Don’t Drain the Budget
A few days ago, I received an email from the editor of this magazine, as I do every two months, informing me of the theme for the upcoming issue. (By now you must have noticed that this month’s focus is “maintenance.”) She never dictates or even asks that I direct my ruminations to said theme—she doesn’t have to. Just the mention of the topic worms its way into my mind and I simply can’t help myself. So, here it goes.
My feeling about building maintenance is much like everyone else’s: I’m all for it. The more challenging question, however, is how much can we defer before we negatively impact either our building or our tenants? The cost of perfectly maintaining a building is like inserting a siphon into your bank account and disengaging the shut-off valve. Large property owners with professional managers no doubt have all these things on timetables and depreciation schedules. Me, I do what I have to do when the problem arises, even if it produces units that are vastly dissimilar in upgrades. Amazingly enough, over the years, it seems to have worked just fine.
There are exceptions—last month, for example. After a hard rain, a tenant reported moisture around her kitchen window. Upon inspection I could see the writing on the wall and realized that I needed to replace all the windows on that side of the building. It was hardly premature since they’d been there for 100 years.
Other than that, a clean staircase, freshly painted front doors, hall carpets without noticeable spots or fraying, and odorless garbage cans are all musts for setting a certain standard for the tenants. On the other hand, if there is a chip in a bathtub or a small gouge in the kitchen linoleum, well, nobody’s perfect.
Just got another email update from SFAA; this one says that, after long deliberation, the Board of Supervisors decided not to put their charter amendment changing the appointment system for Rent Board commissioners on the November ballot. I called my friend Maggie and we met for brunch at Zazie’s in Cole Valley to celebrate the decision. We had written our share of letters to the supervisors over the last few months and this was a very sweet victory achieved right before the filing deadline. Of the many things the supervisors have done over the years to shrink our rights as property owners, few would have affected us so directly as giving the “progressive” majority the right to select three Rent Board commissioners.
Always the contrarian, Maggie looked out on to Cole Street and said thoughtfully, “But the board won’t always be made up of such lefties.” I told her that by that time we would both be dead and buried, so we didn’t have to worry about it. We clinked coffee cups to toast Janan New and the others who argued late into the night to kill the bill, at least temporarily.
When the flamboyant and witty property manager Craig Waddle spoke to the SFAA membership recently, he emphasized the importance of open communication with tenants. When he said, “Make it as easy as possible for them to reach you, especially about things that need fixing,” I realized he was speaking to me. I tend to avoid my tenants as much as possible because just the sight of me seems to trigger in them some kind of complaint. Truth be told, I don’t even open my door if I hear one of them in the hall.
Waddle takes the opposite tack, though—emailing, phoning, writing and extending a helping hand at all times. He also said to keep a loose-leaf notebook for each unit to record and save all pertinent information. Well, that much I do. I’ve always had a binder for my 4-unit building, with a section for each unit and another in the back for the building itself, where I record exterior painting, fire extinguisher maintenance, garbage collection, etc. Just as he suggested, I keep anything applying to a single unit in its proper section: service calls, paint info, lock changes, dates of new appliances (and their service manuals), date of carpet installation and painting, letters to tenants, and other documentation. Even owners of small buildings like me have to be organized.
You’ve got to love Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. In advocating a new charter amendment to rescind the mandatory pay scale of Muni drivers, the District 7 supervisor has shown political courage not seen since Mayor Gavin Newsom implemented Care Not Cash. At an SFAA meeting, he related how he has been called racist (most Muni drivers are minorities) and that certain labor bosses have proclaimed his political career finito. He was careful to say that Muni drivers are not overpaid for the job they do, but rather that the statutory guarantee of high salary (among the highest in the nation) left the city with zero bargaining power to change those infamous work rules of Transport Workers Union Local 250-A.
These practices prevent a driver from being switched to another line when needed, allow manipulation of work schedules so that drivers can be paid overtime for a regular work shift, tolerate habitual absenteeism without penalty, make it nearly impossible to hire part-time drivers and, well, you get the picture. Elsbernd simply wants the Transport Workers to have to negotiate their contracts like every other union does. What could be more reasonable than that?
I had the opportunity to hear presentations from several of the many candidates running for Chris Daly’s seat in District 6 (Downtown, Tenderloin, SoMa, South Beach). Although former president of the Police Commission Theresa Sparks is ranked high with moderates, an impressive newcomer is Elaine Zamora. She became a neighborhood activist soon after she moved her law practice to Jones and Golden Gate streets, in the heart of the Tenderloin. A few years later, when she also moved her residence there, she embarked on a personal mission to improve the neighborhood, even though it meant confronting the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, Glide Memorial Church and even St. Anthony’s Dining Room.
What was the argument that forged her success? “Just because people are poor doesn’t mean they have to live in squalor.” Amazingly, she persuaded the requisite number of property owners to sign on to a 29-block Community Benefits District, agreeing to higher property taxes in exchange for much-needed benefits, such as “street ambassadors,” more frequent street cleaning, murals, mini-parks and more. When asked what supervisor she would most likely align with, she said, “Sean Elsbernd.” Smart cookie.
“Let it begin with me.” I think that’s how my friend Kevin described a statement by his Miraloma Park neighbor when questioned about his plans to construct a 35-foot wind turbine tower in his front yard. You have to understand that Kevin is a gentle man who always sees the best in everyone and completely understands his neighbor’s idealism, agreeing with him that wind power is indeed the most effective form of alternate energy. So, he is conflicted as to what his position should be.
The members of the Miraloma Park Improvement Club, however, have no such qualms, and plan to request a Discretionary Review of the permit application because of its “inappropriate scale and the potential nuisance effects of noise and light.” Yes, light. They know there is a strobe light component because, gasp, there’s one already operating in Forest Hill. Who knew? And you thought your neighbor’s solar panels were an eyesore.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the SFAA or the SF Apartment Magazine. Lily’s Diary is written by a longtime rental property owner who reserves the right to remain anonymous on the grounds that her tenants might gang up on her. Comments, corrections or ideas are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright © 2010 by Black Point Press. All rights reserved.