August 24, 2006

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Manchester Publisher's Note: This isnít Monopoly
By†Jody Reese

Besides owning our own home, the closest most of us will ever get to being a landlord is playing the board game Monopoly.

But the truth is, owning rental properties is nothing like landing on St. Charles Place, paying $160 for a colorful cardboard deed, and then sitting back and collecting rents.

Thereís a lot more to it than that. Owning and managing a property, if done right, involves constant work.

At the same, landlords donít operate in a vacuum. By the way they choose to manage their properties, landlords play a big role in a communityís overall quality of life.

And in Manchester, with its large number of rental properties, the Queen Cityís landlords wield a great deal of unseen influence in the community.

By their actions or their failure to act, our landlords make a difference not only in what kind of city we are, but what kind of a city we will become.

Lately, the issue in Manchester is crime. In the past three months, the city has seen two homicides, several incidents involving gunfire that injured people, and a spate of violent crime.

What does that have to do with landlords? A lot. Ideally, the best landlords keep a close personal eye on their holdings, visiting them regularly and knowing whatís going on.

But the real world doesnít work like that. In many cases, buildings in Manchester are now owned by people or companies not located in the city, but managed from afar. In some cases, the properties are not seen as part of a community, but as investments from which the maximum immediate return is to be extracted.

If enough landlords in an area, absentee or not, donít give a damn about what their properties look like and what happens in them, the neighborhood slowly but inevitably becomes destabilized. And one of the results of that is, yes, increased crime.

If no one cares, then criminals set up shop, and things go downhill fast, which is exactly whatís happening today in Manchester, especially in the cityís urban core. Drug dealers and the criminal element go where thereís no authority, and absentee landlords often unwittingly provide a perfect haven.

What can be done? Some steps are already being taken. One example: Manchester Neighborhood Housing Services has come up with a great long-term plan for renters on the West Side to eventually buy their buildings. If enough people do that, it will make a big difference, though we wonít see it for years to come.

In the immediate future, landlords must recognize that they are on the front lines of the cityís battle against crime. They can and must take steps right now to keep Manchester from sinking any lower into lawlessness. They must be willing to work with law enforcement to root out criminal activities from their buildings.

One example of a landlord willing to take a stand is Dick Anagnost, who recently vowed to get a court injunction to prevent a strip club from opening in a building he owns at 494 Elm St., home of the infamous Omega Strip Club. If a strip club was opening in his hometown, Anagnost said, it would only be because a judge ordered it.

Good for him, and good for Manchester. If we had more landlords such as Dick Anagnost, who care at least as much about their community as they do the bottom line, then Manchester might not be dealing with a crime wave right now.


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