To Whom It May Concern—
The Feb. 1 article “Northwest Students Face Rental Issues, Sue Landlord” caught my interest because I am the landlord in question. Reading the piece, I was surprised to find so many inaccuracies—some obviously unintentional, others that seem more deliberate—that the article is less a news story than it is a fiction story.
To correct all the untruths here would take lots of space, involve persons not named in the piece and simply be a public airing of dirty laundry—except that the laundry is clean.
However, we do have an opportunity for reflection. Part of this teaching and learning moment applies specifically to our budding journalists: deadlines should not trump fact-checking. Also, the publication of arguably libelous material might not go unchallenged.
I thank “The Northwest Missourian” for allowing me this small rebuttal space, as it were. Nonetheless, this letter does not absolve the paper of accountability: an official retraction of the original story is in order.
Other lessons here could be useful for students seeking off-campus housing.
Before signing a lease, one should indeed read it carefully. For example, I sat with the student quoted in the Feb. 1 article and, with her, reviewed the entire lease before signing it.
Leasing an apartment or bedroom is not equivalent to leasing an entire house. In a building with rented bedrooms or apartments, the other rooms are considered “common” in that everyone may use them. The property manager or landlord is neither legally nor ethically obligated to give notice before checking these common rooms.
In fact, State of Missouri landlord-tenant law does not require a landlord to give any notice even before visiting a property that is specifically rented, such as an apartment or a sleeping room. Therefore, it is important that any lease be clear about dthe circumstances under which a landlord would enter a rented room. For example, the lease I wrote was explicit about the circumstances under which I would ever visit one of the rented rooms—which I never did.
I’m not sure it’s practical or helpful to perform a background check on one’s potential landlord; a background check would have shown that I have passed at least two other background checks in the past year, during the process to become a licensed foster parent in the State of Missouri.
To be completely honest, I must confess that in 2013 I was cited for a non-moving traffic violation, parking my car for too long on the street. I am appropriately remorseful and feel I have paid my debt to society.
Seriously, though, we now arrive at the troubling heart of the situation. Please consider: for me, this situation is but an annoyance. I have copious documentation, history, etc. to demonstrate not only the various specific accusations but the general picture of me emergent from the Feb. 1 article is erroneous.
How, though, would this scenario play out if the target of the story were someone new to campus or to Maryville? A recently hired faculty member? A student? Someone with neither material nor venue with which to defend her- or himself? The consequences both personally and professionally could be substantial and destructive.
Little more need be said about this specific matter, but let’s not waste the opportunity to reflect generally on the civil responsibilities we owe each other as members of our various shared communities: Northwest, Maryville, student, faculty, and so forth.
Even in our present historical moment, as national political figures attempt to circumvent and discredit the Fourth Estate, the press—even a student newspaper—retains power. As a community of learners and scholars, we—students and faculty alike—retain power. We have the power to think, to speak, and to write.
Let’s use that power responsibly.
Wayne A. Chandler