15:14 PM, 7th March 2012, About 11 years ago 14
Before I got sucked into housing I trained in Cognitive Linguistics, the study of how language can be used to show how we make sense of the world, our beliefs and interpretations of a larger reality.
One of the leading Cognitive Linguists of the 20th Century is a towering intellectual of a man called Noam Chomsky, who I once had the amazing fortune to meet in a hotel whilst attending a conference. We spent the night playing pool together in a Manchester pub and swapping dirty jokes without me realising who he was, the man whose work I was basing my entire dissertation on. Imagine how stoopid I felt the next day. (I mis-heard his name and thought he was just a lonely yank called ‘Noel’)
Noam promoted what he called ‘Transformational Grammar’. The science of how words can be used to frame an opinion. Many people twisted his work and created political correctness out of it, which was never Noam’s intention. He was very interested in how words can convey ideas but not in the narrow way that so many people use PC.
As humans we are very lazy with words. Did you know that there are approximately 1 million words in the OED but the average person has a vocabulary of only 3,000? This means we often lack the words to convey more subtle meaning and stoop to clichés when communicating for want of a better word or phrase. For example, apparently the Eskimos have 40 different words for snow, which describe the subtle nuances of an element that is important to their lives. Maybe we in housing should have something similar.
What prompted these thoughts are the responses to my last article on P118 when I was voicing my concerns about the term ‘Rogue Landlord’ being promoted by Shelter. It made me think “What are the words or phrases we could use that wouldn’t make pantomime villains of a variety of landlord types and behaviours?”
Rogue is not a word I object to, it’s an apt description for certain types of behaviour but I would only use it to describe those willful types I mentioned in my previous article who don’t care about the law or the tenants’ rights. Only very serious penalties would stop them in their tracks.
But in the interests of a clearer understanding how about:-
The Lambs to the slaughter: Those new landlords who couldn’t sell their property so decide to rent instead without the slightest clue about the renting world. They sit in tears in an interview room when you explain how it works.
The Arthurs Daleys: Landlords who kind of know how it works but take a chance on breaking rules if they can get away with it. Not particularly nasty, just a bit cowardly. The type who change the locks but when you ring them up they confide, almost cheerily that they didn’t mean it, they just wanted to make the tenant answer the phone and of course they can have the key back this afternoon, completely oblivious to the fact that they have just committed a criminal offence.
The Church Mouse: The landlords who claim to be so strapped for cash that they can’t afford to mend that boiler despite sympathising with the tenant. They tend to employ really crappy but cheap maintenance people who always paint over condensation or use ‘Boss-White’ to fix a major leak.
The Lord of the Manor: The landlords who can’t see why the law applies to them because ownership of property is the only defining principal. Like the landlord I once spoke to who said “You aren’t seriously telling me that there are laws that tell a man what he can and can’t do with his own property? They’d laugh you out of court man”. To which my reply was “See you in court then. I like a laugh”.
The Sky is falling: Usually landlords who are renting out property that used to be the family home. They can never let go of that fact and are obsessed with their tenant’s cleanliness, or just the way they occupy the property. They are devastated at every unwashed pot or pair of pants on the floor when they visit. They are completely unable to let go of how it looked when they grew up there and as a result have a really miserable time of it.
The Human Carpet: The landlords who have an inordinate sense of faith in human nature, despite all evidence to the contrary. They accept excuse after excuse from their tenants about why they can’t pay that week, my mum died, the cat died, the cat ate my pay cheque before it died. They end up getting repossessed and still blame themselves.
The Wannabe: The landlord who constantly boasts about how well they are doing and how many properties they have but have completely maxed themselves out and have no expendable cash to do repairs or cover rent arrears. They harass and illegally evict tenants because they can’t afford to do anything else and constantly defer to their solicitor when in fact they can’t afford to retain one and are just trying it on. Easy to spot, 3 times a minute they say “I’m a businessman”.
The Buddha: The landlords who take everything as it comes, never take arrears or bad behaviour personally, shrug at every broken sink, smile resignedly at every trashed room. They are in it for the long haul. My favourites, I could give you a list of lovely men and women.
The Pro: Big portfolio landlords with the clout and the financial backing and who run it as strictly business. Like the Buddha, nothing is personal but they don’t actually shrug much. They calculate and work out the bottom line constantly. Again, nice people to do business with, just don’t take them on at Monopoly.
The Gangsters: People who get into property precisely because it provides them with an additional opportunity to push people around. Money is at the bottom of it and they are similar to the Lord of the Manor. The aim is to make as much money from property as they can in the shortest possible time and with total disdain for laws or tenant’s rights.
Getting serious for a minute, for me these guys are the real rogues who I think deserve the name. I deal with an alarming amount of these. All the other stereotypes I mention here are just different styles and anyone in my game adapts to fit.
Yes I’m being provocative with you guys, but with my tongue firmly in my cheek. When I started I thought I would balance it out with a list of tenant types but then I thought you might be better placed for that one.
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