Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships?

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

9:36 AM, 28th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships?

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Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships?

I’ve been writing for P118 for a while now and feel I have connected with enough sane voices here to put forward a slightly more insane idea for reasoned discussion, ideas that have been occurring to me for some time. The possibility that the very term ‘Landlord’ might be damaging relationships between landlords and tenants.

Let’s be blunt, in the main landlords and tenants don’t really like each other as a species. Each party thinks the other has it all their own way, that the law is all on the other one’s side.

Each side puts up anecdotal evidence for supporting their position but step back for a second…..could it be that the very term ‘Landlord’ could be fuelling the problem?

Although a seasoned housing law worker I dont have a law degree. My training is in a field called ‘Cognitive Linguistics’, the branch of science that holds the idea that language both reflects and affects our cognition of life. Where words aren’t merely words, they carry with them concepts that are far more than the sum of their parts.

Take the word ‘Revolutionary’. What does this conjure up for you? A bearded Che Guevara type with a cigar and a rifle? Lenin? Trotsky? What about Trevor Bayliss and his clockwork radio? A revolutionary idea?.

Or how about ‘Conservative’? A member of a political persuasion that is by nature non revolutionary? A quiet person? A traditionalist?

Words both reflect how we make sense of life and influence each other in how we interact with the world. They are so automatic and accepted that we use language without ever thinking about how the words we use are influencing others or how the words they choose to use affects the way we think about our own lives.

I was recently contacted by a really nice landlord who wants to change the way that landlords and tenants view each other. His email prompted me to write this article.

Barry, for that was his name, said to me “I am nobody’s lord and I don’t own any land’. I liked his sentiment.

Much of the resentment felt by tenants towards their landlords is under-pinned by the notion that they have no control over their home and that the control over the most basic of needs, a home, is in the hands of others who think of themselves as ‘Lords’, a word that drags the British psyche back to William the Conqueror and taps into a millennium of ingrained class resentment.

I doubt many readers of P118 see themselves in this medieval position, ‘Landlord’ is merely a word isn’t it? but in cognitive linguistics we see the connections between these things, the words we use routinely and the meaning they convey that isn’t exactly conscious recognition but is a pre-programmed assumption that we don’t question or even consider, it’s innate.

Barry suggested to me that he was happier with the term ‘Rentier’, a French word meaning someone who rents out property. I could see the sense in that, from a linguistic perspective. It’s a dry descriptive term that doesn’t automatically have class distinctions built into it.

Maybe unlike other nations the British are very class sensitive. I have heard that Dads Army is very popular in the USA but I wonder if they get it like we do. It’s a class comedy. I’ll bet the yanks are more pre-occupied with Corporal Jones’s slapstick antics than the underlying hostility between Captain Mainwaring’s grammar school boy made good and Sergeant Wilson’s ‘to the manor born’ aristocratic sense of authority like we Brits automatically understand.

What if the disregard that so many tenants display to their landlords is driven by a deeply felt resentment predicated by the very notion that somebody else is their ‘Lord’? which in itself conjures up other linguistic notions of ‘Lording it’ over other people?

The truth is that the relationship between a landlord and their tenant is a far more evenly based union. A relationship based on mutual need, not power of one over the other. Without property owners the tenant doesn’t have a home and without the tenant the property owner doesn’t have an income.

The term ‘Landlord’ doesn’t reflect that modern reality. The name grew up in a time when there really were Lords who owned land, not merely a terraced house in Rotherham. As Barry said to me “I don’t own any land”.

Those mediaeval lords could also expect certain performances from their tenant, such as military service for 30 days every year.

When the term ‘Landlord’ is used people don’t consciously think of castles and strip farming but it is there, in the back of our racially conditioned minds.

What do you think? Do you reckon, as I do, that some tenants may decide that the landlord can forego their rent this month on the unconscious basis that as a ‘Lord’ they can afford the loss?

Is it possible that tenants might become difficult merely as an unconscious reaction to the notion that another person has control of their lives?

Could the word ‘Landlord’ be behind a lot of the problems between landlords and tenants?

As a Tenancy Relations Officer I do meet people who think that ownership of title (which is what modern landlording really is, not ownership of land) allows them to do what they like to their tenants. The attitude causes an adverse reaction in the tenant which exacerbates the problem and they kick back against what they perceive are attempts to subjugate them, just like Saxon insurgents fighting against the Norman conquest.

The big question here being, to follow Barry’s argument, if the word landlord fell out of fashion and was replaced by the more neutral ‘Rentier’, might many of the problems we traditionally accept between landlords and tenants disappear, or at the very least, ease up a bit?



Comments

10:22 AM, 28th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Personally I feel one of the reasons that the T/LL relationship can be difficult is that LLs only hear negative things from their Ts. When everything is running smoothly (rent being paid on time, no maintenance issues etc) then there is no contact. The only time you really need to talk to your LL is when something negative happens.

It is my experience that a good working relationship with another person comes from having positive interactions to balance any negative interactions with them. I do however think my LL would think I'm a bit nutty if I rang to simply say hi and that everything is OK.

Tony Atkins

19:08 PM, 28th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Nice try Ben, but "rentier" doesn't exactly have positive connotations either, does it? To quote from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rentier_capitalism: "Rentier capitalism is a term used in Maxism and sociology which refers to a type of capitalism where a large amount of profit-income generated takes the form of property income, received as interest, intellectual property rights, rents, dividends, fees or capital gains. The beneficiaries of rentier capitalism are a property-owning social class that, according to Marx, play no productive role in the economy per se, but who monopolize the access to physical or financial assets and technologies. They can make money not from producing goods or services themselves, but purely from their ownership of property or investments (which provide a claim to a revenue stream) and dealing in that property. Often the term rentier capitalism is used with the connotation that it is a form of parasitism or a decadent form of capitalism." Hence the jibe of your average Citizen Smith tenant: "Property is theft".

Tony Atkins

20:10 PM, 28th August 2012
About 6 years ago

How about "house manager" or "house administrator"? Someone who nevertheless, regretfully, has gently to request payment of rent from time to time, as well as make damage deductions from a deposit, pick and choose between those who want to live in the house, etc . . .

22:20 PM, 28th August 2012
About 6 years ago

interesting concept.
' RENTIER ' is not the answer however. the reason I say this is ' RENTER '.
a renter is someone that rents and a rentier would be someone that lets.

someone that lets is .... a let-er ??!! leter ?! letter ?!

no we would have to come up with a new word altogether.

the greek word for renting is enigiazor [ that's someone that rents, as in a tenant. I RENT ]
enigiazumen in someone that lets. I LET

i'm not suggesting using greek words, but there are a lot of languages out there and one of those just may have the perfect answer.

Mark Alexander

0:26 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

It's an interesting thought process this Ben. As you know, I have been intrigued with NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) for years. having said that I've never witnessed the vilification of pub landlords based on their name. Do you think of your pub landlord as a land owning lord of the manor or do you only drink in wine bars?

Ben Reeve-Lewis

2:31 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Haha Paul, Although I fully fess up to be an ex Trotskyist I was totally unaware of Marx's description. I first heard the word from a landlord last week.
I no longer hold most of those beliefs and subscribe to the dictum "All property is theft.....unless it's mine" Which also puts me in mind of the joke, "Why does Tony Benn only drink herbal tea?....Because all Proper-tea is theft"
Nicely pointed out but I still hold to my idea that lingusitically (not politcally) the term contributes a lot to the perceptions that 2 parties to an agreement hold about each other. It isnt just for me as a linguistically inspired tenant to dislike the phrase but as I say some landlords also feel uncomfortable with it. It's medieval and stirs up deeply embedded resentments.
It's small potatoes when you take into account the mass of other problems that go on between landlords and tennats but I think it is a significant point. Words have more significance in how we interact with the world around us than we commonly give them credit for.
I am very concerned at why landlords and tenants seem to hate each other and am constantly looking for ways to address this.
The other day an ex client stopped me in the street and thanked me for some intervention I undertook a couple of years back. as is so often the case I couldnt remember him from all the other clients I deal with and asked him how things had turned out between him and his landlord. He didnt give me any deatils, just smiled and shrugged philosophically, saying "Landlord isnt he", as if a bad landldord was an inevitability.
I found this profoundly depresing that for him and many tenants it is simply a given. Something that goes with the territory.
And then I read posts by landlords on here and Property Tribes etc where landlords often seem to refer to tenants as if they are an occupational hazard, like cleaning scum out of drains and that depresses me too.
I often think that the law, which is my remit, is meaningless in terms of helping landlords and tenants work together and that the deeper malaise is this hatred, mistrust and total disregard for each other is where the real problem lies and I truly believe that the word 'Landlord' helps to maintain the status quo.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

5:00 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Haha. Well as you know Mark I am a Master Practitioner and qualfied NLP trainer and it is never the deep change work that interested me, just the 'L' in NLP, the linguistic bit. It is a relevant point to raise about pub landlords but the context is different, pub landlords dont have any control over people, other than drinking up time.
And I have to confess I do tend to drink in wine bars and trendy pubs these days where the term landlord is never used. Most are called 'Bar managers' which isnt burdened by the weight of history. Maybe it will become so as the centuries progress but not now. Which is my original point about the term Rentier, which despite Tony's creditable research doesnt have a cache outside of donkey jackets, roll ups and black 501s. Even I wasnt aware of it and I have done my fair share of banner waving in the past.
I liike Cosmo's point about Greek wording. IN fact you could invent a word from scratch but the whole point of cognitive linguistics is that once a word or phrase becomes embedded with cultural meaning, and that menaing is negative, its time to recognise that.
Noam Chomsky's work on Transformation Grammar is based on this understanding

Ben Reeve-Lewis

6:03 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

Sorry Tony I meant to reply to you, not Paul. I've had a long day

8:10 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

well if you're thinking of inventing a new word you now have to look at the very process.

the basics; landlords let and tenants rent. that is out starting point.

does anyone know any Latin ?????????
the Latin word for a person that lets property ? a leaser leasor leasee ?!

by the way,
enigiazumen is non specific. could be an agent or the owner, and that is what's required. a non-specific term for a person that lets property regardless of gender or status.

afterall, someone renting out a room in their home is still a landlord/lady.

Kevin Biggins

9:14 AM, 29th August 2012
About 6 years ago

I agree with the sentiment that I am not a lord and only own the title to properties so from now on I shall be introducing myself as the Property Owner to new tenants. Should I change this on my tenancy agreements or would this open a new can of worms? I shall ask my solicitor to which he will raise an eyebrow as to why I should entertain the notion. As an ex soldier, the idea of seeing some of my tenants doing 30 days military service would be rather entertaining.

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