America Still Sounds Like the “Wild West” to Europeans – Housing Dilemmas for the Poor and Unfortunate

Harvey Lesser, 58, leans on his walker as an eviction team removes household belongings from his apartment after sheriff's deputies served him with a court eviction order on December 11, 2009 in Boulder, Colorado. Lesser, an unemployed software developer with chronic health problems related to obesity, said he stopped making rent payments after all of his savings were spent. Evictions and foreclosure rates nationwide soared in 2009, as millions of unemployed Americans were unable to pay the bills.

Harvey Lesser, 58, of Boulder, Colorado, leans on his walker as an eviction team removes household belongings from his apartment after sheriff's deputies served him with a court eviction order on December 11, 2009. Lesser, an unemployed software developer with chronic health problems related to obesity, said he stopped making rent payments after all of his savings were spent. Evictions and foreclosure rates nationwide soared in 2009, as millions of unemployed Americans were unable to pay the bills.

The number of homeless people in America is always shocking to Europeans.  I am often called upon to explain conditions in America to friends who ask me about what is going on there.

Often the cause of these situations is a health emergency among people who can’t afford health insurance; loss of a job and having no way to pay the rent; absence of, expiration of, or not qualifying for minimal public assistance benefits; or a similar emergency.  Many Americans are just an accident or health problem away from being bankrupted or homelessness.

Can't afford health insurance

No health insurance...

One British friend recently wrote to me about how people in Britain are now panicked about losing social housing benefits.

Riots in Britain March 2011 over proposed cuts in social benefits

Riots in Britain March 2011 over proposed cuts in social benefits

“Did you see the riots a couple of weeks ago?  People are getting ready to defend their social benefits and some of the cuts haven’t even begun yet.  The biggest one is a cut to housing benefit which is a welfare payment to cover rent if people can’t afford to pay high rents on property. It has become a landlords’ charter, no doubt about it because landlords charge extortionate rents knowing they will get tenants because the local council will pay some or all the rent but now they are cutting it no one knows what will happen – will the landlords lower their rents to keep their tenants, or will they just cut their losses, sell their properties and move into some other investment, throwing the tenants out in the process.”

As we have been discussing social conditions back and forth for the past year, I wrote back to him explaining the situation as seen from Colorado (my home state):

Apartment Buildings in Denver

“The laws for landlords are different in every state in America, but in Colorado, the rents are set by free market (whatever people want to charge). If the vacancy rate gets too high (such as if a lot of new apartments get overbuilt in a particular city), then prices on rents generally go down (but only a slight amount, because the landlord still has to pay his own mortgage to the bank), or offer a free month’s incentive.

The worst I’ve seen vacancies in Denver (having moved abroad in the early 1990’s) is around 20% and the best is very tight 1-2% (best for landlords, that is) which usually drives prices up fairly quickly.

There are no rent controls in Denver (but there are in New York City).   Apartments in non-rent controlled places are usually of good quality and availability. Any place they introduce rent control, the buildings generally get run down quickly (no incentive for the landlord to fix them up) and lack of availability (no one builds any new buildings if the prices are all going to be controlled). If a tenant doesn’t pay his rent, the law is different in every state.

In Colorado, the law is in the landlord’s favor. If a tenant doesn’t pay his rent on time, a landlord can put a ten-day “pay or move” notice on his door. If he still doesn’t pay, you can’t throw him out in ten days, but there is a procedure of certified letters, or delivered by official process server for about two or three letters over a period of three months.

Sample Text of 5-Day Pay-or-Move Eviction Notice, from Arizona

Sample Text of 5-Day Pay-or-Move Eviction Notice, from Arizona

After that, if the tenant still doesn’t pay, the landlord can bring the local sheriff and under the sheriff’s supervision (he stands there and makes sure no violence breaks out) the landlord can remove all the person’s belongings and set them out on the street corner.

Eviction - belongings set out on street by landlord and sheriff

Eviction - belongings set out on street by landlord and local sheriff

If the tenant doesn’t come by to get his things, people passing in the street will take them and they will all be gone in a few hours.

I have seen this happen and known of a couple of cases where landlords I knew had to do this.     Most people move before it gets to that point (and they are sent a certified letter in advance that this will happen if they don’t move), even though it sometimes takes up to three months to get them out.”

American Family Living Out of Their Car

American Family Living Out of Their Car

If the tenants move and can’t come up with the cash for a new security deposit, they end up being homeless.  If they are lucky, they have a car to live in.

–Lynne Diligent

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3 Responses to “America Still Sounds Like the “Wild West” to Europeans – Housing Dilemmas for the Poor and Unfortunate”

  1. rfs Says:

    I find it very strange that europeans are surprised by the # of homeless in the US. I visited london over 10 years ago and I still remember how the immensity of their homeless population shocked me and I live in nyc.

    Like

  2. Heather Says:

    I really want to bookmark this particular posting, “America
    Still Sounds Like the Wild West to Europeans
    – Housing Dilemmas for the Poor and Unfortunate
    | Intercultural Meanderings” on my own page.
    Would you care in case I actuallydo it? Many thanks -Beatriz

    Like

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