Voters shoot down unlimited power for landlords

So the big news from the election that everyone was watching yesterday is cause for celebration.

Oh, no, I don’t mean the Wisconsin recall. That’s awful. I mean the defeat of Proposition E in Oceanside, Calif.:

In election returns updated early Wednesday morning, Oceanside voters rejected an ordinance that would phase out rent control in the city’s 17 mobile-home parks. …

With 100 percent of precincts counted, Proposition E — the measure that would gradually eliminate rent control — was failing with 65 percent of the voters saying no and 35 percent voting yes. …

Mobile-home resident Chris Gow said she Tuesday night was “just ecstatic” over the vote on Proposition E.

“I’m really not sure why people are voting the way they are except that they’re tired of the way the three councilmen run this city,” said Gow, president of the Oceanside Manufactured Homeowners Alliance.

… “We’re sure that some other issue about mobile-home residency will come up again so we can’t let our guard down,” Gow said Tuesday. “From what I understand, [the council majority] have a check list and they’re just going down the list. We don’t know what’s next on that list, but we will be ready for them.”

Cool. Bravo, Oceanside.

The news is less good for manufactured-home owners here in my own state, where residents of the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Jersey Shore, Pa., may be kicked off the land for — what else in Pa.? — construction of a fracking facility.

The residents, most of them middle-aged or elderly, were offered only token payments to help them relocate in an area where the influx of gas workers has already sent rents soaring. Although some did leave, others decided to fight back with the help of anti-fracking activists and Occupy Wall Street.

Residents describe their fight for their neighborhood in this YouTube video.

In Illinois, the city of Portage has figured out a new way to save money: eliminate trash collection for manufactured-home owners.

The City Council set off alarms at its last meeting when an ordinance was introduced that would immediately eliminate city garbage collection in mobile home parks.

And north of the border, it seems that landless low-income people get pushed around in Canada, too: “B.C. seniors devastated as homes face bulldozer.”

“This is a horrible, horrible situation to put people in,” said resident Barb Lewis. “None of us knew that when we bought in here — we had absolutely no idea.”

Karen Matty, a prominent developer in Abbotsford whose family owns the park with 100 homes on it, is offering tenants of Garden Village approximately $11,000 to vacate, so the 5.3 hectares can be redeveloped.

The seniors own their manufactured homes and rent the “pads” they sit on, for approximately $400 per month. Most of the homes are too old to be moved.

“Some residents have bought into this park within the past two years at a cost of $70,000 to $80,000 and had asked if the park is safe and will remain as a mobile home park, and they were told yes, this park will remain,” said 60-year-old resident Ron Leitch.

I don’t know if what Leitch describes there meets the legal definitions of fraud and theft, but the bottom line here is that some people are getting screwed out of tens of thousands of dollars, so even if it turns out to be legal, it’s still shameful.

  • Eric Eves

    Fraud, maybe not. Insufficient information. Probably not theft.

    But there’s almost certainly a solid case for promissory estoppel there, if they can offer sufficient evidence that they were told that it would remain as a mobile home park.

    (This is not legal advice, do not take actions based on this post, I am not your lawyer, klaatu barata niktu.)

  • aunursa

    Voters in nearby San Diego (66%), as well as San Jose (70%), voted to cut the pensions of retired city workers. 

    Public employee unions that aggressively fought the measures weren’t able to overcome the simple message supporters used to attract voters in San Diego and San Jose: Pensions for city workers are unaffordable and more generous than many private companies offer. The result is reduced public services in the form of such things as limited hours at public libraries and unfilled potholes.

    “The voters get it, they understand what needs to be done,” said San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, a Democrat who has called pension reform his highest priority.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Please, Fred, “landlord” is an offensive, derogatory term. They prefer to be called “property owners.” (And sure, because existence precedes essence, in 30-40 years, “property owners” will also be an offensive, derogatory term, but we must for always be civil — however they define it — or they might not listen to us!)

  • Magic_Cracker

    Voters in nearby San Diego (66%), as well as San Jose (70%), voted to cut the pensions of retired city workers. 

    Huh. I assume you’re posting this off topic item here because, as a principled libertarian, you’re opposed to the rabblous mob enacting by voter fiat such a gross violation of the affected employees’ liberty of contract, just as I’m sure you opposed the auto bailout because the autoworkers’ contractually-guaranteed pensions were put on the chopping block to make up for 40 years of executive incompetence. Right? Right?

  • Ursula L

    A fair number of people who own mobile homes on rented land have mortgages.  

    I wonder what their banks think about this situation?  Someone who is forced out of their mobile home is not going to be either able to or interested in continuing to pay their mortgage.  And what is left for the bank to foreclose on,when they default?

    It feels as if there ought to be a way to get the power of the banks on the side of the people loosing their homes, in this particular context.  But I don’t know enough about the terms of mortgages for manufactured housing on rented land to sort the details.  

  • VMink

    To be fair, I was going to post the same news here.  I am disappointed in the results, and pretty sure that Measure B is illegal anyway.  If the court’s don’t shoot it down, the IRS (of all agencies) might.  We’ll see.

    What that article doesn’t mention is that, buried in the measure, the city government has given itself the power to suspend(for up to five years) necessary cost-of-living increases to pensioners.  (Measure B Section  1510-A)  Yes, it says that this is to be done in matters of “fiscal emergency”; I am not entirely certain what it takes to declare a ‘fiscal emergency’ or if such a declaration is ‘all or nothing’ or if it can be done piecemeal.  This could be minor; then again, considering how miniscule pensions tend to be for the majority of civil workers, it could be critical

    Then again, wages haven’t kept up with inflation and cost of living increases for, what, twenty, thirty years?  Forty?

    Extra Credit: It changes what defines ‘disability’ for purposes of getting benefits.  If you can do any other job on the city roster — even if no such job is available — you are not considered unable to perform any other job

    Special Happy Fun Bonus: Measure B does not apply to the Mayor, the City Council, or other highest-level management positions of the city… the positions that get those high pensions that people scream about.

    Other measures were on the ballot, including a tightening of term limits (from 14 to 12, IIRC) which passed; a $1/carton (or pack?) tax on cigarettes to go to cancer research, which did not pass; and a county measure to give the Board of Supervisors the power to give authority of the county’s jails (not prisons) to the Sherrif’s Office, the Board of Corrections, both jointly, or some other ‘department or agency lawfully authorized.’ Not sure if that one passed or not.

  • http://thatbeerguy.blogspot.com Chris Doggett

    I’ve always been puzzled by the anti-union, anti-public-servant benefit argument of “public employees have better benefits than private sector workers because of their unions, therefore, we should cut their benefits and remove collective bargaining power!”

    It would seem to me that if the unions were so effective at getting their members a good bargain, I would want to see if my industry had a union, and if not, how I might go about joining one. 

    Of course, any public discussion of unions usually winds up displaying the inability of most people to accurately compare future benefits with current costs along with the eagerness of politicians to trade future issues (which they won’t be around to deal with) for current benefits. 

    Sorry to go off on a rant, but a pension is a promise from an employer to an employee. Almost every public employee who took their job did so knowing they would earn substantially lower-than-market wages in exchange for higher-than-market benefits. When workers negotiate in a union for benefits, they’re almost always doing so in exchange for less wages! When the UAW accepted little or no wages when the industry was in trouble, it was in exchange for better retirement plans down the road. The deal they made was “less money now, more money later”. 

    It’s the same deal most public employees make; in some circles, working a civil service job is referred to as “golden handcuffs”. The pay is poor, raises are miniscule, and advancement is based as more on who retires or quits than on merit, but if you’re willing to stay with it for long enough, there’s a reward for long service.  It’s a smart strategy as an employer, because you want knowledgeable, experienced staff who are committed to the organization for the long run.  

    Cutting pension plans because “they’re too expensive” is like hiring laborers in the morning with a promise of pay at the end of the day, and then after all the work is done, only giving them half of what you promised. It’s dishonest, it’s theft, and it’s immoral. 

  • http://deird1.dreamwidth.org Deird

    It’s the same deal most public employees make; in some circles, working a
    civil service job is referred to as “golden handcuffs”. The pay is
    poor, raises are miniscule, and advancement is based as more on who
    retires or quits than on merit, but if you’re willing to stay with it for long enough, there’s a reward for long service.

    …unless the government suddenly announces that they’re cutting half the public service jobs.

    (Ask me how my year is going, I dare you.)

  • VMink

    In a sense, this one flew under the radar since it’s not cutting pensions, per se.  It doesn’t seem to affect existing pension plans (except for the ‘disability’ thing and the ability to suspend cost-of-living increases.)  It does have some serious effects for future employment.

    We’ll see.  Hopefully there will be no ‘fiscal emergencies’ in the next few year.  Perhaps we’ll get to see the benefit of these savings, like fewer potholes and more library hours and more cops on the street.   Surely it won’t take all that long to reap the benefits of this munificent plan that’s been enacted?  (Provided the courts don’t strike it down.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Huh. Canadian residential tenancy laws are usually pretty decent, but I agree – they’re weaker when it comes to manufactured housing. (-_-)

  • TheBrett

     The problem is that a fair number of municipal and state governments were being dishonest, or at least reckless, when they made those pension promises. They set up pension projections that depended on unrealistically large growth rates, and then used that to kick the problem of compensation down the road to their successors. This was particularly common with Firefighter and Police pension plans, since they didn’t want to pay the wages it would otherwise take to attract the personnel they wanted.

  • TheBrett

     The problem is that a fair number of municipal and state governments were being dishonest, or at least reckless, when they made those pension promises. They set up pension projections that depended on unrealistically large growth rates, and then used that to kick the problem of compensation down the road to their successors. This was particularly common with Firefighter and Police pension plans, since they didn’t want to pay the wages it would otherwise take to attract the personnel they wanted.

  • Lori

    The problem is that a fair number of municipal and state governments were being dishonest, or at least reckless, when they made those pension promises. 

    Yes, that’s a problem. However, that doesn’t make the solution any less dishonest.

    “We didn’t want to or could not afford to* pay you market rate when we hired you so we offered you a deferred compensation plan. That plan was based on lies, either lies we told ourselves or lies we told to you. Even with the lies, it was a legal offer. You accepted and performed the work. Our lies are no longer sustainable, which leaves us with a problem. We’ve decided to solve that problem by arbitrarily reducing your compensation now that you are no longer able to withdraw your labor in response.”

    This is, in a word, bullshit. The fact that Conservatives love this ish so much is one of the (many) things that prove that they do not actually believe the things they claim are their core principles.

    *That belongs in quotes in some instances and not in others. In some municipalities they “could not afford” market rates for police & fire because their money all went to the major or to construction projects built by some City Council member’s brother or some such.

  • Dan Audy

    I’m often confused as to how it is legal to cut pensions that have already been earned.  I can’t (legally) refuse to pay a contractor after they’ve provided service for me because I decided their bid was too high, and I can’t pay my employee half what their employment contract requires because my business would be more profitable if I did.  How is it that pensions, which are contractually agreed on, can be changed unilaterally after the provision of service has already occured?

    *This is an actual question not just a rant if anyone with a legal background cares to enlighten me.

  • Lori

     If you figure it out please be sure to share, because I don’t get it either for the same reasons.

  • P J Evans

    Funny thing, they can always afford good salaries and pensions for the guys at the top.

  • Nirrti

     Well, that’s exactly how migrant workers and immigrants get treated in the job market. Of course no one cared because it was “those people” who were being taken advantaged of. Now that it’s happening to “Real ‘Murkans” everyone wants to cry about it being unfair.

    What goes around, karma, and all that jazz…..

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Neither do I, but I always laugh when the snotty rules-lawyers bounce on in here and insist it is SO TOO totes illegal for a CEO to do things like switch pension plans to defined contribution from defined benefit just so they can make a grab for the sudden cash surplus in the pension fund.

    On paper, sure. In practice? Show me one CEO that ever actually went to trial or even just got personally or even their company fined for doing it.

  • runsinbackground

    “…the bottom line here is that some people are getting screwed out of
    tens of thousands of dollars, so even if it turns out to be legal, it’s
    still shameful.”
    A necessary precondition for being a conman is not being susceptible to shaming, so we’re all on the wrong tack.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It’s actually really easy: They pass a law saying that it’s legal. Ta-da!

  • TheBrett

     I wouldn’t call it “arbitrarily reducing your compensation” if they simply can’t afford to pay it.

  • P J Evans

     Note that the managers and elected officials get paid much more, frequently are in line for multiple pensions (some being paid while they’re in office) and aren’t in line for pension cuts, even though their pensions may run well into 6 figures. Per year.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Um, yeah, that would work if the only people who actually did not care and who knew about it and who had the power to do something about it were the only ones being shafted. Which is utterly untrue.

    “What goes around comes around” is bullshit. I’ve had more than enough of New Agey types telling me I must have done something wrong or I would not have injured my back because “karma”. (Which is a deep misunderstanding of the concept of karma.) And what do you think rape victims, murder victims, migrant workers and other poor people, and etc. ad infinitum did to “deserve” their fates? 

    The idea that people deserve to be cheated and lied to and hurt is disgusting. I don’t care where the person who says it lies on the political spectrum.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     The only lawful way I can think of doing that is if the employment contracts have to be resigned by the employer and the employee every year or something like that. It’s not a ‘unilateral’ change then in the sense that the employer can go in and change the words, but they can give you next year’s contract in November, say, and tell you, “Here you go, sign this or we’re going to have to let you go”.

    Obviously, politically powerful employees like CEOs and companies that have strong unions can fight against contracts like that, but most employees really can’t, especially nowadays; they have no bargaining power to reject a less-favorable new employment contract because if they leave they might not be able to get a new job very quickly (especially if they can’t count on the previous job for a good recommendation)

    That’s pretty much what they’re doing in the public sector, at least. Guys like Walker really can’t and aren’t interested in rewriting past contracts with public sector unions. What they can do is work out, for 2013 (for example), a new contract that is more favorable to them and less favorable to the unions, from then on. It’s not strictly a ‘unilateral’ change but obviously it’s not a negotiation between equals…

  • VMink

    I don’t get it either.  But most of the right-wing folk I speak with when I tell them that it was a contract shrug.  I imagine they think they don’t have to care, since it’s not them.

    Extra Credit: One of my relatives is on pension from the phone company and thinks that city workers should get their pensions cut.  Naturally, he thinks his should be untouched.

    I don’t like this.  It’s playing with peoples’ livlihoods, people who are vulnerable, people who have been told that they did everything right, people who did nothing wrong, people who put in their 30-40 years.  The city has a duty to follow through with those contracts, because those people fulfilled their end of it.

    Now, going forward… there can be and should be a more equitable and sustainable set of benefits.  Of course, that may not happen until people who think that civic work is a boondoggle are shown the error of their beliefs.

  • JonathanPelikan

    So aunursa, do you think a contract, fairly and legally entered into by both sides, should be voided in this manner?

  • Lori

      I wouldn’t call it “arbitrarily reducing your compensation” if they simply can’t afford to pay it.  

    Has the municipality (at a minimum) declared bankruptcy? If not, then that really won’t fly. One doesn’t get to just decide not to pay people after the work is done. Pensions are not a gift, they’re part of wages paid for work already performed. The municipality took the work, it is not OK to decide to solve the current financial problems (most of which are due to the asshole obsession with cutting taxes) by refusing to pay their debts.

    Edited to clarify

  • TheBrett

     I didn’t say they could reduce pension obligations outside of bankruptcy court, just that if the pensions are reduced, it won’t be arbitrary if it’s because the municipality is insolvent.

  • Lori

    That’s a really, really big “if” though. Municipalities should not be allowed to get away with cutting taxes while keeping executive salaries high and then say “Oops, we have to stiff the little people on work already done for us because we just don’t have the money to pay our contractual obligations.” That is arbitrary and that’s mostly what’s going on. 

  • Cathy W

    My understanding is that, in theory, once your pension has vested, increases earned through further years of service counts as an “accrued benefit” and can’t be reduced – although future accruals can be reduced or eliminated, or my employer can try to convince me that depositing $Y into a 401K on my behalf is at least as good as a guaranteed future benefit of $X/month. (Not hardly.)

    My understanding is also that this theory has never really been tested (most of the employers who have messed around with pensions have been private companies, where the rules are a little different because of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Fund), and both my understanding and my experience is that the courts tend to give a lot of leeway to public employers who are claiming that budget trouble requires them to give their workers the shaft, contract or no contract.

  • AnonymousSam

    It boils down to something I’ve been making fun of for awhile now — this notion that somehow, these poor beaten-upon billionaires need protection from the masses. If they withdraw from a contract and royally screw up the lives of all their employees, why, it’s only because it’s so important that they recoup their losses from a business that would have thrived were it not for the incompetence of their hired hands and the fickle betrayal of the consumers! How dare you not recognize their contributions to society. Any person with genuine empathy would gladly lay down in the mud and let these corporate owners walk over you to avoid dirtying their shoes.

    I swear there’s a lobbyist in Congress right this minute fervently begging, “Please, please, won’t someone think of the billionaires?!”

  • ako

     I’ve
    always been puzzled by the anti-union, anti-public-servant benefit
    argument of “public employees have better benefits than private sector
    workers because of their unions, therefore, we should cut their benefits
    and remove collective bargaining power!”

    Well, when it comes to the ultra-rich who are actively screwing everyone else over and wrecking the economy in favor of short-term profit, any criticism or desire to limit how much they can squeeze out of us is “class warfare” and “the politics of envy” and can’t possibly be legitimate.

    However, when it comes to people who work hard for multiple decades and end up moderately better off, (“Can afford to send my kids to college” better off, not “You know what would be a fun to own?  A tropical island!” better off), it’s totally fair and appropriate to go “How dare they have so much!  We need to take it away from them!  They have no right to be more comfortable or economically secure than other people!”.

    Because, as everyone knows, It’s Okay If You’re A Republican.


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