Letter to San Francisco Human Rights Commission re Japan Times letter to the editor from exclusionary landlord

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Hi Blog.  Busy day today, so let me just throw up this letter I emailed to San Francisco re a Letter to the Editor of the Japan Times.  The author of it openly claims to engage in discriminatory practices in the US.  If he is a real person, at a real company, then let’s hope San Francisco’s Human Rights Commission investigates and writes back.  Worth a try.  Feel free to email the HRC yourself, email address included.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo, on the road this weekend (may be slow in updating comments and blog)


Human Rights Commission
25 Van Ness Avenue, Room 800
San Francisco, CA 94102-6033
Phone: 415-252-2500
TTY/TDD: 800-735-2922
Fax: 415-431-5764
Email: hrc.info@sfgov.org

From: ARUDOU Debito
Columnist, The Japan Times newspaper (Tokyo)
[address deleted]
debito@debito.org, www.debito.org

October 8, 2009

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a columnist in the Japan Times (see archive of my columns at http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl-ad-all.html), and would like to report a public statement made by a person apparently writing from your jurisdiction publicly admitting to a discriminatory act.

A Mr Andrew J Betancourt, of “Redwood Properties Real Estate” of San Francisco has said, in a letter to the Japan Times dated October 6, 2009, the following:

“As a landlord in San Francisco with over 22 units, I have rejected foreigners just because they were foreigners.”

That letter in the Japan Times here (first letter in the list):


I am sure you will agree that this is a discriminatory practice, and hope you see it within your mandate to investigate and, if necessary, take action against this within the letter of the law.

Thank you very much for your time and for reading this. If possible, please let me know what actions, if any, you take.

Sincerely yours, Arudou Debito, Hokkaido, Japan

Source on Mr Betancourt’s company “Redwood Properties Real Estate, San Francisco“:


28 comments on “Letter to San Francisco Human Rights Commission re Japan Times letter to the editor from exclusionary landlord

  • Good on you Debito. I hope this guy gets his just deserts if, in fact,he really does exist. Discrimination must be condemned and outlawed whenever and wherever it occurs. Please let us know if you get any kind of response.

  • Unfortunately, I suspect that the San Francisco Human Rights Commission will be sympathetic but unable to do anything. The guy can brag all he wants that he discriminates, but unless they find an actual victim who is willing to come forward, I doubt they can bring any kind of case to court. Also, it’s not clear that his property is even within San Francisco city boundaries, and if not, it is completely out of their jurisdiction.

    Your letter is admirable, Debito, but I think that guy will not see any immediate repercussions. On the other hand, one piece of good news is that Google searches for “redwood properties betancourt” (and other variations) now lead directly to this page, so maybe prospective tenants will find out what a slimeball he is before they sign a lease with him.

  • i think that we should keep the focus on japan and there landlords are by far worse because it is standard practice to discriminate over here.

    — That it is. But I wanted to see if the organs in the US designed to address similar issues of discrimination actually functioned, and if so, demonstrate by example. It’s a very easy thing to send a letter to the HRC. That’s what it’s for.

  • If anyone has time and wants to pursue this, the best avenue in SF is the San Francisco Board of Supervisors (link below). Best to contact the rep for the actual property location. They can actually do quite a bit up to putting a lien on the guy’s property (they can and will get nasty – both in a good way and a bad way).

    The SFO Board of Supervisors information is below. Actually this is not tolerated at all in SF and in most of the San Francisco Bay area.


    — Thanks. I’ve submitted the letter to them too.

  • Debito,

    I have been reading your website for the past few weeks. I really don’t know what to make of your confrontational “activism”. Japan affords everyone the right of free speech (as does the United States). You should welcome disagreeing opinions. Instead, a gentleman writes a critical letter-to-the-editor about one of your latest crusades and your reaction is to try to punish him by running to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. I can’t begin to tell you how petty that looks. Indeed, I would be surprised if they acted on your letter.

    Turning to the substance, my suspicion is that you have never run a serious business or were a landlord yourself. Would that be a fair assumption?

    If you were a landlord, I think that you would be forced to acknowledge that the primary responsibility of the landlord is to maintain the business, protect its assets, and keep liabilities to a minimum in order to grow profits. The higher the profits, the greater chance the landlord can reinvest into the business.

    One very obvious way to keep liabilities to a minimum is by being *very* selective in the tenant screening process. A rational landlord should *never* rent to applicants with any of the following question marks:

    1. Poor (or no verifiable) references
    2. Poor (or no verifiable) credit rating
    3. Insufficient bank account funds to cover lease period
    4. No existing job or sporadic job history
    5. No guarantor of the lease in case of delinquency

    In my experience, applicants who fail to provide satisfactory documentation on these five criteria are automatically rejected. It is not only rational; it is good business. They are a risk.

    Foreigners can be equally problematic. If they are unable to meet these five criteria, which is too often the case, their applications should and most likely will be rejected. Add to these criteria poor language skills in the case of either party (which is an additional problem for a landlord needing to do a background check and protecting the business) and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many rational business-oriented landlords choose a more suitable applicant that poses less risk and headache.

    What I am saying should be common sense to anyone who has run a business. It’s standard practice.

  • John,

    I think what Mr. Arudou and other posters here believe is that if a foreigner is rejected it should be because one of those five criteria (plus the language issue) was not met. To put it in another perspective, if there is a foreigner who satisfies all five and also speaks fluent English, there is no reason for the business owner to consider him/her a risk, thus should not refuse business solely based on nationality.

  • John,

    if refuse a foreigner just because he is a “foreigner” that’s where
    the problem begins !
    And the post you wrote just shows that you don’t understand where
    the problem lies. My guess is that you didn’t read very well what
    Mr. Betancourt wrote.

    1-2-3-4-5 ?? I would pass all these points easily BUT I have been also
    refused “a priori” without even looking at my face.
    And this happened not just once but many times.

    Well, you talk about common sense where I don’t see it.

    How can you even try to defend THIS ? :
    “….I have rejected foreigners just based on the fact that they were foreigners…”
    Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat ???

    Debito was right to do what he has done.

  • Debito, don’t let the ‘John’s’ of this world get you down. They will never know what discrimination is until they are hit over the head with it. John has possibly never been a minority without full rights protection under the law. John, what is your experience of life in Japan as a foreigner?

  • Hi John

    I’m afraid I have to agree with the other posters above. I have no objection to landlords choosing their customers based on objective criteria that people have control over.

    Being rejected because my financial situation is unstable is acceptable (I am responsible for that and can fix it in the future). Being rejected due to a lack of references is also acceptable, if more difficult to fix. However, I can improve that in the future.

    However, being rejected solely because of my nationality or race despite fulfilling all other requirements is wrong and should be illegal and condemned. Unfortunately here in Japan it is not illegal and thus I have been arbitrarily denied housing by 80% of the landlords/agencies I have applied to here in Sendai.

    This impacts greatly on my life and that of my family, so you can understand why people get emotional about the topic.

    All the best


  • Gavin Peters says:

    The best way to help foriegners who might rent from Mr. Betencourt is to put together a page giving this evidence to anyone who googles “Redwood Properties” and descrimination, etc…;

    Just a short simple page should be good; anyone who finds it will have useful evidence to give to a landlord or the HUD etc…

    – Gavin

  • Gavin Peters says:

    Also, John, I wanted to address your concern.

    Yes, Debito is confrontational, and yes you certainly can colour his complaint to the San Francisco Human Rights commission as petty.

    But it is by no means improper for him to make such a complaint! I think that one can believe in robust and full free speech, but not use that as a safe harbour to permit confessions of civil or criminal wrongs. Mr. Betancourt argued against Debito, as is his right, but he also admitted to behaviour that may be improper. I do not think his free speech right is in any way being compromised if he is investigated for the latter.

  • Gavin, Sendaiben,

    I appreciated your tone and comments (especially the acknowledgment by Gavin that Mr. Betancourt “may” have done s.t. improper — rather than “must have”), so I’d like to follow-up on my previous concerns. In a nutshell, the world is not as black-and-white as some Debito.org readers seem to think. People have a bad tendency to throw around terms like “racial discrimination” and “racist” on this website without fully appreciating how overused these terms are and how flawed and damaging the assumptions can be.

    You might enjoy reading Richard Thompson Ford’s Sept 30 article “A Primer on Racism” published on Slate.com. Ford concluded: “[W]e should think twice before jumping to the convenient conclusion that people who don’t agree with us must be bigots. And we should call the bluff of people who play the race card for rhetorical advantage or political gain, whether they’re leftist agitators or right-wing blowhards.”

    I agree with him.

    All countries (Japan included) have their fare share of problems, but I question the merits of assuming that any business which tries to protect itself against legitimate risks to its profitability, unwanted insurance headaches brought on by chosen lifestyles, and the refusal to tolerate increased opportunity costs as a result of a foreign applicant’s poor language skills, must be motivated somehow by racial animus or xenophobia. Without a outright declaration that s.o. is discriminating without any justification whatsoever, it becomes empty speculation at best and malicious defamation at worse.

    Since we’re talking about the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, I wonder how many Debito.org readers are aware that it is acceptable in some American states and tacitly allowed in others to reject applicants simply because they are:

    1. Registered sex offenders
    2. Ex-convicts
    3. Suspected illegal aliens
    4. Smokers
    5. Alcoholics
    6. Drug addicts
    7. Pet owners
    8. Too old (e.g., insisting to live on the fourth floor, but can’t climb the stairs)
    9. Too young (e.g., senior housing)
    10. Too many (e.g., health and safety restrictions)
    11. Holding improper visas
    12. Wanting to run businesses out of their residence against the commercial and penal code

    And those are only a few. In my experience, I have come across quite a few more.

    Some rejected applicants that fall into these categories try to claim that they’re being unjustly discriminated by race, religion, gender, ethnic origin, age, and nationality by quoting the Federal Fair Housing act. Maybe they are, but the state still thinks it’s appropriate to discriminate against them for the protection of the landlord’s business, or the health and safety of the neighbors.

    Is it fair? Fair is relative.

    Unfortunately, I get the sense that some of Debito.org readers will still argue that the world is really simplistic; Japan is racist; Mr. Bentacourt “must be” a racist and xenophobe; he deserves to be publicly accused of “racial discrimination” on the internet even if they’re just allegations at this point; any Japanese who prefers to rent to Japanese nationals “must be” racists and xenophobes; etc., etc., etc.

    I disagree, but I also understand. This is Debito.org.

    — You really are a fool in a business suit.

  • Hi John

    Appreciate the moderate tone, but I don’t think we are talking about the same thing here. On the one hand you have someone who claims to have rejected foreigners ‘solely’ based on their nationality, and on the other hand you have a situation in Japan where it is difficult to rent property regardless of your employment or residence situation.

    This is not a case of business practice, but rather one of racism and intolerance. I have never lived in the US, so I can’t speak for the situation here, but I have lived here in Sendai for ten years and am speaking from personal experience.

    On most occasions the estate agents will apologise, saying that the landlord is ‘a bit funny’. Can’t see the humour myself, when I can’t find a home for my family.

    All the best


  • John,

    Betancourt *said* he had discriminated against foreigners just for being foreign: “I have rejected foreigners just because they were foreigners”. He may have been lying, but it’s hardly unreasonable to accuse him of racism when he has just said he did something racist!

  • Point is :
    “I have rejected foreigners just because they were foreigners”.

    This is not acceptable under any excuse.

    I perfectly understand that a landlord has to protect his property
    but he should judge people on something else than just “race”/”nationality”.
    Economical, security, stability matters are reasonable, as those points
    you wrote down. I don’t see “race” nor “nationality” written there though.
    Maybe they should add them, just to be sure… =)
    You know, a landlord has to protect his interests =)

  • John,

    It’s hard to understand if you are being deliberately obtuse or if you really don’t know the difference between the 12 reasons you listed for rejecting an renter and racism.

    While I might not agree with all of those reasons for rejecting a renter there is a big difference between them and race. All 12 of the reasons are things that you have control over while your race is something you are born with. Call me simple minded (I do, after all, agree with about 85~90% of what Debito writes) but to me the difference is stunning.

    Also, please read more carefully. As James Annan pointed out Betancourt himself wrote that he “…rejected foreigners just because they were foreigners”. Again, perhaps I’m simplistic, but that seems pretty cut and dried to me.

    If you think that when I go into a real estate agent and get shown only 10~15% of the places they have in the window when the only thing they know about me is my European heritage, isn’t racism, then perhaps you think the word means something different than I do.

  • Mark Hunter says:

    John. I don’t appreciate the moderate tone. You use it to obsfucate and to attempt to justify the unjustifiable. When you have tried to rent an apartment in Japan, come back. Denying a rental unit based on race IS racism. Why is this so hard for you to understand? A quote in a newspaper is no longer an allegation. Or is this concept above you as well?

  • I am a foreign resident of Japan with excellent credit, a mid-6-figure USD salary, extremely elite educational background and career, excellent references, certified impeccable Japanese, and in all ways a model tenant with a track record in Japan. I am automatically rejected by the vast majority of Tokyo renters for modestly priced apartments mid-recession. If this isn’t racism, perhaps Tokyo landlords hate money. The letter writer perhaps could explain, since he too has rejected tenants solely for being foreign.

  • I encourage people denouncing discrimination of foreigners in the rental market in Japan to think about the likelihood of, say, an undergraduate foreign student, even with sufficient funds, obtaining a board permission of a co-op in NYC to rent an apartment there. And to think twice if there’s really anything particularly bad about the discrimination/treatment of foreigners in Japan in this respect compared to US.

  • A,


    I live in Japan. I’m not from the USA. What landlords do in NYC has absolutely NOTHING to do with my renting a place in Tokyo. I’m sure my friends here from China or the Philippines don’t care about renting a place in NYC either.

    Besides, this is a thread denouncing a landlord in San Francisco for being a racist. Racism anywhere is bad.

  • A says “I encourage people denouncing discrimination of foreigners in the rental market in Japan to think about the likelihood of, say, an undergraduate foreign student, even with sufficient funds, obtaining a board permission of a co-op in NYC to rent an apartment there. And to think twice if there’s really anything particularly bad about the discrimination/treatment of foreigners in Japan in this respect compared to US.”

    Okay, I’m a permanent resident, have lived here for 10 years, have a public sector job, a Japanese wife and three kids, and we find it very hard to rent accommodation here. I hope you can see that our situation is very different from a foreign student, and would not be tolerated in NYC. It is in Japan, however.

  • Mark in Yayoi says:

    Bob, if you’re making such good money, why not just buy property instead? All the racism I experienced when trying to rent suddenly vanished when, after a few years, I had cash in hand and was looking to buy my own apartment. Getting a loan is a different story, but if you have a 6-figure salary in dollars, you should be walking into the agent’s office with your head held high, choosing a place to purchase, and then owning it.

    Now you might be thinking that you’d prefer to rent because your mnoey is tied up elsewhere, or you’d prefer to rent a high-quality place that you couldn’t afford to buy, or that you’re only here for the short term. All valid, of course, but for me it was a completely different experience when being looked at as a buyer rather than as a renter — a much more pleasant one. If you’re undecided about buying, give it more consideration!

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