Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Name Of The Landlord

Terminate with extreme prejudice.
Ethnic cleansing.

Just a few of the neologisms and new phrases which have seeped into our daily vocabulary and the collective consciousness. The words we use control how we see the world and alters our behaviour to the people living in it. Some phrases restyle the world for the better, others terms sanitise and mask appalling actions.

Language matters. I am mirroring the esteemed Ben Reeves Lewis, who has mooted changing the names of those who own and manage property they have inherited, or bought to let out to tenants (aka landlords and landladies.)

Say the word landlord and what’s the first image to appear in your mind’s eye? A wry man with a handlebar moustache serving real ale? Or a Rigsby-stile Rachmanite who wallows in your discomfort at insecurity, damp and disrepair?

Landlord is a term loaded with baggage and preconceptions. A landlord sounds privileged – even aristocratic. No wonder many feel they are the actual rulers of their estate (ie our home). The name gives pretensions of grandeur: might be why some owners imagine that inspecting a flat once a month with just one days notice is an absolute right. Some imagine they can turn up whenever they want to. ‘It’s my property – I can do whatever I want’ being the usual excuse.

Or take landlady – a word weighed down by notions of east-end pubs, and doughty woman of uncertain age who can pull a pint with one hand and free-style wrestle troublemakers to the ground with the other. It does not suggest besuited professionals who have invested in several homes while gently accruing equity wealth, managing several homes and rallying recalcitrant contractors.

Ownership is about power, and the power relation between landlord and tenant is complex and fraught. Landlords seem, by all they do, to require constant reassurance that they can reclaim their property whenever they want to. Tenants, meanwhile, want to stay. That little ‘…lord’ makes the situation seem ever more complicated, but tenants should feel no more beholden to their landlord than shoppers do the manager of their local supermarket.

This is a world where some Rentiers (to steal wholesale Ben’s suggestion) certainly don’t hold with this ‘call me Dave’ mentality, and can insist on proper titles (usually Mr, although Sir is declining…along with your Landlordship) that’s if we ever find out the real names of these enigmatic overlords. Landlords are mysterious. We are shielded from them. Letting agents are increasingly hiding owners by assuming their identity on the rental agreement. Research is necessary to ascertain who actually owns the building, while being paid for our right to occupy the space.

But I quite like rentier - Ben Reeves-Lewis’ solution, although my own (kind, fair and responsible) landlady has the last word on this point, and recently emailed to say:

‘I've been thinking. I hate the term landlord (I don't have a wiener), and landlady makes me sound doubled up and old and smelly. So my new title, given my love of all things retro and 40/50s, shall be Landgirl !!!! Plus, that makes me sound all headscarfed and pro-active. That is all :-)’

She wants to be called Landgirl and I would never dare argue. So Landgirl it is then.


Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

In being quoted as "Esteemed" I feel duty bound to comment. That's the power of words for you.

I wrote about this a while back prompted by a nice landlord I spoke to who also said he felt uncomfortable with the term. he said "I dont own any land and I'm nobody's lord". An eminently sensible view I thought, so I wrote an article on the importance of words for landlord website Property 118 but most people seemed to think I was joking.

I'll reiterate my point here by simply saying that landlords and tenants usually hate each other and one of the reasons for that is the inbuilt sense of power and control that exists that nobody really thinks about. Words are an outward expression of that.

I recently got into an altercation at work with a particularly loathsome character who was trying to cajole me to produce statistics for him when I was dealing with an illegal eviction. He said "I'm telling you as your manager" but I didnt let him finish, replying "And I'm telling you as another employee of this council".

Manager is merely another job title it doesnt imbue the bearer with special powers, but for some people the name comes with the power as an automatic right, which is why I think the term landlord can damage landlord/tenant relations

space cadet said...

Thank God for this blog, and for keeping me sane. I've long thought the same; about landlords, and managers for that matter. That implied (and so often assumed) sense of status and entitlement, riles me to the core.

I also think anyone who says "my time is precious" is a plank of the highest order. (so, mine isn't?) But really, that's an aside.

Dazzla said...

"This is a world where some Rentiers (to steal wholesale Ben’s suggestion) certainly don’t hold with this ‘call me Dave’ mentality, and can insist on proper titles (usually Mr, although Sir is declining…)"


Any landvulture who insisted that I call him 'Mr' let alone 'Sir' would quickly find himself having to become accustomed to a rather different sort of title. I don't even call the directors of the companies I supply 'Mr'.

Respect is earned, not bought or demanded.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

@Space Cadet, that phrase annoys me too.

One of my favourite lines from a film comes from American Beauty when Kevin Spacey's fed-up character is sitting at his desk and his oily manager pokes his head around the door and says with fake sincerity "Hey Lester? Have you got a minute", to which Spacey replies equally mock cheerfully "For you Brad? I've got 5"

I've been waiting my whole life to use that one at work haha

RenterGirl said...

I should have sounded the sarcasm klaxon, Dazzla... But once had landlord who visited and intorduce dhimself and his shrewish wife as Mr and Mrs... didn't last. And yes, words matter. And Ben: I hope you get to say that!

Dazzla said...

Slightly off-topic, the best workplace retort to office piffle that I've ever heard:

"Come on, Eoin. There's no 'I' in 'team'"

"No, but there's a 'u' in c**t"

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Love it Dazzla, There is a manager at my workplace with the exact same spelling of Eoin hmmm

I have a regular landlord who harassess his tenants and always makes it sound like he is above that kind of behaviour and is always trying to play a rank game. Every letter he sends me is signed "Dr Ibrahim Neuro-Surgeon" and I always sign my responses "Ben Reeve-Lewis Council Worker" haha

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Oh and the other element that always makes me laugh is the daft excuses landlords come up with for explaining why they arent harassing their tenants, the most common one I here is a patronising "You dont understand, I cannot lie, I'm a Christian". Usually delivered with open palms and raised eyebrows to feign astonishment at the allegation.

One I had the other day was a landlord denying receiving rent from his tenant, saying there were arrears of £2,000. The rent was £675 a month and the tenant had bank statements showing that sum going from his bank account to the landlord on the due rent day. When I confronted him with this he said that he had lent his tenant money for student fees and he was paying him back, just coincidentally on the same day and the same amount as the rent

space cadet said...

So many landlords are just deceitful and stupid. I don't even think it is the *minority* any more.