Sunday, April 5, 2020

Do We Pay the Rent?

     Have you heard about the "Keep Your Rent Movement" that's cropped up along with the Coronavirus?

     Many tenants in the U. S. and Canada, especially in the larger more-expensive cities like New York, L.A., Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, have decided that they shouldn't have to pay rent as long as the Coronavirus pandemic keeps people self-isolating and out of work, or on reduced hours working from home.

     They argue that landlords are getting a break because many of them are benefiting from deferrals on their mortgage. So if landlords don't have to pay their mortgage, why should tenants have to pay rent?

     Besides, greedy landlords have been taking advantage of housing shortages in recent years by raising rents well beyond the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, renters have not enjoyed similar increases in pay -- and now they're being squeezed even more because they've been let go, fired or furloughed. They're on reduced wages, or perhaps on no wages at all!

     As one protester wrote: "Why are rental property owners the only class whose income in guaranteed during this chaos? You landlord cannibals need to PAUSE THE RENT without future collection while the people of L. A. count the bodies . . ."

     If tenants are sick and self-isolating, the argument continues, the last thing they should have to worry about is how they're going to pay rent. Besides, no one wants people infected with Coronavirus out on the streets looking for a new apartment, moving in with elderly parents, or squeezing into tight quarters by bunking in with friends.

     In addition, governments have passed legislation banning evictions during this period. For example, the mayor of Los Angeles announced: "During this crisis I know many Angelenos are worried about paying rent. If you are able to  pay, you should continue to do so. But for those who aren't able to pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your City has your back. No one should be evicted for this emergency."

     So, the Keep Your Rent people figure, if the government is protecting them from being evicted, why should they pay their rent anyway? People joining or supporting the Keep Your Rent Movement are hanging white sheets out their windows or off their balconies to show their solidarity.

     Of course, the greedy landlords have something to say about this movement. Even if their mortgage payment is deferred, they argue, they'll still have to pay it in the end. And in the meantime they have real-estate taxes to pay, condo or association fees, insurance, maintenance and utilities like heat and air conditioning.

     Also, not all landlords are big, greedy corporations. Almost half of rentals in the U. S. are made by individuals who rent 1 - 4 units, not as a get-rich-quick scheme but as a sideline to supplement their income. And they know that their tenants, even if they lose their jobs, will be receiving unemployment plus extra money from the government -- and their expenses other than rent will be going down, since they can't go to restaurants and won't be doing any traveling.

     Besides, the renters signed a lease. They agreed to pay a certain amount of money in order to take over this property and live in it for a period of time. They made a promise. Is it right, is it ethical, to just welsh on their part of the deal? Why is it any more acceptable for people to steal lodgings from a landlord than to steal food from a grocery store?

     Me, personally? What do I think? I of course sympathize with tenants who  through no fault of their own are forced to choose whether to pay rent, or pay for groceries. But in the past I was one of those small-time landlords, and I know some people will take advantage. I can remember driving over to the condo I rented to a young couple and collecting the rent in cash, month after month, because their check had bounced several times . . . and how often the cash was $50 or $100 short because . . . well, they both had jobs but they also had a hundred excuses. Boy, was I glad when they moved out! And I was even happier when I finally sold the unit and retired as a landlord.

     So who's side are you on? Are landlords being cold-hearted by insisting on collecting the rent? Or are you hanging a sheet out your window in solidarity with the folks who are on strike to Keep Your Rent?

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

I Almost Had a Heart Attack!

     I thought that this was a time to revisit an old post from a few years ago, one that will show the days of Coronavirus are not the only trying times we have had to live through. Sometimes we are faced with an even more urgent, potentially explosive problem that arrives completely unexpectedly.

     Where I live the golf season stars in April -- or it does in normal times. My friends and I usually play at one of our local public courses, but this particular spring we decided to open the season by traveling up the parkway and playing at a really nice links course in the country.

     The course was about 40 miles north, or close to an hour's drive. So my friend -- the friend I call Peter -- and I decided to carpool. Now if you knew Peter, you'd know he's a little . . . well, how do I put this? We all love him; he's fun to be around; he's really a great guy who'd do you any favor in a minute. But he's a little . . . unpredictable.

     Just one quick story about Peter. A few years ago, when he was getting a divorce, he decided to take a vacation to Australia. He went by himself. He arrived at the airport and picked up his rental car. Did he want the insurance? Usually you answer "no" to that question, because it's expensive and a rental car is often covered by your credit card or regular auto policy. But Peter wasn't even thinking about that, and so he just signed on the dotted line.

     He threw his bag in the trunk, got in the car, and drove onto the highway. Then he remembered he'd put his hotel information in his bag. In the trunk. So he pulled over onto the shoulder of the road. He got out, leaving the door open, went around to the back of the car and opened the trunk. His head was buried in the trunk when . . . WHACK! A pickup truck clipped his open door. The car door went sailing off, scraping along the guardrail.

     The truck stopped. It was hardly damaged. Peter was fine. But the rental car had a big gaping hole on the driver's side where the door was supposed to be.

     Peter stood there for a moment. Then he shrugged. He got in the car, turned around and went back to the rental car lot -- not 15 minutes after he'd left. He returned the car and explained what happened. They gave him a new car, and he drove off to enjoy his vacation.

     This could only happen to Peter. So it shouldn't surprise you to know that I told Peter I'd be happy to be the one to drive to the golf course. We arranged to meet at the mall by the parkway. He'd leave his car there; and I'd drive up to the course.

     I pulled into the lot next to Macy's, as we'd agreed. He wasn't there yet. I parked; I looked at my watch. A few minutes later I saw Peter drive up. He parked next to me, pulled out his golf bag, and I motioned for him to throw his clubs in my backseat.

     He put in clubs in the back then opened the passenger door and got in. "Sorry I'm a little late," he apologized.

     "No problem," I said.

     He dropped his golf shoes on the floor, put on his seatbelt. "I had to take my medicine this morning."

     "Oh, what medicine?" I asked innocently as I backed out of the parking space.

     "Well, have you ever had a colonoscopy?"

     "Yeah, sure."

     "I'm getting my first one tomorrow. So, you know, I had to start the medicine today."

     "The medicine?"

     "Yeah, the stuff that's supposed to get you ready for the procedure. It cleans you out. I wasn't allowed to eat breakfast this morning either. I'm really hungry."

     "Wait a second, Peter . . . you mean the laxative?"


     "Peter, don't you know, we'll be on the golf course for four hours. It's an hour drive up there. Another hour back home. We'll be gone for six hours!" I was starting to panic, imagining Peter exploding all over my car.

     "Yeah. So what?"

     "But . . . have you ever had that stuff before?"

     "No. Why?"

     Maybe I shouldn't get on the parkway, I thought, looking for a place to turn around and head back to the mall.. "It makes you go to the bathroom. In a major way. That's the whole point!"

     "Oh, I can hold it. I'm pretty good at that. No problem."

     "What do you mean, hold it? You can't hold it!"

     "No, really, I can hold it."

     "Peter, you're . . ."

     Then Peter looked at me. A big grin crossed his face. "April Fools!"

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Down by the River

     One byproduct of self-isolating is often weight gain, since we're stuck at home with not much to do except sit around and be a couch potato while we watch a screen, read a book, send emails and texts, cook and eat . . .  and then do it all over again.

     Still, most of us are probably trying to get beyond these sedentary activities, since they do get old after a week or two. We try to figure out ways to not only pass the time while we self-isolate, but also to do something reasonably refreshing, meaningful and healthful.

View of New Hope from the bridge

     I have not yet come up with a better idea than to take a walk -- practicing, of course, safe distancing all the way.

Looking down the river ... Philadelphia is about 40 miles south

     I live in a small city in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. But a few miles to the east is the even smaller, but better-known town of New Hope, PA, located on the Delaware River.

Crossing the state line midway on the bridge

     The other day I drove over to New Hope and took a walk around. I actually went across the river and parked in the sister town of Lambertville, NJ, then walked back across the bridge to New Hope.

French pastries
"Moo" Hope ... get it?
     New Hope is usually crowded with people. But today the stores were closed. Only a couple of restaurants were open, offering take-out only. The streets were not completely empty, but they looked bare compared to the usual buzz of activity.

Restaurant in old church

Sign in restaurant
      The pride and joy of New Hope is the Bucks County Playhouse which hosts live theatrical performances, occasional music programs, poetry readings and other events. Last fall B and I went to see Sally Struthers in Always ... Patsy Cline. Yes, Sally Struthers from the old sit-com All in the Family. She is much older now. But she was hilarious. She still has her comic chops.

Bucks County Playhouse

     New Hope has a lot of history. Washington crossed the Delaware only a few miles south of here. Back then the village was called Coryell's Ferry.

House from late 1700s, made of characteristic Pennsylvania fieldstone

     But now it's better known as a funky, artsy place that draws tourists, day trippers, and motorcycle clubs from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and other parts of the Northeast. And there are at least a few attractions aside from the bars and restaurants -- a children's museum, an historic railroad, several parks and a host of art galleries.

Acupuncture, of course
Irish pub
     There's also a canal that runs along either side of the river, one on the Pennsylvania side, one on the New Jersey side. They were once used to haul coal barges. Now they feature a walking and biking path.

    And so on the way back to my car, instead of walking through town, I cut along the canal tow path for a few blocks. I noticed a duck paddling along . . . practicing, of course, safe distancing all the way.

Duck enjoying the canal

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Best Foot Forward

     I must admit I have an ambivalent attitude toward nature. Of course, I want to see us save the rain forests. And I love the cute animals and pretty flowers -- especially the daffodils that harbinger the warm weather to come.

     But I don't much like house flies and mosquitoes; I don't want squirrels or skunks in the attic. I used to like deer, but that was before I had Lyme disease. And I certainly want no part of the Coronavirus.

     To avoid being exposed to the Coronavirus, like most people, I've been self-isolating at home, looking for things to do. But there's no reason why we can't go out for a walk, as long as we practice "safe distancing" from other potential carriers we might meet on the path or sidewalk.

     So the other day I decided to look on the bright side, to put my best foot forward, and go for a walk into town. I tried to focus on the beautiful side of nature, which is not hard to do in the springtime. The first thing I noticed was the forsythia in my neighbor's yard.

     Myrtle was peeking out from under the winter leaves.

     Lots of people had beds of little yellow flowers blooming in their front yards. I don't know what they are, but they sure are pretty. 

      One older home had a front yard lined with hedges that were just budding with tiny red flowers.

     I had to go in for a closeup of these pretty pink and purple flowers.

     At the First Church of Christ Scientist a row of Andromeda bushes lined the driveway.

     On the way home another of the daffodils caught my eye. I guess the daffodils are my favorite. I hope you, too, can enjoy some nature, wherever you are. In the meantime, be safe, be well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Views of the Virus - Part II

     Like everyone else, my wife B and I are mostly staying home these days.We read books, watch Netflix. Our big event of the day is going outside for a walk, making sure to give a wide berth to anyone we meet on the street.

     The weather has been pretty warm where I live in eastern Pennsylvania. Spring is arriving early. The forsythia is coming out. The trees are budding. The daffodils are blooming.

     So I've spent some time outside cleaning up the garden beds, cutting back the hedge by the fence. I was raking up some leaves in the front yard on Saturday afternoon when I saw Ryan, our next-door neighbor, walking his two babies. They are very cute, identical twin girls, five months old.

     We got talking, and it soon became clear that Ryan's attitude toward the virus is more like my wife's casual approach than my ultra-cautious view. I asked him if he was working at home. He said he probably could, but didn't really want to. He works in Montgomery County (which has seen 20 "presumptive" Coronavirus cases, compared to only three in our county, meaning people have tested positive but the results have not been confirmed), but he believes the whole thing has been overblown. So he's not worried.

     He couldn't understand the run on the grocery stores. "What are people doing?" he wondered. "And why are they buying up toilet paper? That makes no sense at all."

     I agreed with him about the toilet paper. This is not a virus that affects the gastrointestinal tract. So why does anyone need extra toilet paper?

     B had been to the store earlier in the day. People have been told to stock up on ten days worth of food in case they have to self-quarantine, which is what authorities are recommending for anyone who doesn't feel well, who has been in contact with a suspected Coronavirus case or been overseas recently. Ten days worth of food? That's a lot of milk and orange juice and cereal and dinners.

     But B and I agreed we could easily get along on spaghetti pretty much every night, if we had to. For me, breakfast is simple. It's cereal. For her it's usually a banana and peanut butter.

     At the store the raisin bran (my favorite) was sold out. She got a half gallon of orange juice, because all the quart bottles were gone. She bought a bunch of six bananas -- any more than that and they'd just go rotten. She did not buy any toilet paper, because we have a supply from Costco down in the basement from before we went on vacation. But she did buy more pasta.

     "Was it crowded?" I'd asked her.

     "Oh, yeah," she'd said. "It was crowded."

     Anyway, my neighbor Ryan is in his 30s. I suggested to him that maybe he didn't have to worry too much about the virus, but it is much more dangerous for older people. Deaths in the U. S. have been in people over 60, and most of them had underlying medical issues like diabetes or heart disease. Many of the deaths have occurred in assisted-living facilities.

     I do not live in an assisted-living facility. And to my knowledge I do not suffer from any underlying illness. But I am definitely over age 60. And by the way, I don't want to have it explained to me that . . . oh, what do you know, it turns out you do have an undiscovered underlying medical issue, just as they're hooking me up to a ventilator.

     I joked with Ryan that I'm beginning to think the Coronavirus is a plot against senior citizens. "You Millennials are behind it," I said. "You want to get rid of us Baby Boomers so you don't have to pay our Social Security."

     He laughed. But it's no joking matter. That very evening I found out a national emergency has been declared. Our schools are closed. The libraries are closed. The parks are closed. Our governor has decreed that all non-essential stores, including bars and restaurants, are to be closed. I guess Ryan will be working from home after all.

     I saw an article at Time online called Here's Why Americans Are Hoarding Toilet Paper. It explains that the disease makes us feel helpless, and so we try to regain some control in our lives by doing something. Toilet paper is primal. It's a basic need. And since we are social beings, we're afraid to be seen as unclean or unwell which may result in our being shunned. "Our panic buying," says psychologist Mary Alvord, "represents one thing we can control. In an uncertain moment at least it's something."

     So I'm embarrassed to say, I ducked down in the basement, just to make sure. I counted them up. We have 33 rolls. Think that's enough?