Recently, the county Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance allowing the county to fine animal (obviously mostly dog) owners if their pets menace, nip or chomp on us humans. An excellent law in my view, and I was somewhat surprised to see that it wasn’t already in place.
However, I note in The Tribune that our supervisors also feel that landlords of pet owners should also be responsible for their tenants’ dogs’ bad behavior. And, sadly, The Tribune agrees (“Landlords should be held accountable for pet issues,” April 22).
Note that it was just a few weeks ago that the city of San Luis Obispo determined that landlords should also be responsible, and of course pay fines, if their tenant makes too much noise. What’s going on here?
Here’s the question: Why should a landlord be held responsible for a tenant’s behavior? The Tribune asserts that “landlords ultimately are responsible for what occurs on their property (and) should be held accountable if tenants have a pattern of bad behavior.”
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Why, I ask? Why should person A, who merely rents a space to person B, be held responsible for B’s conduct? I just don’t understand it.
When I rent a car from Enterprise, they are not responsible if I run over someone or if I use the car in the commission of a crime. Imagine I rent a commercial storage space and I plan on hiding away there the weapons I sell to the drug armies in Mexico. Is the storage owner responsible for my illegal activities? Surely no.
If I rent or borrow or buy any object, say a baseball bat, I fail to see why the person or company who rented, loaned or sold me the bat should in any way be held responsible for what I subsequently do with the bat. I could rob someone with the bat or break a window or do all sorts of nefarious activities with said bat, but it is me, only me, that should be held responsible for what I do — no one else.
Note the more senior levels of government also have follow this twisted line of reasoning by, for example, seizing a landlord’s property if drugs (obviously the tenant’s) are found on the property; another example of government’s misplaced responsibility.
There are some limited instances in which a third party can and should be held responsible for the actions of an individual. Employers are accountable for an employee’s conduct while the worker is working for and under the direction of the employer, but not when the employee is off the clock.
I can understand if our governments decided to go after someone who had some personal connection, some direct link to the misbehaving tenant — parents for example — and held them responsible for their children’s behavior. I’d support a law that says mom and pop are liable for the illegal behavior of their delinquent who they declare as a dependent on their 1040 and thereby get a deduction or now can carry on their health plan till their darling is 26. That makes sense.
Parents do have (some) control over their children’s behavior, or at least should. If they won’t take responsibility, take away the tax deduction and have the kids stand on their own. I know that will happen only in my dreams, but why make someone who merely has a business relationship with a tenant be responsible for the renter’s illegal actions?
Here’s a simple rule that I taught my kids: You’re responsible for your actions. No one else is. In these instances, the person who commits the crime is the person in control; not some other party; not your buddy; not your parent; not your landlord. The person in control is the person responsible, no other.
What’s so hard about this simple principle that our elected representatives and The Tribune can’t understand this basic definition of fairness? Gordon Mullin is a SLO-based curmudgeon and recovering economist. He infrequently replies to kudos sent to email@example.com.