The Code of The West

D. MICHAEL CHESSERWe Americans are independent and self-sufficient. We insist on making decisions for ourselves. We call ourselves “real men” (or women) because we don’t need or depend on anyone else. The examples are without end. I once played tennis with a retired military officer who told me that he simply couldn't stand the thought of a large part of the public getting unemployment payments at his tax expense. The thought was obvious to me, but apparently not to him, that he was also living at the taxpayers’ expense and that he had gone through life living on someone else's payroll. Enlisted military men are the backbone of the Officer Corp. Without enlisted ranks, there would be no officers. Civilians are the backbone of the military. Military people, at least in our community, pay rent, buy houses, and use the goods and services that the civilian community provides.

It seems fair to say that the old theory of a self-sufficient, independent, self-successful “man” has always been a myth, and never more so than today. I own property that I rent to tenants. Those tenants owe me the duty to pay rent and to take care of those properties as they would a home they own themselves. As a landlord, I owe them the duty to provide a residence that is as safe, clean and as nice as I can afford to make it for the amount they can afford to pay. I need tenants to pay rent; they need me to make my mortgage payments. Even in the wild west the horse had to be fed first.

The Coronavirus doesn't change any of that. The virus just makes our mutual dependency more obvious. Fortunately, in Okaloosa County, most military-related people have not lost a job, and they have continued to pay rent. I have confirmed with ERA American Realty (Gloria Frazier) and with Sundance Rental Management (Blake Constable), the two largest rental agents in our market, that our local tenant default rate is surprisingly low. But there are many other non-military workers not so fortunate. Most people have continued to pay their obligations even though it’s been hard and even though sometimes they couldn’t. Unfortunately, if there were a vaccine tomorrow morning, there wouldn’t be enough people willing and able to take the vaccine to end the effects of the virus quickly. Is it possible that we Americans have come to expect someone to relieve our inconveniences quickly, and that discipline and sacrifice are not what we do well, even though that’s what the occasion calls for. Isn’t it time to quit acting like the Coronavirus is a temporary interruption?

For tenants who can’t feed the baby and pay rent, then feed the baby. But if the choice is between paying the rent and Cox Cable, then please learn to enjoy reading. Rent payments you don’t make today do not go away.

The adjustments we’ve made for COVID-19 need to be who we are for some time into the future. We are our own best friend who makes no reliance on someone to bail us out. We have to be as safe as our circumstances permit and go back to work. Not one of us is better than the others. Teachers, police, nurses, judges and lawyers, and even Realtors and closing agents, all have the work they’ve chosen, and all are lucky to be working. It seems to me that we all swim together or no one swims at all.

Like the airplane face mask advice: Take care of you, feed the baby, be safe, and go back to work.

Mike Chesser is President of Chesser & Barr, P.A. and Old South Land Title, Inc., both in Shalimar, Niceville and Crestview. He is Board Certified in Real Property and Local Government Law and can be reached at All articles are indexed and can be found online at