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Response to Shelterforce Review

Response to Shelterforce Review

Response to Markovics’ review of: The Good Landlord – A Guide to Making a Profit While Making a Difference

Thank you, Shelterforce and Roger Markovics’, for your review of my book, entitled: The Good Landlord – A Guide to Making a Profit While Making a Difference.  I particularly appreciate Markovics’ mention of the book as “a refreshing antidote to the trendy TV shows that make housing speculation a virtue, and the infomercials which extol greed as the basis for flipping houses.”  Thank you.

The Good Landlord gives voice to the many landlords, particularly smaller ones, whose actions help vulnerable tenants avoid eviction and housing instability.  Beyond urging landlords to be sensitive to tenant difficulties, Markovics highlights the book’s basic premise — that it’s in landlords’ enlightened self-interest to do this.  Landlords accept more modest returns not only because “keeping rents affordable and providing timely repairs significantly reduces costly apartment turnover,” Markovics reminds us, but due to “a sense of pride and well-being in a neighborhood (which also maintains long-term property values).”   This point may seem obvious.  Unfortunately, it is too often learned the hard way by landlords who may not see what’s in their actual self-interest.

For the many landlords lacking professional training or help – most of us for that matter –  the conflict resolution and relational skills we need can be difficult to acquire and execute successfully.  As a result, reported by landlords whose bad tenant relationships drove up the cost of for-cause eviction cases, the risk of economic loss, foreclosure or even bankruptcy is real.  The Good Landlord responds to the challenges faced by landlords with for-cause cases seeking to avoid costly tenant battles.  More than to save time and money, the book offers landlords a path to greater peace of mind in these tough situations.

Although the book doesn’t advance the argument that paradigm shifts to redress the landlord-tenant power imbalance should be pursued, it does show how much more can be done to meet tenant needs within the current paradigm, which isn’t nothing.  Keeping rents affordable, being flexible with payment plans, or accommodating additional occupants make a real difference!   Super-good landlords mentioned in the book go even further, namely, to voluntarily reduce arrearages, advocate for tenant services, help with family matters or whatever else will keep at-risk tenants housed and stable.   Highlighting these practices should be recognized as valuable whether or not these landlords “step out of this power-imbalanced, post-medieval paradigm to work with others to change it more fundamentally,” as Markovics invites.

It is uplifting to acknowledge how many landlords do act more compassionately than would be expected, albeit in the current paradigm.  Programs across the country that incentivize tenant-friendly practices — such as the Landlord Liaison Project in Seattle, WA — point us in the right direction.  The need to support small landlords as a force for good – they own roughly half the units in the US by the way — should be recognized and met.

That said, I agree with Markovics that the predicament of low income tenants caught unsustainably in the current paradigm should be highlighted – as should be the recognition that much can and should be done to redress inequities perpetuated by this paradigm.

Peter Shapiro

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