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Landlord vs. Slumlord: What’s the difference?

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a landlord is “the owner of property that is leased or rented to another.” As any longtime rental property owner can testify, being a landlord isn’t always a popular job. Tenants and neighborhood residents alike, often treat them with disdain. However, not all landlords are created equal. Whether local resident or cross-country investor, quality landlords can do a lot of good in a neighborhood. In fact, the are just as important to neighborhood stability as owner occupants. But the less seemly side to the landlord coin, the slumlord, can turn a great block into a nightmare.  Webster’s defines a slumlord as “a landlord who receives unusually large profits from substandard properties.” And, boy, do those slumlords ever give the rest of the landlording community a bad name. The actions of this unfortunate minority have done much to damage the image of quality landlords.

In the real world, even the best of landlords with a  larger portfolio will have properties that are not in the best of condition. That is the nature of the business. It can sometimes take years to get a property in proper running order. A lack of high-quality units and tenants does not make one a slumlord. A slumlord can even own high quality units and get high rents. The key ingredient to being a slumlord is simply NOT CARING.

A slumlord acts as a parasite; sucking out every cent they can from their properties and tenants. Repairs are only addressed when absolutely necessary, such as when the City threatens condemnation. The only thing they care about is keeping the profits coming. The long-term viability of the property, effect on the neighborhood and safety of their tenants is not even a consideration. Keeping the rent coming in is the only important thing.

A landlord shares, more of a symbiotic relationship with other parties. Profits are obviously a major concern, but maintaining a quality product remains a vital necessity. They recognize that keeping high quality buildings attracts higher rents, tenant stability and political and neighborhood capital, in addition to higher property values. Tenants are happy because they live in a nice building run by a person that actually seems to care. The City and neighborhood are happy because the building benefits the neighborhood. The landlord is happy because they have an easy to run, quality investment, with little to trouble them. Everyone is winner.

Unfortunately, the distinctions between landlord and slumlord are not obvious to the masses. This generalization may prove difficult to impossible to remedy, so the best that can be done to demonstrate that all landlords don’t deserve such a poor label is to lead by example. Keep those around you happy and you will able to laugh all the way to the bank. And still sleep at night.

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3 Responses to Landlord vs. Slumlord: What’s the difference?

  1. City guest July 27, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    Section 8 property managers are Slumlords.

    • Matt Kastner July 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

      Some of them are for sure. But there a more good than bad. The biggest issue with Section 8 is it’s inconsistent operation. Even good landlords can run into a wall when dealing with a voucher from the St. Louis City office, but the St. Louis County office is not too bad. The whole inspection and payment system leaves much to be desired. It is bad enough that many good landlords stay away, which might lead to your impression.

  2. Sum of Torques January 3, 2015 at 1:34 pm #

    My property owner and manager both knew that my roof had been leaking for several months and did nothing and the ceiling crashed in this morning. Is that a slumlord?

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