You know the old trope. Nell cries “But I can’t pay the rent!” while Snidely Whiplash demands “You must pay the rent!” just before Dudley Do Right sweeps in saying “I’ll pay the rent!” and saves the day. Snidely Whiplash, defeated says “Curses, foiled again!” Here’s an important question. Why does Snidely feel defeated? He got his rent. It makes no sense. Today on May Day, tenants in Chicago, New York and elsewhere, egged on by “progressive” lawmakers and intolerant tenants’ rights groups who abhor property rights are making the case for a rent strike because, you know, landlords are evil.
That’s just it, we’ve been trained by years of societal cues that landlords are bad. There is a perception that landlords are heartless. They let people live in subpar conditions. They are parasites. They prey upon people. We have terms for these guys. Slumlords. But there are certain parts of society and certain tenant advocacy groups who paint all landlords with that broad brush.
I was recently communicating with Daniel Adams a life-long Chicagoan and a landlord in Logan Square and Avondale. If you were watching the City Council online proceedings over Alderman Matt Martin’s rent deferral ordinance, you heard Daniel as the third person to speak during public comments. Daniel suggested that we stop using the pejorative term “landlord” and look for a more apt and fair description.
We must refrain from using the term “Landlords”. It’s an anachronism from a long-ago gilded age. It’s more accurate to call ourselves “housing providers” and our renters as “residents”.
– Daniel Adams, housing provider
You know what? Daniel is right. Most rental property owners are in the rental business to provide housing and to make a small profit in an honorable way. According to the 2015 American Housing Survey, about half of all rental property owners are “mom and pop” owners. These are people with real lives and families. They pay mortgages. They struggle when taxes and water bills go up. These are people who have also lost their jobs to Covid-19. Even our institutional landlords are important. They develop big projects in all income ranges. They employ hundreds of thousands of people to help keep the City housed. These are people who provide housing and in turn rely upon their tenants to stand by their obligation to abide by their lease and pay rent.
The tired old image of the fat-cat landlord, smoking a cigar and laughing at the plight of their destitute tenants just rings untrue, especially in a City like Chicago, and that image needs to be retired. Our housing providers are the ones who take the 3 a.m. call about a leaking sink, they are the ones who rehab vacant and tired properties and make them part of the viable housing stock. They are the ones who “take a chance” on the tenant with bad credit or the tenant who just got a divorce and needs a break. They are the ones who “eat a loss” when a tenant buys a house and needs to move out a month early. They are the ones who have been forbearing and forgiving rent during this crisis. They bend over backwards to comply with the myriad of Federal, State, County, and local laws that treat housing providers like they are running a nuclear power plant. They are dedicated to their buildings and their tenants. They are more servile than any tenant might even understand. They are the ones showing grace during these tough times and they were doing it long before the Housing Solidarity Pledge.
Just like the Mayor, all they want is for those who can pay… to pay. So yes, on this May Day, to appreciate all of the hard WORK they do, let’s ban landlords and in their place, let’s celebrate the housing providers!