Are there any questions for the panel? Next up is Brian Wojcik. Is Brian here?” asked the vice chair of the committee of delegates. It was a long and drawn-out meeting in an overcrowded room, on an unusually warm winter day. The air conditioning seemed limited in its capacity to keep the room cool. I was parched, rationing water to avoid having to step out and miss being called. Suddenly, it was my time to give testimony. I was in a room with a few familiar faces, but most were people I did not know. In the large Maryland State House of Delegates room, with its horseshoe of desks lined with microphones, I sat alone at a bank of desks on the far end. A flurry of thoughts crossed my mind: “How did I get here? Will this have an impact? Is this just political theater? Did I leave the iron on?”
Everything that led up to this moment was full of surprises.
Months earlier, I had participated in a legislative work group to address the needs of both landlords and tenants in Maryland. The mandate was to create a consensus bill. We were partially successful, but missed an opportunity to define rent to include utility expenses, which would provide some relief for many landlords who haven’t been able to collect those expenses in rent court.
But the week prior to my testimony, we learned of another bill that undermined the cooperative spirit of the consensus. This bill defined rent as a fixed and periodic payment, and excluded anything else—including utilities. What to do?
This Is Our ‘Why’
As an already time-starved CEO of a startup tech company, not to mention my role as a landlord, my initial thought was, “I don’t have time for this!” But that thought quickly dissipated. After all, this is our cause—our “why.” Fairness and equity have to exist for consumers and housing providers. Landlords provide a valuable service to the community. It’s time to change the negative perception and recognize this group for the value that about 99% of us offer (bad actors excluded).
Let’s face it, many of us landlords live paycheck to paycheck, too, and our needs as housing providers matter as equally as those of our tenants. Some of us got into this business by accident, others with the hope of getting ahead financially. Regardless of how we ended up here, most of us put our heart, blood, sweat and tears into managing our properties. It is not an easy endeavor, to say the very least.
In light of this new bill, I knew we needed to rally small business and independent landlords to give them a voice in this discussion. No easy feat. I didn’t know if small business landlords would easily understand the impact of the proposed legislation and how greatly it could affect them. What I did know is that if they did, they’d be as fired up as I was. Hours were spent crafting a petition that broke down the legislation into concise statements of impact. I’m happy to say that in just five days, 1,676 signatures were collected from Maryland rental property owners across the country and even abroad. This community of small business and independent landlords is silent no longer. Armed with this support, I felt more solid as I began my testimony.
Giant Leap For The Community of Landlords
And suddenly, my two minutes of testimony were over. I had veered off script. Did I make any sense? Did I have an impact? One thing is for certain: I spoke from the heart, and on behalf of 1,676 small business and independent landlords. Our community represents about 53% of all rental housing in the United States, and our voice is no longer silent. This was one small step for a man, in an effort to take a giant leap for our community.
My takeaways from this? While the last-minute change was frustrating, this is politics. It is how our system works. We need to be ready to quickly mobilize when issues greatly affecting our community arise. In Maryland alone, the Maryland Multi-Housing Association is tracking 90 legislative bills that matter to the landlording community. That’s just in one state! What about your state, county or city?
I also learned that this community is ready to take action. I can only imagine the impact we could have had with more time. If we can rally 1,676 landlords in a matter of days in one state, imagine what we could do with a national cause big enough to enroll landlords across the country! For me, this validated a lot of the work I have been doing behind the scenes, and I am incredibly excited about the future.
It also left me wondering how many others are out there, who have taken a position and are ready to stand up for this community. I would love to hear your voice, too. This is our time to prepare to mobilize as a community, step out from the shadows, brush off the apathy and begin to realize we are the majority. We can and will be a cause for change.
Please visit www.NAIL411.org to share the story of your participation in the legislative process to affect change. Or tell how you’ve been disenfranchised as a rental property owner. I also invite you to join our Meetup.com group—Landlord411—at the link above as an inaugural member to what will become the National Association of Independent Landlord