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Robert Jay
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As the Covid-19 pandemic rips through the United States, over 3.3 million workers immediately lost their jobs due to quarantine procedures, with millions more laid off or experiencing a severe decrease in hours. The Federal stimulus money won't arrive until next month, and Michigan's unemployment website routinely loses function and prevents all its applicants from being served. Governor Whitmer signed an executive order placing a stay on evictions until April 17th, but how will people who aren't able to make money manage that situation? Across the country, landlords are offering no sympathy or assistance to their tenants, threatening evictions as soon as legally possible regardless of employment status. In response, communities across the country are demanding rent suspensions to elected leadership and activists are calling for a nationwide rent strike on April 1st. With the very relationship of habitation being such a focal point, it begs the question: why do we have landlords at all?

image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=11&dpx=1&t=1585497932From Dayton, Ohio. "If you can't get a job, move out," during a global pandemic.

A lot of times, the role of a landlord gets confused with property managers, maintenance personnel and construction workers. These are actually four different roles, but only three are needed for habitation. Despite being a minority of cases, there's still a large portion of people who are landlords but also some combination of the essential habitation roles as well, because society is structured in such a way that they can only be compensated as a landlord. This post won't be about them, as a revolution in property rights would leave them as full-time property managers/maintenance tech with good pay (provided they did not side with actual landlords).

Property managers (are supposed to) make sure their tenants are heard, coordinate repairs and handle the administrative housekeeping for a property such as overseeing utilities. Construction workers build the property, and maintenance personnel keep it habitable. All critical elements of residency, all not the exact role of a landlord.

All a landlord does is possess a deed indicating a piece of property is legally theirs and can extract virtually any amount they can get away with, and enforce that extraction. The second paragraph mentioned the hybrid roles that don't count and here's why: many of them are also tenants by virtue of a bank holding their mortgage, and extracting rent is their only consistent option to pay their landlord.

Why be in a rush to defend that exact relationship? There's nothing in it required for habitation, and as we've seen across that nation there is minimal, if not non-existent, value in retaining this role in society.  Even with clear, justifiable reasons for not having money, it won't matter because all a tenant is to a landlord is a means of wealth extraction, a relationship they are not legally compelled to present a return on. Landlords collectively believe they are entitled to all the benefits of investment, and none of the consequences. 

image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=12&dpx=1&t=1585498226From Allentown, PA, a landlord threatening to disconnect cable service they don't even provide to their tenants.

Their extensive lobbying has ensured the law reflects it as well, or they're much more able to get away with not following it. Its much more reflective of a feudal lord and serf relationship, which is ironic as that's the exact form of government capitalism bills itself as being an improvement on. Further irony is landlords complaining that their inability to extract the value of their tenants labor for one month makes their current lifestyle unaffordable, to the point that they're expecting their bank to suspend the mortgage payment while extracting rent in the process.

What if landlords were abolished in May or June, how would property relations be handled? With a combination of construction companies, property management firms and tenant unions. In building a property from scratch, it would first require a group of people to decide they want a place. They can then negotiate with a construction company for either a lump sum payment (if they've saved up) or set up a payment plan to cover costs. A revolution would be needed against most other aspects of society to enact this in the first place, so this collection of future tenants would already have money earmarked for habitation in their Universal Basic Income.

Once its built, all the people living there would have a formal tenant union (for legal purposes) and if they have vacant apartments others can be invited to join the union. The cost to live (dues, basically) would be the split monthly payments to the construction workers, utility services and property managers (may also be tenant union members depending on skill-set, but independent contracting firms would still exist). The benefits of getting in on the ground floor is that person will have a principal voice in how its constructed, and will be able to live in that place longer than anyone else. However, people arriving later, after the construction workers are fully paid, would enjoy a cheaper residence at the cost of not having a voice in the construction. A steady rate of pay to the management entity is still required, because maintenance is forever, and votes in meetings between the management and tenant union (if separate at all) can adjust the price accordingly. It's a horizontal relationship all around, where its clear both in law and fact that everyone in that relationship needs each other. Plus, if managed well, costs stay low and that means more of one's UBI check can be saved.

image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=14&dpx=1&t=1585499352San Francisco tenant union in 2018. Their successful organizing produced several million dollars from city government to help tenants stave off eviction.

Property tax? Why bother. Private property doesn't need to exist, the tax is a check on that because of the ridiculous amount of legal power private property owners have over their holdings. Instead, why not tax solely the income from labor performed and have that money power the nation? It would certainly be a hefty tax, but it would only be levied against actual things produced by people, instead of using the US tax system as a cudgel against society's vulnerable. The exchange is: everyone gets what they need, period, due to the nation's collective labor (this would need to pass a full popular vote by at least 60% to be enacted, otherwise people wouldn't be consenting to it). This benefits far more people than the feudal property system and with the right amount of education, the overwhelming majority of people residing in the United States would see an improvement to their current plight.

There's still one wrinkle that isn't being addressed: terrible tenants. Plenty exist, and with the tenant union structure there would need to be a certain minimum percentage of votes before exiling a tenant (preferably a high number like 66% or 75%), but that tenant would have had a lot of chances because their destructive behavior would be coming up in the tenant union meetings (or if its false claims, an equal opportunity to defend themselves). Should they be exiled they'll be moved out, but will still have enough money to pay for moving costs to a new place due to UBI. Tenant unions would also have the ability to subsidize those moving costs and payment for the first month on a new place just to get them out of there.

Government housing will still exist, and will likely act as a last chance saloon for people repeatedly alienate and harm their fellow tenants. Not an ideal place to live, but all amenities would still be provided, it wouldn't affect their ability to get loans or purchase durable goods on payment plans.

Contrast that with the current system, where one person who only exists in the relationship to extract wealth from others can unilaterally revoke a person's right to shelter, rendering them homeless and deeply hampering their ability to get a loan or anything requiring a credit check in the future. There's also not many ways for the tenant to defend themselves in this situation, as they're likely not able to afford an attorney if they already can't afford rent.

If one owns an individual home, that's theirs. No property tax, no nothing, just pay the maintenance people. Product of labor is now the only taxable income in this example, which removes the government's ability to probe into people's lives determining how valuable it is for them to marry a certain gender, reproduce, or pick the "correct" zip code for their skin color. That's a net negative practice for all but the wealthiest and in a just world, they won't exist at their current level of wealth.

image_transcoder.php?o=bx_froala_image&h=15&dpx=1&t=1585501524Rent strike poster from thestranger.com


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