Quite some time ago I posted on the temperament of a landlord and how some people just aren’t cut out for it. My focus on that post were people who walked away from disagreements or would always give in, and how real estate investing would eat them alive. In another post, small-scale landlords, I touched on people who think “I’m just renting out a small space, I’m not REALLY a landlord” (and how wrong they are). Another personality (briefly touched on in the previous posts) that will cause problems in real estate investing is the feudal landlord.
I’m a free market kind of guy, and I’m sympathetic when individuals invoke their rights with regard to their personal property, including land. As Mr. Burns illustrates on The Simpsons, there are *SOME* limits to this:
Department of Labor Officer: This power plant violates every labor law in the book. We found a missing soccer team from Brazil working in the reactor core!
Mr. Burns: That plane crashed on my property!
Unfortunately, renting property seems to bring out similar feelings from some individuals. The best parody of this I ever read was a Craigslist post for a rental in Vancouver (I love it!). The fact that Krystal’s commenters either believed the post, or questioned whether it’s a joke or not, shows how badly some landlords are behaving (for the record: this is CLEARLY a joke).
Some real estate authors recommend abandoning the title “landlord” as inherently feudal, and calling yourself the property owner or property manager (which I find a little misleading, it seems like you’re trying to imply you’re NOT the landlord if you call yourself the manager).
To provide a brief overview of my intended usage of feudalism, I am referring to the idea that a feudal relationship exists when someone owns land, and allows another usage of it in exchange for a set of obligations. Historically, this existed when the monarch owned all land in the country, then gave usage of large areas to aristocratic vassals (they would be responsible to pay taxes to the monarch, fight for her in times of war, etc). These vassals could then parcel out the land they controlled to their own vassals (who would have their own obligations in exchange for the usage of the land), all the way down to peasants who would work the land.
Interestingly, often landlords who take the feudal perspective on things, view themselves as monarchs, not as someone existing at a certain level in the hierarchy with responsibilities to those “above” them in addition to obligations due them from those “below”. Despite “ownership” of land, such obligations do, in fact, exist. You are typically required to pay property taxes, which is a financial responsibility imposed by the municipality the property is part of. Owners of property are subject to the laws of the country (and province or state) they exist in, and can’t arbitrarily invent their own laws. “A man’s home is his castle” makes a nice saying, but the law doesn’t support this.
A feudal perspective is, of course, the wrong view of the landlord / tenant relationship in the modern age. Just because someone is renting, it doesn’t mean they have to dip their head, call the landlord “m’lord” and do whatever is demanded from them. I also don’t think the owner is required to adopt a “the customer is always right” and give tenants whatever they want. A landlord / tenant relationship is a legal agreement, like any other, where each side should have their rights and responsibilities spelled out and both parties should only enter into the agreement if they’re comfortable with it. In most places there is a default agreement (in Ontario it’s the Residential Tenancies Act) which covers both parties and which they both MUST make themselves aware of.
The consequence of adopting a feudal attitude for the landlord are all negative. This will antagonize the tenants in a major way, and chances are they will become sticklers for the landlord to follow all relevant laws and be far less flexible or accommodating. Turn over will increase, as tenants will be less likely to stay beyond their lease. Both of these will probably lead to a less profitable real estate venture.
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