Tuesday, May 28, 2019

We Don’t Call them Tenants for Nothing


I’ve heard it said before that, “Landlords often get a bad rap,” and whenever I do, I’ll often stop people right there and add, “They often don’t get a bad enough rap.”
No pets, no posters, no parties, no repairs. Don’t wear down the carpet. Just sit on the couch and cough up the cash. That’s their mantra. All so they can keep expanding and squatting over our lives like feudal incubi. So money-driven, that they view people’s need to sleep indoors as a chance to turn a tidy profit.
I wonder what is even meant by a “good” landlord anyway, one worthy of recognition. Someone who charges below insane market rates, purely by choice? Who pays for top-quality repairs, when they could get a friend to do a botched job on the cheap? Who offers long-term secure tenancies, despite the fact there is no legal minimum? Who refrains from revenge evictions? Someone who displays basic human decency, in an unregulated sector that encourages its opposite? Who acts, in other words, not like a landlord at all?
“But at least they are better than letting agents.” Sure. But that’s a bit like nominating Stalin for a humanitarian award for massacring fewer people than Genghis Khan. The fact is, they’re all rogue. Like anyone who thrived off of the housing crisis, landlords are social parasites. Leeching away what little wealth people have with little regard either for future generations or the welfare of their current tenants.
Landlords are actually one of the main causes of homelessness, by a long shot. When for-profit investors enter the housing market as buyers it artificially inflates demand for houses and causes prices to go up. The ability to borrow money to purchase homes also causes an artificial increase in demand that drives up prices. Combine speculation with credit and you end up with skyrocketing prices that only the rich can afford to buy into and then the poor end up getting stuck in a vicious cycle of renting and precarious evictions.
This type of housing insecurity creates a special kind of exhausting poverty, one that threatens the very security of one’s family. It even breeds depression. In addition to their homes, the evicted lose their possessions, their neighborhoods, their official address for interacting with the state and businesses, in effect, their very sense of self and liberty.
The regency of landlords also does more to intertwine poverty and criminality than any other vague “cultural” explanation. They can reject prospective tenants based on a combination of poverty, including a record of previous evictions, and criminality, based on previous felonies. Excluding people who have both, means that buildings where poor people go are buildings where people engaged in criminal activity go. This is because prices don’t determine who ends up where, landlords do.
No matter what else the poor have in common, nearly all of them have a landlord. Rather than some facile notion that people end up where they best belong, we see that people’s respective power dictates where they end up, and in poor neighborhoods, landlords have the power.
But I believe housing is a human right and should be protected as such. And the ultimate denial of this autonomy is personified in the figure of the landlord, a contemptible concept, which can be traced back to the medieval feudal system of manorialism, in which a landed estate was owned by a Lord of the Manor.
In the days of ye olde English estate, a landed lord could literally do anything he desired to his tenants because he owned them. The very word “tenant” itself, comes from the French word “tenir”, meaning “to hold” or “to keep.” Indeed, a thousand years ago the lord even had the right of jus primae noctis, which was the right to bed virgins on their wedding night. And today landlords still, have just as much discretion over people’s lives. “If etymology demonstrates the DNA of culture, then the words “landlord” and “tenant” are,” as Dave Crow writes, “embedded in our psyches.” No wonder that we dutifully pay our rent for our overpriced hovels. No wonder that our legislature balks at protecting tenants. No wonder that the landlord says, “This is my property and I can do anything I want.” The next time you write your rent check remember this: You’re still paying the lord to live on his land.
There are alternatives to this medieval system of land tenure however, and they are only limited by our imagination. One of the more straightforward options would be to transform private residential properties into housing cooperatives, grouped by neighborhood, building, or community. Instead of rent, funds for maintenance costs could be pooled together through the cooperatives and paid out as needed and any surplus could then be re-distributed as dividends to residents in order to incentivize efficient repairs and/or to re-invest in improvements, i.e., community gardens, pools, shared libraries, cooperative wifi-zones, etc.
But in this current system we are stepping on top of each other instead of lifting each other up. It’s time we unlearned the things we learned from wounded people and evolve past the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to buy and own someone’s residence, you know, that place where someone lives out their daily life trying to pursue their own happiness, while they’re actually pursuing someone else's, because every dollar you give to your landlord doesn't benefit your future, only theirs. You just wasted one day at work to live to the next. That’s slavery.
Whether your landlord is a genial profiteer or an actual psychopath is the luck of the draw. And the problem is that anyone can be one, if you’ve made enough money or inherited property, and those are two of the worst qualifications imaginable. And if you’re one of these people, you can shove your property portfolio up your ass. Because, housing, as investment opportunity, of any sort, is unequivocally a cancer on the face of modern society.
I’ll end this relatively acerbic denunciation, with a rather radical idea: buy a home if you can, live in it, and then do something else with your time. Something that isn’t about exploiting the less privileged. If you’re a landlord, here’s some advice usually reserved for the homeless, get a proper fucking job.

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