Landlording & Rental Properties

Why Landlords Get a Bad Rap — And What We Can Do About It

Expertise: Landlording & Rental Properties, Real Estate Investing Basics, Flipping Houses, Business Management, Personal Development, Mortgages & Creative Financing, Real Estate News & Commentary
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I recently wrote a post about the 9 things I hate most about being a landlord. That post resulted in some interesting discussions. One thing that generated much discussion was the fact that we landlords are often called slumlords for no reason other than the fact that we are landlords. Another big discussion point was the negative attitudes many non-landlords have towards our profession. Those discussions got me thinking a bit. Why do we landlords get such a bad rap? And what, if anything, can we do about it?

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First, I think much of the bad rap that we get simply comes from the nature of the business. We landlords are dealing with something that many people hold near and dear to themselves: their homes. Homes are where people are at their most personal, private, and basic levels. That fact alone can make the landlording biz a contentious one. The landlording business therefore builds an easy stage for potential conflict.

Plus there are folks out there who are pretty bad landlords. They do not care about their properties and tenants, or they do not know how to manage them. Those folks give us all a bad name while they are in operation. But in the end, those bad landlords usually burn out and fade away either from the constant conflict or a lack of revenue because no one will rent from them.

Related: The 5 Non-Negotiable Traits of Highly Effective Landlords

But I think there is more to it than just those two points.


“Landlord Evicts Tenant on Thanksgiving”

For one thing, the media is generally no friend of landlords. Think about what makes headlines in most local papers or leads on the evening news: "Landlord Refuses to Make Repairs" or "Landlord Evicts Tenant on Thanksgiving." It is rarely something like: "Landlord Provides Decent Housing at a Reasonable Cost While Paying Taxes" or "Landlord Helps Tenant Down on His Luck by Deferring Rent Payments for a Month." To be sure, all of these things happen, but negativity sells, and that is what the media goes for. That unfortunately reinforces any bad rap.

There is also a general lack of knowledge on how money works. Why? We can blame the education system, I suppose, but there is also a general "hush hush" mentality in our society when it comes to things monetary. We just do not like to talk about it. Perhaps it is because many do not understand money. Some of the most educated people I know actually know very little about money and how it works. They know even less about the ins and outs of buying, maintaining, and holding real estate. Thus, any image many have of landlords is not based upon reality, but upon what they have heard in the media and their beliefs.

A Disdain for Money

I also think this lack of knowledge causes many in our society have a general disdain about money. They think money is somehow evil or bad. Money is something to be looked down upon as are the people who work hard to make it. Money is, of course, not evil. It can be used for evil for sure, but it is only a tool. I have never understood this disdain and the “pride” in being poor. Some of it may come from experiences with recent recessions, job losses, and foreclosures. But I am not sure that can explain it all.

A lack of economic understanding is also rather pervasive. Many believe that you can get something for nothing and that there really is a free lunch. They believe that housing is a right that someone else should pay for. Clear, sound economic thinking is so often lost in the noise of politics and correctness today that it is almost no wonder why this thinking pervades. People are unaware of, forget, or are blind to the examples of government interference in the housing market and the many skewed incentives that were and are associated with it.

So yes, the media is generally no friend to landlords, and there is a lack of knowledge and understanding. But I think there are also some more sinister reasons lurking.


Success Envy

There are those who feel that is simply OK to take others’ property, especially if those being taken from are “rich.” Landlords are, of course, by definition rich, thus it is OK to steal from them, tax them, and generally hinder their ability to do business.

Related: 6 Things Every Landlord Should Do to Win Over the Hearts of Tenants (A Renter’s Perspective!)

There is also envy and resentment. Some are envious of success, and that envy turns to hate, and it ends up lashing out at opportune times. It lashes out when they are punching holes in a wall or at the ballot box. They resent the idea that someone is perhaps more successful than they are. And rather than looking inwards at themselves, it is easier and more convenient to blame others.

So what to do?

What We As Landlords Should Do

First, lead by example. Do not be a slumlord. Be honest and upright in your dealings with tenants. Treat them fairly, and keep things maintained. This really is the best thing you as a landlord can do.

But just as importantly, defend what we as landlords do at every available opportunity. If someone calls you or anyone else a slumlord, speak up! Defend yourself! Tell them how hard you work to provide a decent place for people to live. Tell them just how difficult it is to be a business owner. Tell them how much you had to learn, study, try, fail, and try again to do this job. Tell them how many dollars you have spent building and maintaining your business. In fact, you should have a short elevator speech prepared to quickly and succinctly defend what you do.

Educate people at every opportunity. Speak at civic organizations. Give a talk at your kid's school or at your church. Help others understand the power of sound financial sense. Perhaps become a mentor to someone trying to get started in real estate. Then they can help spread the word.

In sum, we have to work hard at countering what people hear every day about landlords from the media and from others around them. Change will not come easy, and you will not convince everyone, but at least you will have stood up for yourself and perhaps make someone think twice (or at least once) in the future.

[Editor’s Note: We are republishing this article to benefit those landlords newer to BiggerPockets.]

Landlords: Have you run into this perception before? How do you handle criticism towards landlords?

Leave your comments below!

Kevin Perk is co-founder of Kevron Properties, LLC with his wife Terron and has been involved in real estate investing for 10 years. Kevin invests in ...
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    Robert Stein
    Replied almost 4 years ago
    Congressman Donovan—“tweak the laws to protect the decent landlords that are conned by DRUG/ALCOHOL ABUSERS and if they have an ongoing history of continued crime and domestic abuse and verified and well documented with the RICHMOND COUNTY COURT SHOWING they are FELONS/CRIMINALS how about we give a little slack to us decent landlords—and if these drug/alcohol/6 protection orders—some from his own family, 3 criminal assaults and 15 larceny arrests that are all verified and are “parents” and have a young child – get them proper help now, not after the fact or allow them to continue their ,lies and deceit living off another landlord. Too many good police officer and detectives have their hands tied due to laws that protect the guilty rather than the innocent victims—
    Peter Mckernan Residential Real Estate Agent from Newport Beach, California
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hello Kevin, Yes, we can say landlords and a lot of other professions get bad news shined on them due to rumors. This is where like you said, we should stick up for ourselves and tell those that “hate” on the thought of landlords how it really is for the industry. People spend too much time getting their thoughts from other places (i.e. news, rumors, talk shows), and this is where all misconceptions happen. They do not listen to the source they listen to people that are uneducated in that field of work. Good job with this article!
    Davit Gharibyan from Saint Paul, MN
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great article. It is very true, many folks have a scarcity mentality and are envy of those who are successful, well organized, goal and results driven. The truth is there is endless money in the world and there is enough for everyone to get it. But it is much easier to not do anything, sit there, resent and complaint.
    Howard G
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Thank you for the articles. You are correct, sometimes Landlords get a bad rap. Sometimes they deserve it. Take a look at what happened to me. Please email me and I will send you the Powerpoint attachment. You will be shocked that an elderly person could be treated so badly. Please note. This is not spam and the attachment carries no virus. Thank you
    Mark Leone Investor from Framingham, Massachusetts
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great article about an often misunderstood profession. As a multifamily owner and property manager I’ve found that if I answer my phone or email a tenant back within 12 hours I’m doing better than about 50% of all the others out there. Some new management clients and tenants are astounded that I actually call them back right away, or notify them in advance if the water will be shut off for repairs the next morning.
    Richard Willis from Round Rock, Texas
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Great article. Yes property management is tough and preconceived notions about landlords will never go away. Treating all tenants the same way you would want to be treated if you were one, is the simplest way to to being a decent and reasonable landlord. The same thing applies to any relationship and they arn’t always perfect either.
    dan jacobson
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Good article…and some great comments. Probably every landlod has their own nuanced take of all of these items. One thing I didn’t see mentioned was the lease/lease signing itself. My lease is almost 13 pgs. long. I had a real estate lawyer sell me his “tried and true” boiler plate 6 page one for 500.00. It takes me half the time to read mine as it does his. I often get comments about how mine was understandable, and in fact, enjoyable and humorous, as well. The lease signing is probably the 2nd meeting of any import in the landlord-tenant relationship (the initial showing/”interview” being the 1st). It’s pretty important that you AND the lease are readable – without legal counsel. If it’s just a bunch of legal goobaly gook, that’s not a good start. The sad part is that a lease can be made tenant friendly and still be legal. I try to explain the reasoning behind the rules. I believe that leads the tenant to a better understanding of what I go through as chief maintenance man, renovator, manager, etc., and I get a better insight as to whom I renting to. And if I’m getting some weird vibes at that point, hopefully it’s not too late. I have lots of long term tenants and even more referrals.
    Deanna Opgenort Rental Property Investor from San Diego, CA
    Replied over 3 years ago
    Hoorah! Someone else with a long rental agreement! I even require each occupant to initial next to EACH of the pet rules (all animals MUST be declared No additional animals without prior permission. No pet sitting without prior permission. Guests may not bring their pets onto the property without prior permission, etc).
    Stephen Shelton from Debary, Florida
    Replied over 3 years ago
    I agree with what Kevin is saying here. We are in an era where achieving financial success is viewed with contempt unless you made it by playing make-believe I’m front of a camera, sing, or can bounce a ball well. If you can do any of those then you are entitled to all the millions you can earn, but how dare you earn a fraction of that doing something boring and work substance. I get called a slumlord by my friends because they are just trolling me, and I think it is a natural thing to troll about when you mention buying “cheap beat-up houses” like I do and follow it up with photos of beat-up houses! The industry would do itself a favor by recognizing that these properties are a reflection of their owners. I don’t want to be known as the guy who tries to sneak people into contacts for a garbage product and then nickle-n-dime them. I want to be known for providing a good product for the money they’re giving me. I want to have a property that is on the better side of its neighboring comps. I want to have some pride in my product, and I think that plays a role in having tenants that stick around.
    [email protected]
    Replied about 3 years ago
    LOVED THE POST- And the great replies. Having been in the property providing business for nearly thirty years- Well- I probably have heard most of every thing you could imagine. My favorite story is about some new neighbors that moved into our community a few years back. She was a retired school teacher from Berkley California and her husband was a Lawyer. We had them over to dinner one evening and she mentioned the fact that we owned several homes in out neighborhood and that she felt that was being greedy and selfish due to the fact that so many folks out there do not even own a home. My wifes answer was spot on- She asked her this question- Do you get a retirement package from from your 40 years of being a public school teacher. OF course she replied, but what has that got to do with the fact that you and your husband own so many homes? My wife said- well we are a Mom and Pop business and our rental properties are ( OUR ) retirement portfolio. And these are educated people. You can’t fix stupid.
    Ceril S. Rental Property Investor from Ithaca, NY
    Replied 2 months ago
    This is still super relevant, maybe even more relevant today. There are so many people calling for rent freeze and "free rent" now - I really encourage everyone to speak out and speak up - have that elevator speech handy!