Landlords Suck

Is it my imagination or are landlords unusually creepy?

Over a 15 year period of renting houses I came across some spectacularly bad examples of the species. There was the one who showed an unwitting couple through the house, while I was having a shower. He let himself in without knocking but popped into the bathroom to tell me to ‘relax and take my time as the couple wanted to see the downstairs first’. Nice. I wasn’t able to answer immediately as I was busy re-starting my heart - which he took as compliance. Caught with too many investment properties on his hands – the bank foreclosed and we, cash-strapped students were just part of the clueless stock take. We lost our bond which represented about 10% of our total annual income and he, not being a citizen, buggered off to wherever he’d come from. There were the ones who partitioned single rooms and rented out airless cupboards and the one who, seeing me 8 months pregnant said he was increasing the rent by 25% and didn’t think I’d have much to say about it seeing as ‘I wouldn’t be going anywhere soon in my state.’ Really nice.

I suppose I find landlords slightly disturbing in that they represent a return to a feudal past and the relics of an old class system that many of our fore-parents were fleeing but we seem hell-bent over the last few decades in trying to re-create.

There is an underlying tone of social superiority in many landlords of residential properties, regardless of how delusional it might be, that is intrinsically irritating. I came across this recently when a house nearby sold. I asked the buyer if she was moving in, thinking I was talking to my new neighbour whereby she choked in mock shock and said ‘I don’t think so – this is really only for a rental.’ Apart from the laughable snobbery of the comment it embodies a whole investment philosophy that is damaging in so many ways to the idea of forming any kind of cohesive society. It’s the gated community philosophy, a form of civil colonialism whereby you go out into the world and make money renting properties you wouldn’t live in, to people who can’t afford to buy them and keep the rent just high enough to make sure they never will. This road to wealth is so entrenched in the New Zealand psyche that there have even been companies named after it; “Wealth. Buy Property!” It was Wakefield in the early 1800’s who first decided that a colony would be much nicer for, well, people like him, if there was a group of landless labourers like Maori and a constant flow of new immigrants to do the work for them. Land, he said, should be of a ‘sufficient and high enough price’ to prevent these labourers from becoming landowners and going and wrecking the whole shebang by working for themselves. The rare few who managed to scrape together the capital to buy their own property could stand as the shining example to which workers could aspire, making it unlikely that they would ever complain – or revolt.

Which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that there is so much antipathy towards Russel Norman’s suggestion of introducing a capital gains tax on properties other than the family home. Logically it makes perfect sense – but psychologically we’ve all been sold the idea that we can win the lotto simply by buying residential properties and going into the people farming business. One day. And so we seem quite prepared to look at hiking GST which would undoubtedly hit low income families where it hurts – in the supermarket aisles, rather than forego the great kiwi dream. Where we might look to countries like Denmark where social cohesion and a generally happy populace are benchmarks for success, we’ve hitched a ride on the monopoly money investment property train on the caboose next to Iceland. The last time I checked they’d had to go to the Russian mafia to bail them out. And those bad boys are probably the worst landlords of all.

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