/podcast - I have only heard the last chapter of this one, but it offers a compelling take on the landlord's perspective.
posted by Xoebe at 1:48 PM on August 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


I agree, and I think that's why Georgism fails. If the land belongs to everyone, then everyone must be able to use it.

You're confusing the ideas of ownership and tenancy. Even under a LVT system, tenancy rights are respected.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:52 PM on August 12, 2008


If the land belongs to everyone, what's to prevent Oil Corporation XYZ from drilling for oil right under the Golden Gate Bridge, in Golden Gate Park, or in my backyard?

?? The same thing that prevents oil companies from drilling in the first two places you list right now, which are public land (Aren't they? I'm on the East coast. Substitute any national park if those are privately held. National parks like Yellowstone often have private concerns like hotels, retail stores, etc. operating within their bounds, but it's by no means some free-for-all where any company can do anything it wants simply because Yellowstone is held in the public trust.)

Your objections seem rather contrived. You're talking as if public ownership of land is some radical and impossible untried scenario.

To my understanding, through much of the history of the UK a great deal of the land in the country has technically owned by the Crown and it's actually been leases of that royally-owned land that have been passed back and forth in private hands. This kind of practice where different types or durations of rights to land are divided, portioned out, and sold and administered separately is completely conventional and international practice for centuries if not millenia.
posted by XMLicious at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2008


Perhaps, but I'm still failing to understand the benefits of Georgism. All Georgism seems to be is giving land ownership rights and benefits to the government in exchange for tax benefits.
posted by optovox at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2008


The benefits of Georgism are a vastly simplified tax structure that tends to be relatively progressive in nature (unlike a flat tax). It also encourages improvements of land, and discourages economic inefficiencies like letting land sit unused or underutilized in dense areas. It encourages in-fill development over suburban sprawl. I'm having a hard time seeing any drawbacks actually, except for huge landownders and figuring out how to treat churches in the US under the system.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


*disadvantages for huge landowners*
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:19 PM on August 12, 2008


The way I'd phrase it, from the brief impression I've gotten of it through that Wikipedia article, is that the idea is to fund government exclusively through the revenue and value derived from land, the one truly finite and fixed resource.
posted by XMLicious at 2:23 PM on August 12, 2008


Wow, yeah, the more I think about it the more and more it makes sense.

The basic idea of Communism was that the government should harness the engines of commerce and industry for the benefit of everyone in society, rather than just the robber baron aristocracy, during the Victorian era. But the method chosen to do that - for government to achieve total ownership and control over capital, was flawed, because it short-circuited the very basic mechanism within commerce and industry: that the primary motivation for enterprise, for entrepreneurship, is the ownership of capital and its dividends.

Georgism as I'm understanding it might achieve the same goal while evading that flaw: it would have government indirectly harness commerce and industry through the fact that all commerce and industry requires some amount of land (especially thinking about it from a Victorian perspective) but it would leave to the entrepreneurs what they really want, the capital. It would basically make your civilization into a hydraulic empire based upon land instead of water.

I'm sure there are tons of problems it wouldn't solve but it seems like it might be a good way to more fundamentally align business with government than the taxation and regulation measures we have now that try to mediate between the two.
posted by XMLicious at 2:49 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have trouble feeling even an ounce of empathy for landlords. When your life's business is getting other people to pay for you to own property, you're pretty much the definition of a parasite.

If it's too much trouble, dear, then don't try. It's okay. I'll understand.
BTW I prefer to think of it as symbiosis.
posted by longsleeves at 3:00 PM on August 12, 2008


I'm a gay man, so I know a lot of people who work it real hard

Honey, I know exactly what you mean.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:05 PM on August 12, 2008 [4 favorites]


Obviously Getzow is a person manipulating the law to cause suffering for others, but to advocate shooting people for that behavior is barbaric.

I wonder how much indignation in the world can be attributed to not recognizing hyperbole.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2008


Wow, that guy is Lord of All Douche Bags.
posted by zzazazz at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much indignation in the world can be attributed to not recognizing hyperbole.

About nine hojillion pounds worth.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:23 PM on August 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


"Clearly, you're not a homeowner."

I do what I want.
posted by clearly at 5:07 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


damn Dark Messiah, what area of boring-as-Hell Ottawa do you live in?

(living in Ottawa as well, but apparently more amidst the boring than the Hell part)

also, the balance between landlord & tenant rights is really fine -
it's one person's livelihood vs. another's home.
That's bound to cause some problems when there are abuses from either side.
posted by sloe at 5:15 PM on August 12, 2008


but I'm still failing to understand the benefits of Georgism. All Georgism seems to be is giving land ownership rights and benefits to the government in exchange for tax benefits.

Georgism isn't much of a change compared to the present regime -- try not paying your property taxes and see what happens to "your" land.

The central improvement, if I may call it that, is that wages and interest incomes would be taxed much less and the ground rents pocketed by landlords would be taxed much more.

Another improvement would be the liberation of currently "government-owned" land. The Federal Government "owns" most of the American West, including such economically valuable sites as the SF Presidio. Pure Georgism would require government agencies to bid against the citizenry for continued exclusive use of such land holdings.

The true value of a title to land may be the value that comes from being able to exclude everyone else from using your land, but as David Lloyd George quipped over a hundred years ago: "To prove a legal title to land one must trace it back to the man who stole it".

It was the speculative boom in the Bay Area of the late 90s that opened my eyes to the potential wisdom of confiscatory taxation on land speculation, perhaps the national follow-on boom of 2003-2006 will open more eyes.

The irony is that two of the "Communist" powers we battled so diligently in the previous century -- Red China and the Vietnamese -- opened their land markets to speculation, to completely foreseeable disaster. A group of economists apparently tried to get to Gorbachev with this letter espousing the benefits of Georgism, before it was too late, but were unsuccessful.
posted by yort at 7:29 PM on August 12, 2008


no more parasitic than providing someone water use or food for a monthly fee.

The people of Bolivia have some experience with water as fee service.

http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/South_America/Bolivia_WaterWarVictory.html
http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=6670

In Colorado, Rain Barrels Are Illegal.
http://www.groovygreen.com/groove/?p=3135
posted by rough ashlar at 8:13 PM on August 12, 2008


The comparison to private water monopolies is a bit of a stretch.
posted by XMLicious at 8:22 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


Georgism doesn't work so well in the post-industrial society where land-use isn't as important to wealth generation as it was in agrarian and industrial societies. A successful software company with its dense cubicle farms would end up paying much lower taxes than an auto plant. Doesn't sound fair.
posted by storybored at 8:26 PM on August 12, 2008


storyboard, the theory is that they'd pay land rent instead of income taxes (and also their customers paying sales tax for that matter).

I don't know about you, but my dominant monthly expense is land rent. It'd be an interesting world if this was both cut down by the tax system rewarding more optimal use of land and also my tax burden shifting onto my landlord (where it belongs LOL).

Also, Georgist theory is predicated on competitive bids for use of land. A factory's tax is not based on its output, but rather (theoretically) the #2 bidder's tax bid + $1. Michigan and other automobile producing locales aren't starved for commercial land sites, so an automakers' land tax would be roughly the same as the next optimal use of that land, eg. corn farming.
posted by yort at 8:54 PM on August 12, 2008


Georgism doesn't work so well in the post-industrial society where land-use isn't as important to wealth generation as it was in agrarian and industrial societies. A successful software company with its dense cubicle farms would end up paying much lower taxes than an auto plant. Doesn't sound fair.

In the particular scenario you mention, a salient assumption is that the Georgist society would hold the same intellectual property principles as we do now - since the success of a software company is based upon government establishment and enforcement of IP laws. If IP laws were a bit more reasonable than they are today - if the products of a hard-working software company passed into public domain after a decade or two, for example, it would make much more sense to me that a software company would pay less taxes than a factory manufacturing physical goods.

Another aspect in that case is that computer software is a very complementary good - you can't have a computer software industry without a computer hardware industry, for example, and in this day and age a land-heavy telecommunications establishment is essential for large parts of the software industry. It seems likely to me that, at least for wholly domestic industries, there would be alot of things that would balance out.

But yeah, I would think that any modern implementation of it could end up very unfair if there wasn't a lot of careful thought and adjustment between Georgist principles and current understanding of economics and property law. It seems to me that for example resources like radio spectrum bandwidth, which the FCC has cheerfully auctioned off to private ownership in the past few years, would need to be treated as a public trust the same as land. Or some of the really crazy shit that's happened like biotech companies being able to patent living organisms and now we have Monsanto suing farmers because GMO corn pollen blew into their crop fields. (Which shouldn't be allowed even within our current society.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:54 PM on August 12, 2008


There are good landlords and bad landlords, but the mere fact of providing someone a living area for a monthly fee is no more parasitic than providing someone water use or food for a monthly fee.

If one worked to create that potable water or food, then they deserve compensation in pursuing and fulfilling a market need.

Nobody worked to create the lowland flats in Sunnyvale where I live, yet I'm paying private landholders $1750/mo for the privilege to live in their apartment building (rent that used to be $1100 earlier this decade). The landowners didn't do anything to add $7000 of annual value to this property, yet they are pocketing this increase. Funny, that.
posted by yort at 9:07 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


If IP laws were a bit more reasonable than they are today - if the products of a hard-working software company passed into public domain after a decade or two

I don't see any real pressing need for that. Copyright protection should be taxed, but as long as a property is profitable to the owner I don't see the need to nationalize it.

Patents are a different matter since they do serve as barrier to market entry, often a bogus one at that.

Don't get me started on the spectrum selloff this decade. Aargh. We sold for $20B for all perpetuity what we should have leased for $2B/yr for 20 years. Nation of dumbasses we is.
posted by yort at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't see any real pressing need for that. Copyright protection should be taxed, but as long as a property is profitable to the owner I don't see the need to nationalize it.

Although I think people should be financially compensated for creative acts that benefit others (or provide some sort of luxury to others) I don't regard things like software or other works as genuinely being a form of property; that's what I mean by "more reasonable", I'm not talking about nationalizing private property. The construction that an idea someone has is a transferrable piece of property that persists for seventy years after their death just seems silly and graspingly plutocratic to me.

(And actually, even under conventional principles of copyright, changing the length of copyright term does not seem like "nationalizing" property to me - that sounds like something pejorative the RIAA would say in trying to imply that anything other than draconian and overreaching copy protection is Communism!)

P.S. I say this as a software engineer myself, btw.
posted by XMLicious at 9:47 PM on August 12, 2008


The construction that an idea someone has is a transferrable piece of property that persists for seventy years after their death just seems silly and graspingly plutocratic to me

The 10 or 20 year sunset on copyright protection just seems a bit half-baked, that's all. Does this mean I can freely copy Blade Runner?

My point is that as long as other people aren't needlessly prevented from creating similar works, there's no real need to free software. It doesn't age very well, anyway.

And I don't have a problem with Disney owning Mickey Mouse for all eternity, either.

Nobody is being forced to buy this existing IP, and people are free to create competing IP. IP creators don't steal from the commons via the copyright protections they enjoy on their works.

The 20 year limit on patents seems to meet your requirements already, too.
posted by yort at 11:03 PM on August 12, 2008


Dark Messiah: Which bit of Ottawa, if you don't mind me asking?
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:00 AM on August 13, 2008


Dark Messiah: Which bit of Ottawa, if you don't mind me asking?

West end, that's as specific as I will be on a public forum.
posted by Dark Messiah at 12:27 AM on August 13, 2008


Does this mean I can freely copy Blade Runner?

I don't think that software really needs to be treated the same way a movie does. Yeah, as you say, it would be reasonable to treat it more similarly to the things governed by patents.

But as far as copying Blade Runner - sure, why not? What's wrong with Warner Brothers only making twenty years' worth of profit on the project? Especially when the entire basic storyline of the movie was developed in a creative effort completely unrelated to WB? (Though I concede they did some important touch-ups - like getting rid of the duplicate police department thing from the book, WTF)

That you consider it perfectly reasonable for Disney to get an eternal dominion over and gold mine out of every one of its "intellectual properties" - collections of personal human rights that are now somehow owned by a corporate entity, a thing sort of like a contract that can own property - seems crazy to me, a complete and modern distortion of the notion of what an artistic work or written communication comprises.

If you take these concepts of intellectual property - things like copyrights and patents and trademarks that allow situations like Toys "R" Us shutting down some little kid's non-commercial web site because its name contains "R Us" (big intrusion into their market, quite a danger to their brand y'know) - if you take them and place them in historical settings earlier than the last 150 or 200 years, you can imagine some pretty absurd scenarios. (And then go and copyright those scenarios, if you want.)

I should mention that I have no problem at all with abstract property - like applying exchangeable economic value to contracts or details of contracts, or even speculation on when contracts will be consummated (commodity futures, etc.) - it's specifically the excessively mercantile handling of what are essentially mostly-unoriginal ideas that seems to me merely a recent and commercial tropism of law and civic principles.

IP creators don't steal from the commons

I totally disagree. I wouldn't call it "stealing" of course because I don't think it's property, but I think that there's very, very little originality in most works - I think the majority of every work comes from the commons, and comes for free, to anyone engaging in a creative act.

A caveman, a tabula rasa, would not even be able to remotely approach creating anything like these works. And what makes the difference between that and the capabilities of the modern "artist"? (as the copyright originators are called, though in many cases debatably are not) It's the commons and the rest of human civilization - the environment the creator came from and things entirely external to the artist. The bit that stems from the intrinsic creativity of the artist can on rare occasion be pretty awe-inspiring, and that sort of greatness might be worthy of eternal reverence and preservation - but the creation, fenced off on the pretense it's totally distinct and separate from the commons, and as if to draw from it in the same way the commons was drawn from is an illegal transfer of property, legally packaged up and transferred to a corporate entity so that it can perpetually serve as a competitive advantage or something - that's silly.

They deserve to be personally compensated for the creative act, especially when it creates substantial economic value, and I would believe in a right to attribution, but the system we've got today looks to me much more like the product of litigation and lobbying in the U.S. and Europe over the last couple of centuries rather that a genuine consideration of the value or rights involved in a creative act.
posted by XMLicious at 1:16 AM on August 13, 2008


To try to provide a more focused response to you yort - basically I think that "intellectual property" and all of the constructions around it are a disingenuous load of crap, a Goldberg machine, a facade for an obligation to properly compensate the artist / inventor for the economic value that he or she creates. I think the system we have pretty frequently spectacularly fails in this obligation. I think that the current copyright term extending many decades beyond the death of the artist is an opportunistic contrivance primarily for the benefit of people other than the artist. I think that in the case of the vast, vast majority of works greatly reducing the copyright term wouldn't make any difference in the success rate for properly compensating the artist. And I believe that within the system the proper destiny for all works is to return to the commons from whence they came.
posted by XMLicious at 1:55 AM on August 13, 2008


Folks, folks, we're getting away from the main topic here.

Who else imagined themselves as the landlord, bashing in his newly re-locked door handle with a sledge hammer, and, with a couple of goons, quite literally throwing him out.

He wouldn't do that free rent shit anymore, would he?

I'm trying to think of other ways that his life could be made unbearable without destroying my own property, but nothing comes to mind.

How would you get petty revenge?
posted by wires at 4:59 AM on August 13, 2008


I would place more blame on real estate agents than on landlords. There is one nasty feedback loop that real estate agents are responsible for, and here's how it works: (1) Landlord engages real estate agent. (2) Real estate agent surveys properties of the type in the area, and provides landlord with a list of typical rents. (3) Landlord views this list, which range from $L to $H, averaging $A. (4) Real estate agent tells landlord: "Your property is better than average, so we're going to rent it out at approx ($H-$A)/2+$A." (5) Landlord is pleased by the compliment and gladly accedes. (6) Go back to step 1, with a new landlord.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 8:09 AM on August 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wires, if I were a landlord, I surely wouldn't hire someone to wait 5 days! outside of his apartment. I'd hire a summons server and then turn off the water and power until he came out.

As far as retalitory tactics, I sure as hell wouldn't do anything while he was living in my property. I'd hit him much later when it'd be more difficult to figure out that I was responsible. Petty revenge isn't worth the risk. Major revenge on the other hand... Of course, the reality of revenge seeking is that if you are too angry to wait you screw up and get criminal/civil penalties. If you aren't too angry to wait, by the time it is safe to pursue revenge you've cooled off too much to care.
posted by BrotherCaine at 9:26 AM on August 13, 2008


Rent control areas also have very strict laws against retaliation. You can't enter the premises without prior notice and permission. You can't turn off utilities. You can't change the locks, or make a lot of noise, or do anything to drive them out, and you certainly can't physically remove them. If you do anything that appears retaliatory, they can sue, and the courts are heavily in their favor. After all, you're an evil parasite landlord victimizing a poor defenseless disabled person.
posted by team lowkey at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2008


aeschenkarnos, you're forgetting that somebody has to agree to PAY this rent. I have no problem with contracts entered into by both parties. I pay my $1750 rent because my LL can find somebody else who will, if I refuse.

Speaking as a Georgist, rent control is bullshit. As are Section 8 vouchers.
posted by yort at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2008


aeschenkarnos, think you meant ($H-$A)/2 ‧ $A
posted by XMLicious at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2008


(And yeah, that's a nasty feedback loop.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2008


No, aeschenkarnos said to take the high and avg values and split the difference. No multiplication needed.
posted by ryanrs at 3:33 AM on August 14, 2008


Oh, yeah, I messed that up; I was actually thinking of ($H+$A)/(2 ‧ $A). But I misconstrued the order of operations in the original, I thought he was saying ($H-$A)/(2+$A), my bad...
posted by XMLicious at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2008


Speaking as a Georgist, rent control is bullshit. As are Section 8 vouchers.

Without rent control, there'd be nobody to do the scutwork in San Francisco; already, a large proportion of its blue-collar jobs are done by people who live in Oakland and commute across the Bay Bridge every day. When the options are either "subsidised housing" or "all the scutwork gets done by poor people who have to drive across a damn bay twice a day", I think that's an easy one.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:34 PM on August 14, 2008


aeschenkarnos, you're forgetting that somebody has to agree to PAY this rent.
The rich and poor alike are forbidden to sleep under bridges.

I have no problem with contracts entered into by both parties. I pay my $1750 rent because my LL can find somebody else who will, if I refuse.
It's not just about you and your landlord and the other guy. It has undesirable consequences for everyone else which have been listed at length in thousands of articles.

Speaking as a Georgist, rent control is bullshit. As are Section 8 vouchers.
Restraint of undesirable economic activity, whatever its nature, is independent of Georgism. You might have some Georgist-specific grounds to object to rent control, but restraining landlords from aggregrating land ownership to themselves permanently (the end effect of unlimited rent rise) seems entirely in line with the core Georgist principles - in fact the existence of a landlord as a concept seems against Georgism to me, unless I'm badly misreading Georgism.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:22 PM on August 17, 2008


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