Leeches. Parasites. Maybe even bed bugs? Landlords get called a lot of things — none of them favourable. This couple running a “15-Airbnb empire” went viral on Twitter last week, highlighting an increasingly common consensus online: Everyone hates landlords.
This negative perception of landlords is not just another case of “extremely online” hive mind. As a standup comic in the real world, I’ve seen that hating landlords is a pretty safe — maybe even hack — punchline. Could there be a more glaring sign of someone’s public standing than turning into a hack punchline?
If you’re wondering why hatred toward landlords is growing louder and louder, I’d point to the two reasons that seem to account for every cultural trend these days: social media and the pandemic. Here’s an anecdotal (yet passionate) explainer about the current state of landlords in the eyes of the public, and whether or not their status as a public enemy is fair.
Do landlords really deserve to be public enemy number one?
Around a third of U.S. households are renters, most of whom are no stranger to the brutal months-long rent increases that appear to have no end in sight. While renters struggle to find and afford a place to sleep, landlords bridle at the public’s perception that they don’t do anything to earn their passive income. I’m not here to fight those landlords, but to share the general consensus among young and/or progressive communities on Twitter.
It’s one thing to hate the system, the game — do we need to hate the specific players, too?
The pandemic helped turn landlords into punchlines
There’s a lot at play when it comes to understanding the hatred toward landlords. There’s a zoomed-out view of landlords as inherently immoral. There’s a zoomed-in view of you and every person who you know having had a shitty experience with a shitty landlord. These two views merged nicely during the pandemic, especially as social media provides a generation with a language to talk about housing and human rights. Now, we’ve landed in the current cultural moment where dragging landlords online is a popular activity.
Being a landlord isn’t a “real job”
While landlords argue they provide a crucial service, reading the landlord’s point of view does very little to garner sympathy, like with these interview answers in Curbed. Rhetorical questions like, “Because housing is a human right and I shouldn’t be in business?” do not sway me toward the side of landlords. In fact, it does more to justify renter’s instinctive vitriol. Plus, have you ever perused a landlord message board? You’ll find a lot of greedy, predatory landlords saying the quiet part out loud: They want to take advantage of tenants in any way they can.
Rent is going up, and landlord sympathy is limited
Without fully addressing the Marxist elephant in the room, more and more renters seem to be expressing their beliefs that making money off owning property is not actually labour. Just take a look at the replies to this article about landlords struggling during Biden’s eviction ban last year. The replies lack sympathy, and I get it. When I hear about landlords talking about losing money and getting “hit hard,” all I hear is someone expecting the same sympathy as someone who, say, lost their job. Landlords aren’t “laid off” when rent becomes more affordable. It’s less like losing a job and more like making a bad investment — an investment that takes other people’s right to housing and puts it in your hands.
Now, at the precipice of a housing crisis, landlords are seen as feeding off of many renter’s suffering. Their predatory behaviours make housing inaccessible for those who need it most. Still, you might contend that not all landlords are evil individuals. But there have to be good ones, too. You might argue that every profession is going to have a few bad apples. Here’s my take: You know what group of people probably has a low tolerance for that “bad apple” argument? Perhaps a generation who watched those claims get refuted over and over during the 2020 protests against police brutality. No doubt this framework helped large swaths of people start to question all other systems taking advantage of them.
I wish I had alternative solutions to landlords today. I highly recommend renting Matthew Desmond’s Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City from your local library. Or for a much quicker read, this tweet boils it down well: “Landlords provide housing like scalpers provide concert tickets.” In other words, many feel that landlords shouldn’t be credited with providing an essential service. They’re abusing the system for profit. At least, that’s the direction public perception keeps heading. At the end of the day, maybe one generation’s “radical beliefs” is the next’s “common sense.”