Photo-Illustration: by Curbed; Getty Images
Last month, real estate journalist Rebecca Baird-Remba was writing an innocuous story about a commercial lease when an automated suggestion popped up in Google docs. “Inclusive warning”, he said. “Some of these words may not be inclusive for all readers.” The word was owner. Google suggested he try it instead owner Where owner.
Baird-Remba tweeted a screenshot, prompting dozens of gags about landlords as a protected class. (People jokingly proposed Landlxrd and american landedeven though Google’s AI was probably faltering owner as a gendered term.) But at least one guy, a rental housing economist in Dallas named Jay Parsons, responded seriously. He “would love to see @AP finally remove the term ‘proprietary’ from their style guide,” he wrote, as it’s a “dumb term from the middle ages.” Socket owner out of The Associated Press Style Book seems to be a sort of pet cause: “Look around for rental industry groups and individual property manager websites,” he wrote last November, and “no one uses the term of “owner” anywhere”.
But everyone does it, everywhere. Interest groups, professional associations and government still use the word owner. Our New York State Attorney General uses it, and our city’s Department of Social Services uses it. There’s even a social networking platform here, the “first social network exclusively for property owners and managers,” called LandlordsNY. His Twitter account recently posted that “the voice of owners must be heard! »
Yet our concerned property economist is not entirely alone in his desire to reform the language around property. On the Bigger Pockets owners forum, someone named Susan said that she was “looking for new and innovative ideas to replace the term ‘owner’.” Not all of the answers were helpful: “Considering you’re from ultra-liberal Oregon,” the user replied, “Your question doesn’t surprise me at all.” (The user then advised Susan to get over it: “Go work on your next tenancy instead. I’ll serve you much better. BTW – My tenants just call me a $$hole. I love it. LOL.” ) Someone on ReinvestorTimes.com thinks the term should be Lander owner. “I cringe when I hear it and when I say it, but it’s really hard to find a word that describes the owner-operator of a handful of rental properties,” they say. Although owner is still very much alive, a niche within the industry seems to be emerging: the owner complex about being called an owner.
Last year, writer Adam Johnson noticed a local Chicago news article that repeatedly used housing provider instead, as well as a Columbus Dispatch editorial claiming the term owner “helps paint housing providers as bad guys.The pandemic eviction moratoriums sparked a cycle of these kinds of opinion pieces, many of which featured headlines with some version of the slogan “Homeowners Are People Too.” (In Pittsburgh, you can attend an “Owners Are Too Active People” Happy Hour and in Michigan, you can buy an “Owners Are Too People Too” t-shirt.)
A company called FBS Property Management in San Diego devotes an entire section of its website to encouraging homeowners to use housing provider“We don’t consider ourselves owners,” the page reads. “That’s such a harsh term to describe what we do. We are housing providers. Landlords are those who refuse to take care of the property or do not follow fair housing laws. Housing providers are people who adhere to high ethics and best practices. This is an attempt to recast an economic transaction in social service, much like human resources managers have become “personnel managers”.
Lucinda Lilley, vice president of FBS, told me the decision to publish the guide last year came after a particularly heated meeting of the county board of supervisors over the extension of San Diego’s eviction moratorium. “Housing providers have been attacked,” she says. At the meeting, she explains, “the calls from tenants’ rights groups and the horrible things they said about anyone who owns rental property actually hurt me deeply…” The landlords are awful. The owners are only capitalists. We spend our time helping people and providing them with accommodation. ” Thereby, housing provider.
Landlord language has always been slippery and full of doublespeak to soften the harsh reality of for-profit housing. Self-help evictiona bizarre euphemism for illegal (as if landlords who break the law are just helping themselves), is one example. Mom and dad has often been affixed to owner to describe people who rent a single room in their accommodation but also those who own up to ten buildings. The semantic debate over their very job title speaks to the apparent unease some landlords feel about their business model – housing as a commodity. It’s not sound nice to control if another person can have shelter, especially when that shelter becomes crucial to surviving a pandemic. Moratoriums on evictions, local and federal, combined with growing housing shortages, rising market rents and the inability to afford home ownership, have pushed an already strained and delicate relationship into new contentious waters. . An owner of eight rental properties in North Carolina blogged about her hatred of the two owner and tenant because, in her words, “I don’t believe there is a hierarchy in the relationship between me, the owner, and our clients who choose to rent our homes,” she writes. Except that the hierarchy is very real, and very clear. As Oksana Mironova, a writer and researcher at the Community Service Society of New York puts it, “a conversation about power becomes more of a conversation about who is being mean to someone else.”
Despite their feelings of persecution, it’s a good time to be a landlord. New York’s “good cause” eviction law is likely dead for this legislative session. Bidding wars have let tenants raise their own rents just to secure a spot. For landlords in the market, “rental price gains have accelerated to new highs” in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens, according to a recent Douglas Elliman report. And landlords of rent-stabilized units were recently granted their biggest rent hike in a decade by the city’s board of directors, despite complaining it wasn’t enough. On the other side, tenants – most New Yorkers – pay 30% of their income to their “housing provider”, month after month. Of course, not all owners are hung up on their name. Dustin Heiner, who coaches other real estate investors through his website and podcast, Main Passive Income, says he doesn’t care. “If someone doesn’t like the word owner or they use the word owner in a negative way, it’s probably true,” he told me. “The owner is probably bad.”