Is the Devil a Landlord?

If one used only the Guardian as a guide to reality, one would imagine that, where property rental was concerned, only landlords were dishonest and exploitative, never tenants. There are a score articles easily available on its website about the evils of landlords, but not one about the evils of tenants. Indeed, in a certain worldview, the very word landlord is synonymous with evil. As capitalist means a corpulent man in a top hat smoking a fat cigar and clutching a bag marked dollars, so landlord means someone who charges exorbitantly for a family to inhabit a poky, mouldy, rat-infested cubby-hole.

Given the nature of human nature, I have little doubt that terrible landlords exist. In fact I know that they do; and among the worst of them, as I learned from listening to my patients in my medical career, were councils. I don’t know how many times I had to intercede on my patients’ behalf withthe housing department, though experience soon taught me never to deal with anybody at a lower level than the director. But this does not mean that tenants are angels.

My next door neighbour, ex officio not a hugely wealthy man, rents a few properties that he owns. He does his best to keep them in good repair and does not charge as much as he is able. Recently one of his tenants, a small businesswoman with a drinking problem, did a bunk owing him £3000 in rent. A quick investigation established that she had done this all her life: that she had cheated and swindled landlords for decades. She had many court judgments against her, but not one had ever been executed. Obtaining such a judgment only added to the losses incurred by her successive landlords.

Needless to say, not all tenants are like this. Many keep their rented property immaculate and pay their rent religiously; but there are others, not a few, who turn their rented properties into sties, make unreasonable demands, withhold payment and regard any ill-conduct towards their landlord as justified ipso facto. Landlords in practice have little redress against ruthless or dishonest tenants and you don’t have to speak to many landlords to learn that this is so.

Why, then, landlords as the only villains of the piece? The Guardian tends to the view, widespread but dangerous as well as wrong, that only the rich or powerful can do evil. Original sin is a much more realistic view of the matter. But, also given the nature of human nature, tenants are no angels either.



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1 Comment on Is the Devil a Landlord?

  1. This article gives a black and white / tenant versus landlord view of the private rental situation. For those who live next to privately rented properties the situation is more complicated.

    Certainly, there are very many bad tenants and that is not just a problem landlords but also for the home owners who live in adjacent properties. If you find that homes nearby are gradually being bought up and converted by Buy-To-Let landlords your neighbourhood will be transformed (and probably not for the better).

    There are more than sixty flats in the block where I live in a quite sedate part of London. Originally they were all owner occupied. Now approximately half are in private rental. Needless to say the tenants and landlords do nothing to help in keeping the estate in good shape. That is left to the owner-occupiers who have a natural sense of responsibility to the place they own and live in. The landlords are only really concerned with their property turning a decent profit. The tenants are paying to live there and have more demands than obligations.

    The worst thing about having one’s neighbourhood converted into a vast private rental estate is the continuous turnover of neighbours. These changes will take place at the rythm of the six month/one year contract cycle. If you live in an area like this your neighbours can vary enormously from the decent and considerate to loud, aggressive, borderline criminal and actual criminal. Even good tenants will generally take a short term view of their occupancy seeing little reason to get to take much interest in the people who live next door.

    These problems created by the enormous growth in the private rental market are rarely given consideration by journalists writing on the subject. Buy-To-Let may give many people a useful extra source of income but it can be pretty hellish living next door to their money-spinning projects.