In defense of ‘landlord’

Why the term ‘landlord’ continues to be essential to rental housing

Danielle Kerrigan

Published in Issue 6.1 // The Long Read

Keywords: Landlord, tenant, housing provider, rent


In Ohio and California, legislators have proposed replacing the terms ‘landlord’ and ‘tenant’ in rental regulations. Landlords and landlord lobbyists argue that the feudal origins of the term don’t reflect the contemporary reality of renting. How seriously should tenant organizers, housing researchers and policymakers take these efforts to move on from ‘landlord’? While in their relative infancy, I argue that efforts to rebrand the term expand beyond name changes in organizations to media and legislation. They also seek to obfuscate and muddle what is increasingly one of the key social relations of survival, the landlord-tenant relationship, in order to preserve and expand landlord power and prevent or complicate increased regulation or oversight. To support this conclusion, this paper makes use of a key document analysis of a variety of published sources including proposed legislation, news articles and opinion pieces, and academic articles. Landlords’ (flawed) arguments for change, rest particularly on their claims that landlord-tenant relations are a transaction like any other in which landlords work to provide a simple service to consumers with free agency. I counter that, in fact, landlords and tenants are in an inherently antagonistic and unequal power relationship (Kerrigan & Wachsmuth, 2023), more akin to feudal relations than to the neutrality or even benevolence associated with alternative terms. As such, retaining ‘landlord’ remains essential; to discard it is to discard years of successful tenant organizing and campaigns that continue to highlight the exploitative relationship at the core of landlord-tenant relations to this day.

Danielle Kerrigan is a postdoctoral fellow at Simon Fraser University’s Department of Geography and a member of deutsche wohnen und co enteignen’s Right to the City AG. She recently completed a PhD in Urban Planning at McGill University. Her work focuses on landlord-tenant relations, landlord organizing, and rental housing policy.

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