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