Having spent the first 40+ years of my life paying tribute to landlords, this writer knows the crime of it all. I am not referring to the system of ‘ One landlord/One Tenant’ that many of the neighborhoods in baby boomer Brooklyn consisted of. That was in the 50s and 60s of my youth. It made sense as the landlord used the rental payments of his tenant to fulfill his mortgage obligation. Yes, some landlords were selfish and did as little as possible to properly maintain the tenant’s apartment. In many cases the landlord lived right there next to his tenant and had no choice but to realize that repairs were needed. Well, all that went out the window with the real moral crime of the ‘Absentee Landlord’. By the way, do you know where the term Landlord came from? It was from feudalism whereupon the ‘ Lord of the manor’ owned all the housing and his tenant/workers had little or nothing to say about squat! Sometimes, in the case of the classic 1970 film The Molly Maguires directed by Martin Ritt, it was the mining company that owned all the rental property. They also owned the store where the workers bought what was needed to survive… at of course very higher prices than what was charged in the nearby towns. Isn’t Capitalism great?
Before leaving Long Island, NY, my wife and I rented from an absentee landlord. The guy owned 19 houses in the area and honestly did as little as possible to keep them up to snuff. Our refrigerator was so ancient that I joked that it had arthritis! We had the tiles on our bathtub wall that were always loose and sometimes actually fell into the tub. The apartment had no banister along the staircase so my 80 year old parents could not come to visit us. When we had one of those Long Island ‘ Nor’easters’ and a foot of snow fell I called our landlord. I asked him if he was going to get the stoop and walkway cleared. He snapped at me ‘ Go ahead and do it.’ I told him ‘ Ok, I’ll take $50 off of my rent and shovel it, because if it isn’t shoveled the code enforcement will be notified immediately and you will get a summons.’ His son was dispatched within the hour with their snow blower.
It seems every situation that I experienced involving an absentee landlord was the same sordid tale. The last such one was when we moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, in ‘ 95. We decided to rent first and see how we liked the city. We visited a corporate owned and run rental complex that contained a slew of two story buildings. The model apartment tickled our fancy so much that I fell for the allure and we signed a one year lease ( the briefest one they allowed). That was right before Thanksgiving, and by Christmas time the allure wore off. First, when my wife was washing a dish at the kitchen sink the whole faucet just flew off! Then, we had the first heavy rainstorm since our arrival. All of a sudden the water was flowing from the ceilings in our living room and master bedroom. It looked and appeared like it was raining inside the apartment! After many threats to the management company, which was not even in Indianapolis, but Chicago, they let us out of our lease. I found out later that this corporation had actually bought the complex a year or two earlier… a very old one that had been terribly run down and in need of major repairs. What they decided to do was to ‘ Paint over the ****’ and use cheap materials for the interiors. The roof was never redone, thus the massive leakage when it rained too hard.
What is happening now throughout our nation, and I am sure the entire world, is the invasion of the Absentee Landlords. Between the humongous corporations that bought foreclosed homes at a major bargain and turned them into rentals, and the independent entrepreneurs who like to make money on another’s need for shelter… feudalism has returned. Wherever you look you will see the outrageous costs to rent living space. As usual, the government , any such one, whether city, county, state or federal, does as little as possible to remedy this. I am quite sure that these mega absentee landlord corporations, and even the local super rich predatory entrepreneurs ,are powerful financial patrons of our politicians. Thus, the ideal of having NO private interests in the residential rental system is but a pipe dream for true socialists like yours truly. We need local communities to use eminent domain and take over ALL rental property, charge substantially lower rents, and even give the tenant a chance to one day own that domain. Imagine if the new community landlord held back 10-20% of the rent in escrow, and perhaps one day the tenant could use that money towards a down payment. Of course, dear readers, IF we had community run nonprofit mortgage banks, those who now pay rent could actually pay LESS per month for their mortgage. Why not?
Philip A Farruggio
Dog Days of August, 2023