An Interview with Richard H. Jones, CPM, Vice-Chairman of Charlottesville, Va.-based Management Services Corporation and 2023 NAA Legislative Committee Chair.
Like so many people, it wasn’t something I had planned on or knew anything about when I graduated from [the University of Virginia]. I had absolutely no career plans; I was looking for a job. I had moved into an apartment, and the resident manager got fired. I applied, was hired, and that’s kind of the beginning [of my story], and I just grew as time went on.
From the advocacy point of view, I always knew our business interests were impacted initially by the city or the state.
I had an experience with a situation in the early 80s when a person had been attacked at a property, and they sued us. At the time, the state landlord-tenant law said that a landlord was responsible for keeping the premises ‘clean and safe.’
As I recall, the Circuit Court judge...[said] that because of that duty to keep the premises safe, we had to proceed with a trial. We lost.
In Charlottesville, there was no apartment council; we were affiliated with the homebuilders. I started on their legislative committee. For many years, I drove the 60 miles to Richmond every Friday and met with the HBAV legislative committee. We reviewed every bill that might impact us in the General Assembly. I said, ‘We have a problem. We’ve got to change the landlord-tenant law.’ It was never intended to be [the landlord’s] duty to keep people safe from everything.
We appealed this to the state Supreme Court. And I remember [future Virginia Gov.] George Allen was on the General Laws Committee at the time. I had known George from way back in the day. In Charlottesville, he was a [resident] in one of our houses when he was [at UVA for] law school. We were able to get that bill to change the law from ‘clean and safe’ to ‘clean and structurally safe condition.’
They say all politics is local. I think you start on the local level. Start with an apartment council or local affiliate because you know their ordinances, you know whether it’s local or state, they regulate your landlord-tenant law, they regulate your business. They are great not just for advocacy, but for education. You learn from experts about your city code or your state landlord-tenant law or building maintenance codes—all those things that are there and regulate what you do as a business.
As I learned more and more—I wanted to have an impact on what’s happening to me—I either wanted to change [the law] or I wanted to keep it from changing.
The local affiliate, the local apartment council is always a place where you amass power, you build power in numbers, and you can go to your City Council or you go to your Board of Supervisors, or you go to the university and speak power to power.
That’s not to say you can’t just suddenly jump in with both feet...[you can start at an NAA Affiliate;] that was my growth pattern.
I appreciated how important it was to belong to a trade group and be actively involved and work within that group to protect yourself. One person with a problem can go and work within a trade organization and get the law changed.