You can add rogue owners to the roster of potentially sinister characters, along with Proud Boys, Boogaloos, and members of the far-right militia, who are looming over one of the most tense elections in the world. American history.
Two weeks before polling day, voters in New York and Colorado received letters from their landlords. The Democratic candidates were sure to raise taxes, homeowners warned in the letters, and it would be a shame if these candidates won and landlords have to, say, raise the rent.
As election security experts sound the alarm bells about partisan “watchers” who might intimidate voters, letters from owners represent a grayer area of voter influence. Letters received by tenants this week never explicitly threaten to raise rents if they vote Democratic – they simply imply it could happen. It’s a likely legal tactic that adds more pressure to a powder keg of an electoral cycle.
“I would equate receiving this letter from my landlord to my boss sending me a letter telling me who to vote for,” John Gordon, a tenant in Plattsburgh, New York, who received a letter urging to vote for a former Republican candidate policeman for the mayor, told the Daily Beast.
Meanwhile, residents of a trailer park in Fort Morgan, Colo. Received a letter on Monday warning of a possible rent increase if Democrats win the presidency.
“TO ALL TENANTS,” read the letter, first reported by local NBC affiliate 9News. “Please understand if Joe Biden is elected as our next president everything you do and have to pay will change completely.
“Everything will be increased. Like paying A LOT (sic) more in taxes, utilities, gas, groceries, new permits, fees and regulations… everything! It also means that YOUR RENT will be increased to cover these expenses. Most likely, the price of rent would double! IF the current president is re-elected, WE WILL NOT INCREASE THE RENT FOR AT LEAST 2 YEARS!
“Voting is your choice and we don’t tell you how to vote. We are simply telling our tenants what WE will do based on the election results. If Trump wins, we all win. If Biden wins, we all lose. VOTE on November 3, 2020. ”
The letter was signed by the owner of the trailer park, Bernie Pagel, who did not return a request for comment. A Twitter account by the name of Pagel tweeted a similar message last month. The account has been a prolific Trump supporter since at least 2016, when he posted photos of large Trump signs in a trailer park. On Facebook, Pagel posted photos of the same panels.
Tenants who received the letter told 9News they were alarmed at what they interpreted to be voter intimidation.
“I mean everyone was pretty shocked, honestly,” resident Cindy Marquez told the outlet. “It was mostly hurtful, you know?” How could anyone say something like that or threaten us because of something we can’t control? “
She added that her family lives from paycheck to paycheck, and barely makes ends meet. A massive rent increase could displace the family, she said.
On the same day the Marquez family received their letter, Gordon and his fellow Plattsburgh tenants received a similar letter from their landlord, WCAX first reported.
The letter did not concern the presidential election, but the competition for mayor of the city, also on November 3. The owners warned that if the Democratic mayoral candidate wins, “they will eventually have to raise taxes to recoup losses where most men choose to absorb the increase or, in our case, increase. the rents. WE don’t want that to happen! “
The letter added that “we strongly encourage you to consider voting” for the Republican candidate, a retired Plattsburgh police lieutenant. Neither of the two owners who listed their email addresses on the letter returned requests for comment.
Gordon said the letter read as an attempt to pressure him for a Republican vote.
“I can’t say whether the intention was to intimidate or not,” he told The Daily Beast. “However, I think the intention is irrelevant. The letter establishes a clear association between voting for a preferred candidate and whether or not rents are increased. Rent increases are entirely a business decision on the part of the landlord; they would not be forced to take action based on the election results. It would be a choice made by the owner.
The Colorado and New York letters aren’t the first time homeowners have been accused of stepping up the ladder for their favorite candidates in recent years. Last year, a reporter for an Idaho newspaper received a letter from his landlord, suggesting that rents could go up depending on the results of a local election. The landlord then told tenants his preferred votes on two upcoming voting measures, a move that a lawyer called a “veiled threat.”
That said, Idaho electoral law experts said the letter was likely legal. And a New York legal expert told WCAX that the letter Gordon received likely did not count as voter intimidation and could more accurately be categorized as “electioneering or persuasive speech.”
Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, came to a similar conclusion when asked whether the letters from Colorado and New York violate laws against voter intimidation.
“I don’t think such laws would apply unless there was a threat like in: if you don’t vote for X your rent will go up,” Hasen told the Daily Beast.
Gordon, who is currently running as an independent for a seat on city council, is also president of the Plattsburgh Tenants’ Advocacy Association. He said the letter signals bigger problems in the city – where most residents are renters – and in the wholesale US housing system.
“This letter is yet another expression of this disproportionate power that landowners enjoy in local politics,” he said.
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