Are landlords just low-key colonialists?

Author: Leah Pattem

As a long-term renter not out of choice, this is pretty much how I see it. But there are fundamental differences and multiple discriminatory factors at play.

Firstly, colonialism is based on racism, which is based on the belief that non-white populations possess distinct characteristics and abilities that make them inferior to white people. For a long time, discrimination against non-white populations has been used to justify the theft of land, natural resources and workforce.

It is also, therefore, important to recognise that it is not possible to be racist towards a white person. Believing this is not only detrimental to achieving ethnic equality, but it also undermines the argument against poverty caused by the neoliberal system that allows the accumulation of property, wealth and power.

In western democratic societies, ownership of property is generally understood as a freedom. This freedom is based on the guaranteed stability needed for a person to participate in and contribute to society – to be educated, to work, to have a family and to vote.

More recently, being able to rent a property has generally been seen as a freedom. This freedom is based on flexibility, allowing a person to participate in and contribute to different societies in different places at different times, depending on the freedom of choice.

However, in the last two decades, since the boom in buy-to-let and, in the last decade, since Airbnb boomed, the freedom to rent has been exploited by those who believe the freedom to own a property is equal to the freedom to rent a property.

This false idea that the landlord-tenant arrangement is a ‘win-win’ gave birth to the property ‘industry’, which made landlords increasingly detached from the fact that the property they own is often not just someone’s temporary residence, it’s their home. Turning someone’s basic needs into a profitable business dehumanises them.

In Europe, property owners have no legal requirement to provide the stability you might expect if you owned your own home and could afford to maintain it. There is also no enforced legal requirement of guaranteeing homes for everyone, which wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem if it weren’t for the existence of the property industry.

Regulation in the property industry hasn’t been updated to match the current crisis of home ownership. As a result, the wealth gap between tenant and landlord is growing to the point where more and more renters are entering a state of relative poverty.

Most of us understand that poverty causes distress and poor mental health. Some people, particularly those out of touch with poorer communities, interpret this poor mental health as delinquency. This supposed delinquency is, in turn, used to vilify and dehumanise entire communities and fuel hate, fear and repulsion towards the poor (aporophobia).

Aporophobia is then used to justify the theft of homes – just like racism is used to justify the theft of land and resources – to then be sold back to the original inhabitants but on new unequal terms.

All colonialists are racist, but not all landlords are aporophobic. But, of course, some are – they’re the ones who don’t fix leaks or replaster mouldy walls. They’re the ones who dehumanise their tenants. But even a property owner with the highest moral compass is still taking away a fundamental freedom from their tenant: the ability to own their own home.

The industrialisation of property has normalised human exploitation in a democracy. The property industry is immoral and has no place in a democracy.

The solution

If we truly want everyone to be able to participate in and contribute to society, we must guarantee homes for everyone. To do that, we must radically disperse property accumulation by prohibiting private landlords from owning a home that is not their own.

Having a home shouldn’t be a freedom, it is a basic human right.

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