A slumlord (or slum landlord) is a derogatory term for a landlord, generally an absentee landlord with more than one property, who attempts to maximize profit by minimizing spending on property maintenance, often in deteriorating neighborhoods, and to tenants that they can intimidate. Severe housing shortages allow slumlords to charge higher rents, and when they can get away with it, to break rental laws.
As many of these neighborhoods are often populated by poor minorities, the term "ghetto landlord" has also been used. A "retail slumlord" is one who keeps a shopping mall in a bad shape until the government buys or confiscates it.
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Traditionally, real estate is seen as a long-term investment to most buyers. Especially in the developed world, most landlords will properly maintain their properties even when doing so proves costly in the short term, in order to attract higher rents and more desirable tenants in the long run. A well-maintained property is worth more to potential buyers.
In contrast, slumlords usually do not contract with property management services, do very little or no maintenance on their property (ordinarily, just enough to meet minimum local requirements for habitability), and in turn offer low rent rates to lure tenants who will not (or cannot) pay high rent (and/or who might not pass background checks, such as persons on a sex offender registry). Slumlords of this kind typically do not enter into long-term lease agreements, doing only the minimum term required by law (e.g. month-to-month), and as such prosecute many evictions. It is also frequent for the slumlord to receive rent in cash to avoid disclosing it for tax purposes. Thus, in the United States, slumlords would normally not participate in government-subsidized programs such as Section 8, due to the requirements both to report all income received and to keep properties well-maintained.
A slumlord may also hope that his property will eventually be purchased by a government for more money than it is worth as a part of urban renewal, or by investors as the neighborhood in which it is situated undergoes gentrification. In Johannesburg, regions suffering from urban decay frequently have landlords whom the government believes exploit their tenants, making them stay in buildings that fail to meet fire codes. In Britain, local councils deal with private landlords; without adequate scrutiny this can result in landlords being able to fill properties below rental code with subsidized tenants.
Some slumlords are more interested in profit they have acquired through property "flipping," a form of speculation, than they are in acquiring any profit through rental income. Slumlords with this "business model" may not maintain their properties at all or pay municipal property taxes and fines they tend to accrue in great quantities. Knowing it will take years for a municipality to condemn and seize, or possibly tear down, a property, the slumlord may count on selling it before this happens. Such slumlords may not even bother to keep up with their mortgage payments if they become equity-rich but cash-poor or if they feel that they can sell the property before it goes into foreclosure and is taken by their lender, typically a six- to eight-month process at the quickest.
Black market renting
In locations with rent control and where there is legal protection of tenants, some landlords may rent out properties illegally. For instance, in the United Kingdom, there has arisen a practice of illegal subletting of social housing homes where the tenant illegally rents out the home at a higher rent. In Sweden, rental contracts with regulated rent can be bought on the black market, either from the current tenant or sometimes directly from the property owner. Specialised black-market dealers assist the property owners with such transactions.
People who have negative opinions of slumlords hold them primarily responsible for causing declining local property values and for the eventual creation of whole neighborhoods of shanty buildings. Some of these people say that slumlords leech away the "wealth" of the poor with little regard either to the future generations or the welfare of their current tenants. In effect, they thus consider slumlording a force running exactly counter to "gentrification." Whereas gentrification describes the result of a plurality of local landlords making decisive improvements to rental properties which add value to their rental units, justify hiking rent rates, eliminate less-affluent tenants and generally raise neighborhood property values, slumlording naturally results in a gradual general decay in living conditions, public safety, neighborhood prestige, and, ultimately, property values.
Those defending slumlords assert that such property owners of poorly-maintained, declining-value properties offer a "valuable service" for those who care more about price than quality. Economist David Osterfield wrote, "... the slumlord, regardless of his motives, helps the poor make the best of their bad situation."
- Dylan Welch (18 Jul 2014). "Slumlords cramming 14 people into two-bedroom flats in illegal accommodation network". 7.30. Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
- Miles Godfrey (5 July 2014). "Sydney's slum dodge landlords: Inside our city's worst accommodation rentals". Daily Telegraph.
- Online Etymology Dictionary
- "Strategies to stop slumlords". Joburg.org.za. City of Johannesburg. 20 April 2011.
- Dispatches, "Landlords from Hell," Channel 4, 5 December 2011.
- Tracking down England's council house sublet cheats, Panorama, BBC, 4 May 2011.
- 'Egalitarian' Stockholm rents feed black market, The Local, 30 Aug 2010.
- ”Hyrestvåan är din för 300 000” (in Swedish, ”The rental one-bedroom [apartment] is yours for 300 000 [SEK]”), Svenska Dagbladet, 5 May 2013.
- Osterfield, David. "The Government, the Market and the Poor". Retrieved 2008-01-25.