private property

September 18, 2000

There are a few material things that are necessary for people to live: food, water, shelter. That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

There is, though, another thing that’s highly prized in the way most societies are structured — private property. Private property refers to the state in which things are owned, possessed and controlled by people. For instance, about ninety-five percent of everything in the world is owned by less than five percent of the people. And what those five percent own is private property. This is true everywhere except China, where property is communally held by the government.

It’s not only things that are owned; most of us are owned to some degree. Unless we work for ourselves, we sell a number of hours of our life to an employer, who can pretty much do what they want with us during those hours. Even the ideas we have can be owned. For instance, if you invent something at work, the company you work for owns the idea.

Health care is owned, and cemeteries are owned, too. In this case, there’s a highly symbiotic relationship at work. The more health care is owned by the drug and insurance companies, the more profitable cemetery owners seem to be. There must be a connection there somewhere.

Why am I talking about this today?

I bring up this concept of private property for personal reasons. I began house hunting about a month ago. At the time, I thought I had to find a new pad immediately. But things have since changed, and now I have about six months to find a place.

My needs are simple: I need a two-bedroom apartment or rental house, with one bedroom to be used as a home office. I’m too old to be anything but a quiet and reliable tenant. As a rule, I would rather repair something on my own than bother a landlord, too.

But here’s the tough part: I don’t quite live alone. I have two dear companions. One is a wonderful African Gray Parrot named Pirate — he’s Pirate cool and talks a lot. But he never screeches, so no neighbor would ever hear him. And then there is Haiku, the best thing I have done for myself since I had a daughter. Haiku is my six-month-old Australian Shepherd. She is so smart. She’s fully house trained and knows to obey commands like “lay down” and “no.” She knows what the word “ball” means, too. At maturity, she will weigh about thirty-five pounds — in other words, she’s a medium- to small-sized dog, which is what I wanted.

I’ve been married and divorced twice. I’ve lived alone and on my own since 1983, and have no plans to get married again. Like any human, I do occasionally get lonely, though never as lonely as I felt when I was married. In terms of lifestyle needs, the three things I value most are quiet, solitude and my independence. That’s me.

So, like many folks I have pets. According to many scientific studies, my pets are antidotes for things like depression and will add years to my life by lowering the risk of heart problems and a number of diseases.

But here’s why I am really, really ticked off.

A long time ago, when you went looking for an apartment you would basically walk in and look around — and if you liked it, you would say, “I’ll take it.” You gave the landlord a month’s rent and moved in. There were no credit checks, no personal references, no questions about children or pets. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t unusual for the landlord to say, “Great, and what color would you like me to paint the walls?” Yup, that used to be true. Things now are, apparently, very different.

Because of my work, the ideal locations for my apartment would be Monroe, Chester or Goshen. So, I look on the Internet and go through the listings in the Times Herald Record. There are just not many pads for rent, with the exception of apartments in these newish condo rental places like Knollcrest in Goshen. That’s cool with me; I like the security aspects of these places.

These places are somebody’s private property— housing that owners rent to people in need of housing. At least, that’s the idea.

As I found out, they only rent to some people — those who don’t have pets. So, if you’ve got a pet, screw you — go look somewhere else.

Actually, one of these places does accept pets, but the way that they do so demonstrates that they are just being greedy. Obviously, they know that people with pets are stuck, so this place will allow pets, including cats and dogs, which weigh less than twenty-five pounds. Now, here’s the greedy part: they charge an extra damage deposit of about $300 per pet. Then, additionally, there’s a one time, non-refundable fee of $800 per pet. On top of all that, there’s an additional $40 a month in rent per pet. So obviously, they don’t really mind pets, but they sure do love more money.

Years ago these were the kind of places that did not allow children — when that practice was outlawed, these places had to amend their rules.

So, I call this place that allows pets under twenty-five pounds for an absolutely exorbitant amount and a nice young woman answers the phone. She tells me about the size limit and the extra fees — she’s very nice about it.

I tell her that I have a six-month-old puppy that weighs only about twenty-five pounds now, but I don’t want to move into a home on a lie, so I tell her that my puppy will grow to thirty-five pounds. She says, “I’m sorry, but your application will never go through.”

“My application will never go through?” Through what, through whom? I ask her if there is a human being I can talk to about my dilemma. She’s almost in tears now — I don’t think she expected this request from potentially disgruntled applicants. And apparently, you don’t get to talk to human beings anymore — the application gets filled out, sent somewhere, checked yes or no and then sent back.

The corporations that own rental housing want it that way — fewer employees for them to pay.

Now, if you call any of these places, please be kind to the people who answer the phone — like this nice young lady, they have no more control over who gets to live there than you do.

I’ll tell you a story about an experience I had while renting. A long time ago, when my daughter was four years old, she alternated weekly between her mom’s house and mine, both in California.

At some point, her mother decided to return to school in Illinois. I was totally supportive of this and became a single full-time father. I had to find an apartment for my daughter and my dog Hoka. Hoka was, and to this day is remembered as, one of the best friends I have ever had.

Some friends of mine lived in this great apartment complex on a real quiet street. Better yet, there were rows of six apartments facing each other across a driveway with a parking lot in the back. There was so much on-street parking that nobody used this parking lot, so it was a perfect, safe place for my daughter.

So I go over there, by myself, to meet the apartment manager. We hit it off right away. Somewhere along the line, he says to me, “There are no children or pets allowed here.” I tell him, “Hey, no problem.” I pay the old first and last month’s rent, then move myself, my kid and my dog in.

This apartment manager comes around the complex periodically and must know my kid and dog are there, but doesn’t say anything — and I sure ain’t going to say anything to him, either.

About six months later, he comes knocking at my door. I step outside to talk to him. The dude is furious, his face is all red and he launches into me: “You lied!” he says.

“About what?” I ask innocently. I do innocent real well.

“You have a child and a dog in there.” He is really fired up.

“Yup,” I say. He goes on to tell me that I have been a good tenant and he isn’t going to evict me, but that he is furious that I lied to him. He wants to know how I could lie to him.

At that point, my boiling point has been reached. I decide not to kill him, but I look him square in the eyes and say, “Listen up you, you can’t tell me I can’t live here. I have a kid and where else are we supposed to go? That’s discrimination, so screw you, man! Of course I lied. You deny housing to children and I lied, which one of us is the bigger sinner?”

He actually got the point and me, my kid and my dog lived there happily for five years and left the apartment in much better shape than we found it.

At the end of the day, this isn’t just about me finding a home — it’s really about a nation of abundant, privately held wealth, while great numbers of people are suffering from malnutrition.

It’s about living in a country where health care isn’t available or affordable to more than forty million people and where we have an infant mortality rate on par with most third-world nations.

The question is: what do we do when the rights of property owners conflict with basic human needs?

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