I apologize for getting on my soapbox here, but most of you are either landlords or spend more than 40 hours a week representing landlords or working with them. If you don’t fall into one of the above categories, you probably will not want to read this blog post.
I recommend that you read this recent article about Matt Desmond, the author of Evicted and now the author of Poverty. It is called “Princeton’s Matthew Desmond Gets Everything Wrong About Poverty’s Root Causes” authored by Aaron Brown. It points out that Desmond’s analysis of statistics is poor, his conclusions are overly simple (for this complex world), and his engaging stories don’t always support his conclusions.
I wish the article had also addressed the fact that out of all the landlords that Desmond interviewed for his book, Evicted, he chose to focus on one that wouldn’t talk to him and another that failed miserably as a landlord, about which Desmond decided not to mention in his book.
Inner city landlord “Sharena” was one landlord that Desmond focused on in Evicted. What was never mentioned however is that Sharena lost all her inner-city rental properties to the city for failing to pay her real estate taxes PRIOR to Evicted being published. Why omit such an important fact if it came to light prior to your book being published? Probably because the failure of one of Desmond’s two main landlords and her inner-city rental empire wouldn’t support one of his hypotheses (not to mention a catchy slogan) that “The Hood is Good” (i.e., profitable) for landlords. If the “Hood was so Good” for landlords, why did Sharena end up losing all her rental properties? If the Hood was so Good for landlords, wouldn’t Sharena be making so much money that she could pay her real estate taxes? Aaron Brown in the above-linked article addresses this issue and points out that it is not easy owning and managing rental properties in the inner-city and very few landlords are willing to do it for a myriad of reasons, and even fewer succeed. During my 28 years of representing landlords, I have had many a client think that they would strike it rich when they purchased properties in the inner city. Most of them failed and are no longer landlords. The “Hood is Good” is a catchy slogan but it is not accurate. It is very difficult owning and managing rentals in Milwaukee’s inner-city.
The second landlord that Desmond chose to focus on in his book, an owner of a mobile home park on the South side, never even spoke to Desmond. Nor did Desmond speak to any of that landlord’s employees. The fact that this owner would not speak to Desmond was downplayed in the book. Not being able to talk to this owner apparently made him a perfect landlord to focus on for Desmond. If the landlord won’t speak to you then you don’t have to worry about the landlord telling you facts or stories that might contradict your hypothesis (or conclusion?)
What about the other 10+ landlords that Desmond interviewed and who were willing to talk to him? Many of you know Tim Ballering who owns Affordable Rentals which owns and manages more than 700 units in the 53204 zip code. Tim is very involved in the Rental Property Association of Wisconsin (RPA) and is extremely involved in the industry. Tim knows more about Wisconsin’s landlord-tenant law then I do. Tim has great ideas and sees the big picture and has practical real-world ideas on how to solve the problems that we are facing in the housing industry. He would have been a perfect subject for Desmond to focus on in Evicted. And most importantly, Tim’s was willing to talk with Desmond. He was even interviewed by Desmond but was relegated to a footnote. Wouldn’t it have been more prudent (ethical?) to choose to focus on a landlord who would speak with you and provide you with information. My assumption is that Tim’s, as well as the other willing landlords’, stories, facts, and experiences didn’t support Desmond’s pre-ordained conclusion that the “Hood Is Good” and that landlords are bad. It’s much easier to talk about and profile a landlord that doesn’t talk and another that likes to brag about herself and her abilities and who failed miserably (but fail to mention that last part).
Please spend the time to read the article linked above.