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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The New York Times Declares War on Renters

The New York Times Declares War on Renters

Wednesday, 28 August 2013 19:01

A homeowner down the street from me left his dog outside all day in the mid-summer heat. The dog died. Is this supposed to mean that homeowners are irresponsible people who can't be trusted to keep up a neighborhood and use basic common sense? Apparently in the pages of the NYT it does.

The NYT devoted a whole article to complaints that renters who have moved in to homes that were formerly occupied by owner occupants were bringing down the quality of neighborhoods. The piece is full of anecdotes, including one about a dog being tied to a post in the hot summer sun by a renter.

Many of the comments are absurd on their face. For example, the article has a quote from one complaining homeowner:

"Who’s going to paint the outside of a rental house? You’d almost have to be crazy.”

The obvious answer to the question is the landlord. She should want to paint the outside of a rental house since her property will lose value if it is not properly protected from the elements. There are certainly many landlords who do not properly maintain properties, but there are also many homeowners who don't properly maintain properties.

The underlying story missed in this article is that the neighborhoods being discussed have become less desirable. That is why house prices have fallen sharply.The renters who are moving in are likely to have lower incomes and less stable jobs than their neighbors. However if the homes were not rented, then they would either sit vacant, or eventually be sold to homeowners with lower incomes and less stable jobs than their neighbors. The piece wrongly implies that the problem is that the people moving in are renters. (Btw, the story about the dog dying in the heat is unfortunately true.)

Comments (8)Add Comment
written by Last Mover, August 28, 2013 9:02

According to this logic hotels and motels are flop houses. After all, who's going to make up beds and clean baths when they'll just be messed up again by different sloppy renters the next day? No point really is there.
wrong on this one dean
written by pete, August 28, 2013 9:29
I can drive through my neighborhood and with 95% confidence spot the rentals. The lawn is different, mowed less frequently, yardwork different, and, yep, paint could be better. This was the whole point of the Jack Kemp homeownership push, owners take more care, which was hijacked by James Johnson at Fannie and transformed into a fraudulent housing bubble. Bottom line is that agency problems are real, incentives matter. You are correct it is the owners of the rentals, not the renters per se. Simply the fact that live in owners take better care than slumlords.
Tenants vs. Landlords
written by TVeblen, August 28, 2013 9:50
I lived for 18 years as a tenant and now am a homeowner. I've also lived in a college town in houses owned by profs who were landlords. I agree incentives can make a difference - especially when there are none to make a landlord provide heat and hot water in a timely manner. Every tenant and landlord has horror stories about one another. However, for a landlord it is "strictly business" and thus all expenses can be deducted and profits depend on minimizing expenses - especially heat. When I lived in NYC, my landlord had several attorneys on retainer and would move for 3-day eviction if the rent was a day late. I regularly fixed leaky faucets in that apt. and made uncompensated expenditures (e.g., mouse traps, sink drains) to maintain my living space. The bottom line is that the interests of tenants and landlords are incompatible. Don't become a landlord if you can't deal with the business.
That quote is attributed to Bill Rohe
written by Matthew Hersh, August 28, 2013 11:02
You're right on, Dean, but what struck me was that the "who's gonna paint the outside of your house" quote was not a random homeowner but Bill Rohe from UNC. How do you explain, in this case, this shift in academic wisdom when it comes to rental housing's affect on a neighborhood? Hope you're well -- Matt
written by PeonInChief, August 29, 2013 1:23
Many years ago, when my husband and I moved to a new rental, the local neighborhood association called us to welcome us to the neighborhood. When I informed the caller that we rented, he hung up on me. Some years later this same person turned over the traffic triangle over to me for planting, as the homeowners in the neighborhood didn't want to take on the work. Tenants are actually more involved in community and political organizations, but less likely to be involved in the local NIMBY groups, for obvious reasons.

No one ever suggested that the homeowners who abandoned their pets in the foreclosure crisis were representative of all homeowners. But each tenant is responsible for all of them, no matter what the context.

It should also be noted that Tennessee tenants in foreclosed properties have only the protections of the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, and no protections under state law at all. If people want tenants to be part of the community, they should provide legal protections that make them part of same.

To big
written by djt, August 29, 2013 3:26
It's too big a topic on whicj to generalize. We have rented, own a rental, and own our primary residence all in the same town.

Our rental unit is well maintained and brings up the value of the neighborhood in which it is located. The tenant gets a rent discount for maintaining the landscaping and I fix everything immediately. It helps that the unit is only 7 years old.

We rented a house in a neighborhood of million plus dollar houses and our house was the second worst on the block, behind a house inherited by a family. We were on fine terms with the neighbors and were considered on equal footing with the owners on the street. Being young and able bodied and able to help elderly neighbors certainly didn't hurt. The owner of the house let the condition of the dwelling get so bad that we were in a race to buy before it become uninhabitable. I still did lots of repairs, and gave the owner a list annually of things to repair which was ignored except for things that would get the owner fined for not providing a habitable dwelling.

We own near by and maintain our house. There is a rental behind us and we welcome whoever is living there to our street.
written by watermelonpunch, August 29, 2013 5:59
TVeblen wrote:
incentives can make a difference

Enough said.
written by PeonInChief, August 29, 2013 6:40
One note: the review of the literature cited was funded by Harvard's Joint Center for Housing Studies, which is largely funded by the real estate industry. And if you skim the review, you find that many of the works cited have serious, uh, study limitations, as noted by the authors. And these studies always have the problem of comparing apples to oranges--people who have at least some housing stability with people who don't. A simple solution to the problem of housing stability would be just cause eviction and rent control protections.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.