Property owner states his case
To the editor:
After the unfortunate situation of an alleged meth bust at my property on Pershing Avenue, I have heard and read many comments and opinions that have inspired me to write this letter to the editor in an effort to clear up some misconceptions.
First, let me say that I have been in the property business for over 30 years. It has only been in the last 10 that I have seen drugs cause such terrible outcomes. I own rental units in multiple locations in Salem, other cities and different states; thus far Salem has been the most seriously affected by the drug epidemic.
For every rental property that I purchase, no matter where it is, it is my goal to improve the structure and provide comfortable housing for my tenants. In the instance of the Pershing Avenue property, I installed new windows, a new roof and an all new electrical systems. The house was painted within the last 10 years. If I had not purchased this property and begun repairing it, I believe that it would have become yet another abandoned structure in disrepair.
At the Pershing Avenue house, I rented to a tenant who was under the supervision of the Columbiana County Mental Health Agency. For those who are unfamiliar, this is a government-funded agency that provides the important service of assisting individuals who have had a history of mental health issues to live independently with an overseeing counselor assigned to their case. I communicated regularly with the counselors over the course of the five years that the tenant lived at the apartment.
During that time she resided there peacefully without any incident or report. Toward the end of her tenancy, I was notified by other residents that there was some suspicion of undesirable activity going on. I immediately reported it to both the tenant’s counselor and a separate drug enforcement authority. I do not know what actions were taken by those agencies but as I was in the process of evicting her she overdosed. This person was someone I had known and interacted with for more than five years. She was gainfully employed as a pharmacy tech and was drug free when she chose the apartment and was accepted as a tenant. She was doing well and living her life until before I knew it she was a drug addict and then she was dead. This is a terrible thing to witness and nothing I would wish on anyone.
Regarding the arrest that was made at the same house last week, there had never been any report of undesirable activity by neighbors or fellow tenants about the individual who has since been reported to have been using drugs and suspected of making meth. This individual called the police to the property in a paranoid state. There was no report or police call that led to an investigation. None of the other tenants had reported suspicious activity or smells. The individual who was arrested had been allowed to live in the unit by his father who was the original tenant. The father was a senior citizen with no drug record. He lived in the unit for over 10 years with no incident. When his son moved in, it was with the understanding that he would be helping to care for his ailing father. His father has since passed and the son continued to reside in the unit with no incident until last week.
The combination of these two events has resulted in a lot of public outcry. I understand the feelings of wanting to find the bad guy. But I am not the scapegoat. The property in question is a block away from the police and fire stations. As stated above it is part of a local program that has its own inspections and oversight to approve properties for habitation and for trained counselors to maintain contact with tenants. Even with myself acting as a concerned property owner and the professionals working in their roles, we could not prevent these drug-related events. The loved ones of addicts probably did their best to prevent such things also. But to no avail. Drugs are a powerful force and it takes a lot to stop them.
Below is a list of things that I do to keep illegal activity out of my rentals and to maintain problem free properties;
— I conduct a background check on every rental applicant. I use the CJIS online court records and reject applicants who have been convicted of violence, theft or hard drugs.
— I review the local police reports and The Western Reserve News daily to be aware of any police calls or reports involving my properties.
— In the event that there is a report or incident, I address it immediately with the tenant and then follow up with law enforcement.
— I cooperate and comply with the mandatory annual property inspections conducted by the Salem City Housing Department.
— Although not required, I provide garbage pickup at all my rentals to encourage tenants to keep their places tidy.
Lastly, I want to make clear that a landlord is responsible only for the physical space that a tenant lives in. We do not and should not be expected to conduct surveillance on the homes of our tenants. Landlords cannot and should not be held responsible for the illegal activity of a tenant in the same way the city cannot be held responsible for the used needles that are found in the park, or the doughnut shop for having someone found to be overdosing in their restroom.
The drug epidemic has hit Salem hard and the landlords like myself see the devastation of it first hand. We want nothing more than to be part of a solution to this problem. That said, anyone who chooses to finger point and name call using words like “slumlord” should be asked to define that word and explain how they think it is appropriate for them to callously degrade the homes that lower income tenants chose to live in. How dare anyone oversimplify what is an absolute crisis in the name of some old fashioned longing for “the way it was.” All while having no regard as to how disrespectful their comments are toward the very people who are most negatively affected.
I continue to welcome any reasonable and respectful suggestions as to how I can be of help to address the issues at hand.