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

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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?

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-systems

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“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.

70-percent-rule-example

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.

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

Leave your comments below!

About Author

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 and manages rental properties in Memphis, TN and is a past president and vice-president of the local REIA group, the Memphis Investors Group.

23 Comments

  1. Chad Carson

    Hey Kevin, great article! I think this is an important topic.

    I think you hit the nail on the head that people associate landlords with two loaded, emotional subjects – money and home. What may be an objective business decision for us can be an emotional roller coaster for the tenant and for people observing the situation.

    I don’t know a clear way to counter this phenomenon, but the mission of BiggerPockets to train and showcase landlords doing it the right way is a good start.

    I am a little more pessimistic about those bad landlords who give us a bad reputation. I agree that some of them fade away because of their bad decisions, but there is also a never-ending new crop of so-called investors who make bad decisions will fully or out of ignorance. I think the most practical thing we can do with those bad landlords is report their properties for code violations or for other appropriate issues and let local authorities drive them out sooner than later.

  2. George Cen

    Unfortunately, being a landlord is one of those jobs that tend to get no press when you’re doing a good job and press when something negative happens. When was the last time you saw a headline that read “Landlord Does His Job as Expected”. This is why landlord review sites are full of negative reviews. Tenants who faced bad experiences are more motivated to write about them.

    Education is key. Experienced landlords should teach new ones how to appropriately handle tenants, screening, maintenance, laws, etc. I believe that many “bad” landlords don’t intend to be bad, they’re inexperienced and therefore prone to making mistakes. The fact is there are way more good landlords than bad ones.

    • Kevin Perk

      George,

      I believe you may be on to something. I have seen many a person buy a property and quickly get over their heads. Were they sold a dream? Did they have any clue? Who knows? That is why, like you, I think education through websites like this and local reias are so important. I learned so much and now try to give back as much as I can. But then again, you can lead a horse to water…….

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  3. Michael Boyer

    Great piece. Landlords provide a vital societal need (housing) but largely have a negative public perception.

    Right on about how both the media and popular culture project negative stereotypes. Many people think landlord and a odd images come to mind: at worst a greedy person kicking people out (as mentioned) or at best a nosey or goofy type (think Mr. Ferley or Mr. Roper from Three’s Company)..

    And it does not seem to matter the market or type of landlord. I rented my first condo (mid-level) to a doctor that I knew and one colleague called me a “slum lord” another a “greedy capitalist” (I work at a college)… Clean condo, great terms, allowed the pet, a win/win all around, except some perceptions..

    I think part of it gets to people’s comfort zones. They see you doing something that may not square with their assumptions; after all, here you are a person just like them but owning multiple properties, housing many people, improving the local housing stock, making a huge impact on the lives of others and–like many small scale landlords–holding down a day job…… meanwhile, perhaps all they did the past few years outside of work was binge watch Netflix and drink martinis. So something about the activity also hits at the comfort zone of others and perhaps the ambition and scope of the enterprise crosses their sensitivity line and they react from that place with disparaging remarks… Nice job on the article!

  4. Nathan Richmond

    Very good article. As a jr high math teacher I try to educate my students about real life as much as possible. I talk to them about investing and getting your money to work for you,, not you working your life away for it.

    Many have the attitude “we” are rich because we own multiple properties. I am very far from being wealthy. It’s an interesting dynamic, but I’m doing my best to show all the possibilities that are out there. Wish me luck! And thank you again for the article.

  5. Maggie Tasseron

    Hi Kevin: I applaud your efforts but must take exception with some of your points. Having been a landlord for almost 40 years, one thing I’ve come to learn is that no matter what I say to non-landlords and especially to tenants usually has no impact at all. Many of these people have their pre-conceived notions and I learned a long time ago not to bother trying to defend myself. I’m one of a minority of landlords who do all their own reno and repair work and even when tenants have seen me replace a toilet or an electrical outlet (yeah, I do it all by now), if and when they reach a point where they want more than is reasonable, or that really bad point where they can’t pay their rent, they generally turn on me and call me a slumlord…or far worse. This situation is compounded by the fact that I’m a woman and many people tend to assume some man has given me everything I have (yes, chauvinism is alive and well in the 21st century and I’ve had this flung at me more than once). I turn properties over to tenants in great shape and keep them that way. Whenever tenants get disgruntled about something, I first try to deal with them in a reasonable manner and when that fails, I simply tell them I don’t have them chained to the property and they are free to move at any time. Most of the miserable situations I’ve been involved in have come from my attempting to go above and beyond in being considerate; the adage that “no good deed goes unpunished” did not spring from nothing. Having done quite well with my investments, I’m now at the point where I will never again be a landlord but will just flip properties instead. I’ve had mostly good tenants but the troublemakers have made me reach that point. I’m sure they’re still out there bad-mouthing me but so be it. I did my best and will never apologize for working hard to attain my successes in life; if these people would do the same, they would reap the same rewards and if they don’t get that — or don’t want to get that — it’s just too bad but let’s face it, that’s human nature.

    • Kevin Perk

      Maggie,

      Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it coming from your years of experience.

      I am going to have to disagree however. We must defend ourselves at every opportunity. You may not think that it makes a difference, but it does. It may not make a difference with everyone all the time, but it will make a difference with some. How do I know? Because it made a difference with me.

      Keep trying Maggie, keep trying!

      Thanks again for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  6. Stephen S.

    You remind me to tell of story which happens to me recently. I didn’t know about it at the time and only found out about it recently. A tenant left early and I told the property management company to take a month’s rent out of their security.

    Why don’t we just immediately re-rent the house?

    How long will that take? (they are Very choosy and sometimes take a month)

    We have somebody waiting to move in.

    How can that be?

    Oh! I guess I forget to tell you. A few months ago a guy came in and asked if we managed any properties for you. We said we did and he said he wanted to rent one. We told him you had nothing presently available and he then said: OK; I’ll wait for one to become available. We took his application and everything came back perfect – like the best possible tenant Ever.

    How does he know me?

    Two of his friends rent houses from you and he said he doesn’t want to live anywhere but in one of your houses.
    —————————–

    I took that as a high complement.

    stephen
    ————-

  7. Steve Vaughan

    Thinking back, I find it much more common to be a LL now. The great recession gave a lot of folks an accidental rental. Sites like BP raise awareness of the advantages.
    Used to be, if someone actually stopped talking about theyself long enough to ask what I do, they’d say “Oh. That business” and move on or share a tenant horror story their uncle’s cousins brother told them. Now- they want tips! Or they know someoñe who wants to be a LL and can they give them my number? I flinch more from people wanting than from thinking I’m a slumlord. Just do right by folks and give back when you can!
    Thanks for another good article, Kevin!

  8. Dawn Anastasi

    Landlords often get a bad rap as not giving back security deposits. There’s a feeling out there that landlords take security deposits just as extra income and they always keep them. I’ve never kept a penny of the security deposit — it’s gone to contractors for repairs or materials for something that was broken.

    • Kevin Perk

      Dawn,

      Yep. When I “keep” a security deposit, it goes exactly to where you described. But yes, unfortunately I also know landlords who view security deposits as a stream of income. I never understood why you would want that negativity in your business, but people learn and word spreads. They are usually not very long lasting or are constantly beating their heads against the wall with the worst of the worst.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      Kevin

  9. Deanna Opgenort

    There are BAD/amateur landlords that give everyone else a bad name. (Local “slumlord” has 3+ pages of single-spaced case #s listed against him in Superior Court, in one county — as well as 1-2 pages of court cases in 2 other counties in CA).
    I generally ask why prospective tenants are wanting to move. Some answers get no sympathy –“We’ve had the same carpet for 5 years and the landlord won’t replace it. Aren’t landlords required to give us new carpet every 3 years?” (um, no, and no way would I rent to her), others are pretty clearly crazy landlord issues (“we’d be sitting in the living room at night watching TV and turn around to find the landlord standing behind us, having let herself in with her key without even knocking” – YIKES!!!).
    The biggest complaint I hear is landlords keeping the deposit as their own little private “fix-it” fund (wanting to freshen the place up with new paint & carpet is great. Trying to do it on the former tenant’s dime doesn’t fly if it’s just normal wear & tear).
    The other amateur move is not giving correct notice of rent increases, and I’ve had several friends/friends-of-friends deal with this. In CA notice of a rent increase MUST be in writing, MUST be 30 days or more for any rent increase, MUST be at least 60 days notice if rent increase is over 10% in a 12 mos period (a 10% increase then another 10% increase 6 mos later requires 60 days notice, not 30).
    Tenant can legitimately just ignore improper notice (verbal, less than 30, less than 60 for over 10%)…meaning landlord gets to start all over again with a correct WRITTEN notice.
    Needless to say this does not promote good LL/tenant relations.

  10. Casey Murray

    The lack of financial and economic understanding is a big problem. Tenants complain about the rents increasing every year. They fail to realize property taxes increase every year as do vendor prices. If they stepped back for a second and put themselves in the LL shoes, they would have a better understanding of the LL’s actions.

    But, with every negative comes a positive. This presents a great opportunity to listen to your tenants, understand their concerns and ask them what you can do to smooth things out. Great article, Kevin.

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