Finest City, Third World Living: San Diego’s Hidden Secret

I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world. As the balmy breeze hits my face, I can spot a surfer family in the distance. Yes people, I live in one of the best small cities in the country. I’m going to take a gamble and say that I live in the most idyllic small city in the world. If you don’t believe me, just look at the millions of tourists and transients we get here every year. Ten years from now, I’ll look back at this very moment and say that San Diego was one of the most peaceful moments in my life. However, it’s sad to say that not everyone has the privilege of sharing the same thoughts. And no, they’re not complaining about the weather.

As I was perusing through Voice of San Diego, one of the city’s local online newspapers, I stumbled upon a photo article that completely took me by surprise. Catherine Green’s “Photos: Inside a Slumlord’s Empire,” delves into the subpar conditions that slumlord Bankim Shah kept his buildings in for years. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want residents in our country’s finest city living in third world replicas, especially with having to pay some of the highest rents in the area. I couldn’t help but feel disgusted, but instead of condemning you, Mr. Shah and other complicit city officials, let me give you a few pieces of advice to how to address the ongoing issue. I’m going to let you in on a big hint—there’s more money involved if you listen.

Step One: Empathize with your Tenants

I honestly don’t know if Mr. Shah’s ever heard of the childish phrase “treat others that way you want to be treated.” According to Green, the apartments were “riddled with gas leaks, armies of roaches, mold and sewage backups.” Now sir, I understand that you have a smorgasbord to handle being an administrator. You can make the comparison from anything to writing multiple papers at once for graduating law school or deep cleaning a restaurant for impeccable safety standards, but see, the rewards are worthwhile. If I were you, I’d apply these same concepts to handling your tenants. Fixing the window in Ms. Godat’s apartment signifies that she can be satisfied with her living space, and consequently, you have one less problem on your dinner plate. I’m not saying install gold embroidered toilets; just do the basic minimum to respect your tenants’ humanity. Let me ask, if you put your family in one of these apartments, what would be of their personal well-being? Here’s the thing though. Mr. Shah is not the only one who conducts this short-term thinking process when it comes to maintaining their tenants’ homes. Last year alone, there’s been almost a population increase of 12,000, so the chances of someone landing in those living spaces you see on Hoarders is pretty high. This point leads me to my next step, a thousand dollars now can generate into one million in the future.

Step Two: Look at the Long Term

I guess we have our outdated business models to blame for this one. Although housing is a crucial element in this, old-fashioned business philosophies bring me back to a scene of some cheesy 1980s movie. Going for the short-term economic solution will not further fatten your wallet, Mr. Shah. I want you to think of the future, like the moment when Ms. Karina Villanueva decides to leave due to your negligence to fix the mold in her bathroom. You could continue to choose that route, but look at the terrible publicity you’ve made for yourself. With the myriad of Internet applications like Yelp and Glassdoor, I know that any businessperson knows the power of the keyboard. If I woke up to confusing a swarm of cockroaches for chocolate cheerios, I know exactly where I’d want to explicitly recount my experience living there. After many reviews, it’s a matter of time before prospective renters find out about what’s going on inside your buildings, and guess what? You just lost a whole market of prospective renters. So next time you choose to not spend $75 on a quick repair, you could potentially lose $750000 in a potential lawsuit, lack of prospective tenants, or city fines if that one person’s complaint goes viral.

Step Three: Don’t Stop Competing

I’m not going to deny that in San Diego, there’s a lot of money to be had. It’s one of the most desired locations to live in, and despite the expensive housing that doesn’t stop realtors and land owners from continuing to innovate their properties. I can still remember the quote I read the other day, “just when you grow comfortable, you become your most vulnerable.” Don’t let that be you, Mr. Shah. I recently stepped into a newly remodeled apartment in downtown San Diego. Bright colors and freshly painted hallways glimmered side by side with a Victorian style cage elevator reminiscent of the building’s rich history. This is the sign of a landlord who’s conscious about his tenants’ well being while also generating sizable revenue. Sadly, I won’t be able to share the same positive review about the visible hole in Ms. Sherry Godat’s bathroom ceiling; I didn’t know you were trying to aim for a more communal style of living. Now, to take you back a little further, think about the Yelp review. After that same prospective renter was repulsed by the complaints and gut churning photos, he or she went down the street to a building that was not only in their financial comfort zone, but were also extremely satisfied by the brand new floors, clean lobby, and modern amenities. Sure, it probably took a sizable amount to remodel the place, but that person down the street sees that something as small as a clean building put him ahead in the competition with the highest occupancy rates in years.


Having lived in five different cities in less than three years while barely scraping by in college has humbled me. With those experiences, let’s just say that I’ve had my fair share of interesting living situations. I had a homeless settlement colonize my backyard for a few months in Seattle, and currently, there’s no kitchen vent, central air, or cutting edge plumbing in the place I live in San Diego. However, Catherine Greene’s photo article and the atrocities shown make my place look like Oprah’s mansion in Los Angeles. I know you aren’t the only one with this type of mindset. This is an ongoing problem as innovation continues to evolve our urban centers and people are relocating more than ever before. Some slumlords decide to ditch the label and evolve to stay in the ever-changing housing race, while others like Mr. Shah decide to stay at the bottom of the ladder because of their reluctance to take pride in owning a building in this beautiful piece of heaven. Please Mr. Shah and all the other apathetic “slumlords,” I hope that this can serve as a wake up call that we’re more than profit margins; I want the finest city to have the finest housing as well—do your part and join the movement.


Green, Catherine. “Photos: Inside a Slumlord’s Empire.” Voice of San Diego, 20 Feb. 2015, Accessed 28 Apr. 2017.