To the editors:

I was disappointed by community-affairs writer Ben Joravsky’s article on landlord Marty Merel [Neighborhood News, August 20]. He made the problem sound like a pissing match between a few community residents, Joe Moore, and Merel, and didn’t do any of us in east Rogers Park any favors. Joravsky also made Jack Wuest sound like a whiner.

The issues aren’t whether or not Merel’s buildings have enough Dumpsters, or people hanging out, or trash accumulation per se. It’s community standards. Instead of having a photo of Joe Moore trying to look tough, a picture of one of Merel’s buildings side-by-side with a better managed building would have given readers outside of Rogers Park a better idea of what’s going on. Merel’s not the only owner who doesn’t occupy one of his own buildings, and thinks “good enough” is OK. Their attitude seems to be that because we all choose to live in a racially and economically diverse neighborhood, this disrespect by wealthier, absentee, investor-property owners is what we deserve.

We don’t have landscape and exterior-maintenance ordinances, as many suburban areas do. Because our aldermen (Moore included) don’t think such ordinances are crucial to maintaining community ambience and stability, we have these absentee landlords exercising their freedoms to the fullest extent of the law. A prime example is the building on the southwest corner of Morse and Lakewood, across from the Morningside Court senior citizens residence. Because the landlord tells judges that he’s trying to sell the building, trash accumulates in front, and dope dealers hang out in back.

The landlords don’t care about their tenants engaging in antisocial activities as long as the rent is paid. While nobody expects the landlords to make their tenants into model citizens, they can cooperate more with tenants expressing an interest in being responsible neighbors, and they can also tell their less interested tenants what kinds of behaviors will not be tolerated. They can encourage recycling, plant gardens (and hire community residents to tend them), and ask tenants how they make their rent money if they’re not employed (we have many self-employed people who file tax returns, and public-aid recipients who volunteer on community improvement projects).

Multi-unit housing owners can do much to help generally powerless residents develop their communities.

Until we can convince landlords, by civil action or law, that they are answerable to the rest of us, we will be victims of their behaviors as much as we are victims of irresponsible tenants/neighbors.

Robyn Michaels

N. Wayne