The Problem with Landlords

landlordsThere’s a vacant mobile home in my backyard. It’s heavily dented and festooned with mud and black mold and slouches precariously on stacks of cinder blocks.

Just to be clear, the single-wide isn’t the problem here – I knew it was there when I rented the place. It serves as a visual and decibel barrier to the adjacent parking lot, plus you can stick stuff under it when it rains. My neighbors and I entertained the idea of getting a graffiti artist to spruce it up a bit, but the idea never really got off the ground.

The problem has to do with the mobile home’s removal. My landlord is planning to replace it with a non-rotting single-wide and rent it out. This will take months, during which time the entire backyard will be off-limits to tenants. The staircase descending from my bedroom’s attached deck to the backyard will also be off-limits, making the private entrance to my room also, off-limits.

The landlord never told me this would be happening. He called my housemate a few minutes before showing up to begin the work. After the info was sleepily relayed to me, I went out and very innocuously asked the landlord how long the work would take. This seemed to irritate him, and I could only get out of him it would take “months” before he walked off.

A few weeks before this episode, I wrote an in-depth article for The River on New York’s Eviction Moratorium. The article was sympathetic to the plight of the low-income renter, and I received a couple emails from landlords dissatisfied with the piece.

One was a lengthy, oddly bardic treatises from a small landlord in Poughkeepsie. He took issue with my article not showing the other side of the story – how the Eviction Moratorium impacted local landlords, who had mortgage payments piling up with little rent coming in. Some tenants were not paying rent even though they had the money, the landlord wrote, and others were engaging in egregiously evictable behavior while the landlords could do nothing.

To the poet-landlord and the other small housing providers across the Hudson Valley: I hear you. I’ve been a renter my entire adult life, and I’ve had some terrible landlords, but I’ve realized in retrospect many of these “terrible” landlords were actually fine; they were just dealing with 23-year-old Roger, who always wore a “partying uniform” consisting of an air force flight suit and a Fidel Castro hat with fake bear ears sticking through the top.

Recently, a friend of mine also had to deal with the other end of things. He bought a four-unit building something like a month before the Eviction Moratorium was enacted, too little time to realize two of his tenants were REALLY into meth. They were a couple, and would have screeching arguments at all hours, one ending with the lady stabbing the man on the sidewalk outside their building. My friend still couldn’t evict them.

Yes, there are two sides to every story, but the story on both sides here is the same: this is my place. And therein lies the problem – two people thinking the same location is their territory. And, like any animal, humans can get very territorial.

So, to put myself in my landlord’s place during the aforementioned confrontation – Here’s this reporter-guy who is NEVER the best about punctually paying for living in my house, coming outside and making passive-aggressive demands about how I should treat my place. I’m putting a lot of my hard-earned money into this new single-wide, and this spectator is trying to dictate the details.

So I get it. But here are the reasons the Eviction Moratorium article only portrayed the plight of the tenant:

For a landlord, renting is a business, while for a tenant, it’s much more personal. Put another way, a person opts to be a landlord for economic reasons, while a person is a tenant from the necessity of shelter.

Secondly, one of the charges of journalism is to empower the voice of those without power. Those in power already HAVE loud voices; it’s up to journalists to try to balance the scales.

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