Thursday, August 20, 2009

The role of Landlord Licensing

I've been following the debate and discussion over the role of the Logan City government demanding the licensing of landlords. Having sat through the municipal council meetings, listening to the arguments, and seeing the motivations of those in the city administration to enact this legislation, I have come to a conclusion about the law as currently written:

It is a bad idea and if left as it currently reads, I would vote against this legislation before the Logan City Council.

This is not a light decision on my part, and I do understand that there is also a crying need for some sort of governmental intervention to deal with abuses by some of the worst abusers of the tenant/landlord relationships that exist in the city. The legislation and proposed ordinance unfortunately won't deal with the very real problems that exist, and I certainly don't believe that the numbers both in terms of manpower available to the current city government and the costs involved with trying to inspect all of these apartments, mobile home trailers, and houses is going to be covered by this legislation. This is a hugely complex issue that is not nearly as black and white as it has been presented by the city administration.

Also, as a general principle I have noticed over the years of sitting on legislative bodies that often the "staff" doesn't either know or is telling the whole story. This is an ordinance that has been largely written by the staff of Logan City with only some minor tweaking by the municipal council. If I'm wrong on this point, I would love to be corrected and would be willing to retract this statement, but this is a significant issue in general for most legislative bodies. I will admit that the problem within Logan City pales in comparison to the problems that exist within our national government, where it is unusual for the congressmen to have even read the legislation before they vote on it, even if they are the formal "author" or sponsor of the bill. Even so, I see some of the same problems that exist here.

Another general principle is that most ideas for "reform", whatever they may be, are usually good intentions but would on the whole be better for government to simply not happen. One of the things that absolutely annoys me about legislators on all levels of government are those that brag about all of the legislation that they have passed and how effective of a legislator they have been. I am, however, more impressed with legislators and congressmen who can point out what legislation they have effectively killed or convinced others that it was a bad idea. Sometimes legislation of some sort should happen, and new laws enacted, but far too often new laws mostly strip away our liberty to act and lead to a continual degradation of our freedom.

A former employer (he was a grocery store head manager) pointed out an interesting principle that applies to rules of all kinds in life. This is even something I've paid attention to as a parent when laying down rules for my children's behavior. Basically, there are two kinds of rules: Reactions to the massive screw-ups of somebody who has caused substantial harm, and rule makers who wish to impose authority and control over others.

I see this wish to license landlords as a power grab and somebody trying to impose their governmental authority where currently none exists. While harm is happening, including a really sad example that was presented at the August 18th, 2009 council meeting where the public hearing on this ordinance was presented (a landlord lost all of his property due to a meth lab being built in his apartment and wiped out everything he owned), this ordinance doesn't really deal with these issues except to provide authority for the city to conduct inspections.... authority that the municipal government already has. All that this ordinance really does is to establish the principle of licensing of landlords, so that other future ordinances can be enacted to take that license away.

That is the other dangerous issue involved here. The power to license is also the power to impose authority and control. Police officers brag about the fact that a driver's license is a privilege and not a right. I am not completely sure when that happened, but there was a time, not really all that long ago even if it is before most who are reading this were alive, when a driver's license didn't exist. Creating a license when none exists is a way to create more authority for government and for the government to get into your life. A driver's license is now abused for purposes that have absolutely nothing to do with the operation of a motor vehicle as well, including for collection of child support, identification purposes to board commercial aircraft, and to enter into employment contracts. There is no reason to believe that a business license for landlords is going to be restricted only for the purposes of regulating the quality of rental properties and can be used for other social engineering programs in the future.

I know this is getting to ramble on quite a bit, and I haven't really addressed specifics to the ordinance. The point is that based on basic principles and philosophies, regardless of what the actual text of the ordinance proposal says, there are reasons to oppose this legislation. Furthermore, it is rather weak on even what it proposes to fix and doesn't really solve the problems.

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