Might the word ‘Landlord’ be damaging relationships?Make Text Bigger
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?
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