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Blog - John Oliver on Rent in June of 2022

John Oliver's "Last Week Tonight" is one of the few Youtube channels I bother to subscribe to. If you can stomach the profanity, each episode is a genuinely well researched piece on something we could improve on, and how we might go about making those improvements. At least some of my motivation for doing what I am doing comes from Mr. Oliver and the team at Last Week Tonight and I was very interested in seeing what he had to say about rental housing. I've embedded the episode below if you'd like to watch it yourself.

What Mr. Oliver seems to suggest is that we should pass laws to prevent landlords from taking advantage of tenants and to provide competent representation in housing court to those facing eviction. He showcased a lack of empathy for the tenants exemplified by a few people in the rental property space.

I have not done the research that Oliver's team has, so I can't speak to the general situation, but I am a renter, and I have been a renter for as long as I've lived outside my parents' home. My experience is not much different than he suggests. At the least, I can say I'm just a source of revenue to the people I'm renting from. Were I to fall on hard times, they would not hesitate to remove me from the property.

I had one problem with a check I wrote that the bank paid, but the landlord said bounced. In the end, the problem sorted itself out for the most part, but not until I had gone to a lot of trouble to talk with my bank, produce records and as many documents as I could, and have all that effort come to nothing. I double paid the rent using a money order since they would not take another check, and I'm still out the returned check charge. I don't know how I got credit for the first payment applied. It just sort of happened. I can't help but think about that whole mess and think I can do better. I can treat people better than that. If someone rented from me for 5 or 10 years and had one problem in all that time, I could give the benefit of the doubt.

I believe in the concept of Noblesse Oblige, that people in a higher position have an implied responsibility to those below them. Renting a home to someone implies a responsibility to maintain the home and to act in the best interests of the people who live in it just as renting a home implies that you will not abuse the property to the detriment of the owner and that you will make a good faith effort to pay rent on time. If a good faith tenant can not meet their obligations, it's up to the landlord to make every effort to find an amicable solution before initiating an eviction. It is also up to the landlord to keep the rent reasonable and within the means of the person or people they chose to rent to.

A business is still a business and the line has to be drawn before it becomes a charity, but I still think there is a lot of room for a business to be more understanding or forgiving than is the current norm. I don't want to be a business that people can walk all over, but neither do I want to be so rigid and profit motivated that I think it's OK to forget my financial success is derived from the tenants I already have and that I should be looking out for them, not looking to replace them.