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Abuse of Power, Slumlords and Their Victims

Updated on December 15, 2013

As in other areas of life, homes are made at several levels and each has a life pattern and cycle until death.

High end homes are often custom made and are the reserve of CEOs heads of banks, presidents, tycoons and a few careful lotto winners. The rest can only dream.
High end homes are often custom made and are the reserve of CEOs heads of banks, presidents, tycoons and a few careful lotto winners. The rest can only dream.
The high end middle class home is the reserve of upper level management, bureaucrats, ministers and the like.
The high end middle class home is the reserve of upper level management, bureaucrats, ministers and the like.
a large number of people, unable to get a mortgage to acquire a home, are forced to rent and pay the landlord's mortgage. Apartments come at all levels from high end to low end.
a large number of people, unable to get a mortgage to acquire a home, are forced to rent and pay the landlord's mortgage. Apartments come at all levels from high end to low end.
This old high-rise is just one step from being an out right slum.
This old high-rise is just one step from being an out right slum.
A huge number of people in the world live in "self made" slums and have not other choice.
A huge number of people in the world live in "self made" slums and have not other choice.
The final stage of a building is abandonment. Homeless squatters often take up residence in such places. The movie Midnight Cowboy shows such a scenario.
The final stage of a building is abandonment. Homeless squatters often take up residence in such places. The movie Midnight Cowboy shows such a scenario.
Abandoned buildings like this can be found in every city. Many are unsafe, are boarded up and are stained with the dirt of eons of dereliction. There are owners holding these properties against better times.
Abandoned buildings like this can be found in every city. Many are unsafe, are boarded up and are stained with the dirt of eons of dereliction. There are owners holding these properties against better times.
The sub-prime crisis of 2008-09 has generated a lot of scenes like this all over north America.
The sub-prime crisis of 2008-09 has generated a lot of scenes like this all over north America.
When all housing options run out, a person ends up homeless and lives their private life in the open, subject to harassment and bullying.
When all housing options run out, a person ends up homeless and lives their private life in the open, subject to harassment and bullying.

In the rush for profits to cover spiralling expenses, property owners may resort to ever more desperate measures.

Is this the kind of world we want to create? The very things we accused the Soviet Union of doing has now become our experience over the last two decades. We have devolved into a world of snooping, ratting and rich ostentation where the rich live like gods flaunting their wealth and power while the poor rot in the Rich’s garbage and absorb their contempt. Workplaces and residential complexes are increasingly run like prison camps. Even the rich must sequester themselves behind barriers and bars complete with cameras and guards to keep “the rabble” out. I relate here an account that is no doubt common in the world, judging by what is displayed on the international, national and regional news. The reasons for the abominable state of most peoples’ living quarters are mired in the capitalist swamp of profit and legalese bafflegab. The ruling elite in their run and grab for power and wealth don’t give a damn how miserable their subjects are and this runs right to the home front. There is an endless parade of shoddy construction, shoddy or lack of repairs and upkeep, evictions on a whim, arbitrary and non-justifiable rent increases, intimidation and harassment to the levels of a threat to life and limb let alone peace and quiet. In addition, when the renter is a victim of a clearly illegal activity and attempts to obtain police assistance, they are told “Well what do you expect. Why are you living there?” That becomes the sum of their assistance. Should the landlord request police assistance, the tenant can expect a police escort onto the street as the court bailiff throws out their possessions after them. After a new rental complex is built, it devolves in a series of steps until it is “redeveloped.” From the high profile and desirable place, to a run of the mill rental, to a slum quarters, to a target of block busting, squatting and demolition, this is the life of a typical land holding. In fact, we can trace this de-evolution right back to what happened to the first nations and the “Trail of Tears.” The Sub-prime crisis was in fact another form of this, with the banks as the landlord, only in this case, some places were relatively new.

In the beginning, before the development of civilization, humanity shared the same natural rights as the rest of natural beings. Every individual born into nature had equal access to the land, sea, air and the resources. Despite pecking orders that naturally occur in many species, the foregoing still holds true in the majority of cases. Universal and equal rights disappear when selecting a quality breeding mate comes to the fore. In that situation, there is a contest to be the best and to obtain the best mate for a chance at producing the best offspring. Otherwise, the individuals in the group such as grazing buffalo all share the plain and browse for food where they can and will. The only controlling factor is the environment. In prey animals, such as lions, the dominant cat will take the choice part of the kill and when the cat has had its fill, the rest is turned over to the pride. In the interior of Australia where the kangaroo forage, live and reproduce, the dominant male may be deposed by a stronger younger one and forced into an area of poor quality browse. Otherwise, most individuals share the plains equally.

Human beings originally lived in co-operative groups. They had to in order to survive. With the development of agriculture and surplus food came the concept of the value of given land, specifically to grow food to feed the whole group. Just because some had food was no guarantee that they could use it as others who had none, would target those who had it and use bully tactics to obtain it for themselves. Thus, surplus food became an object of competition. Some groups became reliant on force as a means to take what others had worked to produce. Extended and evolved through history and we end up with land holders and serfs who have no right by threat and force to the land they find themselves on than to work it for the advantage of the land holder. Land holding became enshrined into law and thus we have the evolution in civilized society, landlords and those who one way or another, pay to use the land by some kind of tax, rent or overturning of what they produce.

Modern capitalist society has become very complex and land use has evolved well beyond just space for growing surplus food. Land use now includes mining, harvesting of wild resources like trees, oil drilling, manufacturing, building of cities with offices, apartments and houses and factories. It is even used for military and exploration purposes such as in the space program. Those who own it by a long line of inheritance from the original expropriators, decide who gets to use it, for what purpose and how much of a payment they will receive for the temporary use of the land. All of this is enshrined in law and protected by threat and force. During revolutionary periods, the land is seized from the land holders.

I relate a personal story that may strike a chord of similarity with your experience or of someone you know. My story starts right at the get go of moving into an older building. From the outset, the landlord’s agent took exception to me and my partner from moving in because he frowned on anyone with a handicap and further, he had designs on my lover and partner of more than 25 years. To put it mildly, he was obnoxious in the extreme, giving himself access to my locked living space at his whim and leisure. Further, he obscenely shouted at our guests as they left after a visit and this in my plain view, which triggered an outburst of protest on my part. We had prior to this and thereafter, a long standing alienation due to his attitude and conduct. At that time in the mid 1990’s there were laws that required advance written notice to gain entry into a tenant’s private space. He “invited” himself into our living space on a whim and without prior notice. We have it on the word of previous tenants that money and alcohol would disappear when they were out. The previous agent was also self confessed while drunk to bilking money out of the government, for which he worked as an administrator by claiming pay from previous and now dead employees as well as raiding the petty cash for thousands of dollars. When he finally died of heart failure at the end 2001, the new landlord’s agent took over and began her own campaign of harassment. This attack has been relentless as has been the lack of attention in dealing with issues such as heating, peace and quiet, privacy and security. Requests to the landlord/owner and police have fallen on deaf ears as the situation remains essentially unchanged. Requests for letters to allow basic cable service have been denied by deferring needed paperwork indefinitely. All this has been aided and abetted by a capitalist capitulating government.

Capitalist methods of dealing with their “subjects” are rooted deeply in history. In fact, landlords are nothing new at all. The acquisition of land for growing space, food, wealth, industry, slaves and other needs is as old as the history of invasion, conquest and acquisition of wealth. One need only turn back the pages of history to see how the Persians, Romans, Greeks, Christians and Muslims handled these issues. No one was above using dirty tricks to affect their desires. “Property is theft” so said Proudhon. In an uncertain world, the powerful and wealthy wanted as much security and certainty as possible and this came at the expense of the populace at large. This tactic runs the gamut of experience in this class divided prison house of nations to paraphrase Lenin!

The contemporary methodology is predicted on maximum profit and minimum expense. Recall that in order to maintain a profit margin, the capitalist must continually expand their enterprise while keeping expenses to a minimum. All the while, the profit margin shrinks due to having to maintain an ever growing empire. Eventually, when the resource base has been exhausted and no more expansion is possible, then the business must resort to deception or collapse, which in the last part is inevitable anyway. For the landlord, expansion means the acquisition of more and more land, which means that someone else who is using the land must forfeit their right thereto in favor of expansion, or accumulation of land en-masse into fewer and fewer hands. This expansionism is done through “due process of law” and/or by outright force using strong arm tactics and militaristic intervention. What occurred in European history during the precursor to the and throughout the industrial revolution is now going on in China it its bid to be a world market player. Many people lose their right to the land, ending up destitute and having only their labor power to sell in order to feed, clothe and house them. They must increasingly turn to the very people who robbed them in the first place. This is the history of the travesty of justice. The peasants and their offspring eventually return to the very people that evicted them by force in order to rent substandard lodgings at exorbitant prices. They have nowhere else to go except the street or prison. The new “owners” of land now by force of the state can do as they please. This practice reaches its pinnacle in the company town.

As capitalists, landlords are seeking ways to expand their profit margin. If they find themselves limited to new territory, they borrow a page out of military industrial complex warfare where old markets are destroyed to make way for new ones. Witness the two world wars of the last century in this epoch of capitalist unraveling. This has of course, serious ramifications to all tenants and renters. Typically the formula is this. In a market where the entire land base has been absorbed, old buildings, which are expensive to maintain and run, become the target of block busting. When this is accomplished, building commences anew. When the new residence is finished, it is sold to the highest biding residents as high end accommodation. Many amenities are included as an inducement to attract suitable investors/tenants. Now that the new building is filled, the “natural process” of the end of the gold standard funny money under capitalism guarantees the eventual demise of even this new high flung enterprise in the cycle of profiteering, destruction, rebuilding and profiteering. When the residence is filled to capacity and wear and tear sets in, it takes about 30 years before the entire complex degenerates to the next level as a run of the mill establishment.

Now the establishment of the run of the mill residence is at the stage where costs start to mount and inflation/devaluation has wiped out much of the profit margin. The building begins to become a burden. IF the landlord is already in financial difficulty, they needed upkeep and maintenance starts to fall behind and eventually, it is not even attended to. Instead, the residents get unfulfilled promises instead of action. Increasingly, the residents must resort to legal action in order to affect needed upkeep and improvements. As a deterrent, the landlord hires on incompetent or uncooperative agents to hold the line on expenses. This is a bid to keep an aging building on the profit side of the ledger as long as possible. When this is no longer possible due to expenses, taxes, inability to obtain higher rents, etc. then the building enters the next phase; the slum dwelling.

Slum dwellings are places of poor or no maintenance, unjustifiably high rents, poor fire protection and absent security standards, absent landlords, disease, dirt, pests, lumpen proletariat residents, high taxes and bully tactics. Every major city under capitalism has its slums where landlords/slumlords exist only to collect what is nothing more than a tax for sub standard living quarters. They are absent and hard to reach, unresponsive except where forced by the law and courts. In lock step, a capitulating government serving capitalist interests reworks the law to give landlords greater immunity and tenants less clout. People who live there are often the unemployed, the handicapped, street criminals, drug addicts, the elderly, immigrants and low end employees who can’t afford new high end accommodations. Slums are residences that have numerous problems. Often the only pets allowed are ones that come with the building like rodents, roaches, flies of all sorts and bed bugs. The building is poorly maintained if at all, sometimes serviced by “contractors” who know next to nothing about construction and refurbishing techniques. They are used because of cost reduction. When the profit margin completely disappears, then block busting begins in earnest. Neighbor is pitted against neighbor using every sneaky and slimy underhanded technique in the capitalist bag of tricks. New tenants are discouraged from moving in and old ones are encouraged by various means to move out, even if it means homelessness. The residence enters the twilight of its existence, gradually or all at once becoming a “ghost” residence waiting for redevelopment as a land holding. In this final stage, squatters may furtively inhabit the building before it is leveled.

We see these land holdings everywhere. They are boarded up buildings of all sizes from single family dwellings to large structures like the old Woodward’s building in Vancouver. It sat boarded up and empty for nearly twenty years while politicians squabbled and haggled, settling the issue only when the entire multi storey whole block structure was leveled to clear land for a new condominium. For years, on and off, the place became a squatters refuge and was surrounded by an on and off tent city. Prior to its destruction after promises of turning it into social housing under the Campbell government, the last group of tent dwellers were given “free rent” in nearby seedy hotels for a few months in order to buy off protest. Squatters find and use these boarded up places wherever they can find them. In fact, they have been known to take up residence in nearby buildings that are still in use. Many a strange circumstance has been found such as people living in false ceilings in restaurants so they could come down during closing hours to eat, to those living in contractor spaces where a building is undergoing a retrofit. In any circumstance, these people are the last holdout in the cycle of redevelopment for profit. Since the sub-prime crisis of 2008-09, this kind of activity has exploded virtually a million-fold.

When the cycle is complete, the land holding containing the boarded up former slum is sold to a new capitalist owner who has a vision on how to redevelop the land to gain a greater profit. One can see the development of an even higher high rise to extract more value/profit per square foot than was possible under the old structure. Each successive generation expands upward when the ability to expand outward has been completely absorbed. Materials and manpower are pushed to the limit in order to extract ever more profit from the same square foot land base. With deregulation of construction industries, the new structures are shoddy from the outset and don’t have the 30 year trouble free period that a well build new structure used to have. The 2010 Olympic Village has an estimated life of just 10 years according to some of the builders, yet they are on sale for $400,000 post Olympics. Some new buildings have been known to collapse with all the residents inside. New techniques like selling people on owning a suite way up in the air, are used to gather as much money as possible in as short as time as possible to maximize profit. The landlord then becomes absent, leaving the people to fend for themselves right at the outset. Each round becomes telescoped into a shorter and shorter period as the need for continued profit requires such a tactic just to maintain some profitability in the capitalist scheme of gathering wealth and power into fewer hands.

Slumlords get away with their shenanigans due to an artificially created housing shortage. The existence of a visible homeless population guarantees that rent prices will be high as a result for “competition for the same space.” The problem is exacerbated in a market where there are few rental units available at any given time. The situation is further exaggerated during periods where special events are planned and held. If the region or city hosts a large convention, a world class expo or a venue like the Olympic Games, that encourages landlords to raise prices and rents. These situations in singular or in combination give the landlord the excuse to raise the prices on living space. The landlord can expect to receive the help of the government, because the government is actually employed by them to legislate favorably in their direction. Banks have a vested interest because most properties are mortgaged to the hilt. There are parallels in other areas of capitalist society. These are the relationship between the reserve army of the unemployed and the employed worker, the payment of farmers not to grow crops so prices can be kept high on food, or the destruction by various means and excuses of the surplus to the same end, i.e., to keep prices artificially high. The reserve army of the unemployed as defined by Marx keeps the wages of the workers still employed, low. The destruction of food by reason of “no market,” by disease and paying farmers to leave fields empty, keeps prices at the top margin due to an artificial lack. Extend this to its logical conclusion where an enemy is being “disciplined” and you have the engineered famine. Thus, the tactics of landlords and slumlords are identical in pattern to other sectors of capitalist society. The end result is to create a deficit in order to keep prices artificially high. Those who cannot afford the high prices can take substandard living conditions and thus we have vast regions of slums existing in every city and region dominated by capitalist interests. In most regions of the world, self built slums by the poor sprawl out from the financial and manufacturing district for tens of kilometers. There is a distinct hierarchy that exists ranging from mansions for the wealthy, high end condos and houses for the upper middle class, suitable and average living quarters for the middle classes, cheap and shoddy condos and apartments for the workers and run down slums for the lower working class, the unemployed, handicapped, seniors, etc. Some of these are pushed through the cracks and become homeless and encourage high prices due to a market shortage.

Often there are many restrictions to living in “someone else’s” property, such as no pets except where vermin like mice, rats and cockroaches exist, then these are “allowed.” They are allowed “pets” because the cost of exterminating is something the slumlord wishes to avoid and these vermin are used as propaganda against the very people the slumlord rents to. What is the result of the landlord’s neglect becomes the means by which the poor is made a pariah. There are other restrictions, sometimes to the point where an apartment complex or a slum is run like a prison. There are rules about visiting friends and the times of day they can visit. People can be evicted for a host of reasons beyond non payment of rent. Landlords have a lot of personal discretion concerning whom to rent to and what constitutes justifiable reason to evict. Rent must be paid or personal property can be seized.

The Role of government as the hirelings of the landlords is to enact legislation that favors the landlord over the tenant in the property relationship. Property, such as land is based on expropriation and kept by threat and force where necessary. In a world where putting a positive spin on a negative reality is important, reformists can occasionally get legislation like rent controls and other “rights” for tenants. In a repressive period where business has the upper hand, the government will wipe out any favorable legislation fought for over decades in the illusion that capitalism can be improved. The last two decades prove the opposite. Indeed, in some battles to reform capitalism, people lost their lives at the hands of the police. In such periods, quality control and rent caps are abolished in favor of what the so-called free market will allow a landlord or slumlord to get away with, including gouging rent increases for no change or improvement of service. Tenants can be evicted for many reasons at the discretion of the landlord. The tenant then must resort to advocacy where available and if available and the courts, which they can ill afford.\

Inherent in all this is the classic capitalist contradiction that once places to expand are absorbed completely by lack of land and limits of materials, the profit margin disappears and all that remains is loss and collapse. But the capitalist order has this covered, by way of tax write offs, insurance and making the people pay for the mistakes of the capitalist by losses in investment, savings or embezzlement of retirement funds.


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