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Matthew Gault photo.

Among the Landlords

Three days in St. Louis with 200 landlords at the 21st Annual Mr. Landlord.com National Landlord Convention.

Halfway through the first day of the 21st Annual MrLandlord.com National Landlord Convention—a conference in St. Louis where landlords gather to trade secrets, commiserate, and sell each other information—the landlords gave out two checks with great fanfare. Jeffrey Taylor, Mr. Landlord himself, brought a “struggling tenant” to the front of the room and handed him a check for $300.

“We wanted to let you know that landlords aren’t all bad,” Taylor said. The check was originally supposed to be for $250, but landlords had come up with a little extra.

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Immediately after Taylor handed over the check amid applause from the crowd, Taylor called St. Louis Sheriff Vernon Betts to the front of the room to give him a giant-sized novelty check for $1,000, made out to the Sheriff’s Office. Taylor said he’d called the local media to witness this moment but they hadn't come. Then he explained that, like the tenant’s check, the sheriff’s check had been increased—from the planned $1,000 to $1,100—after a big-hearted landlord decided to kick in a little more cash. 

Taylor explained that he got the idea for the donation after reading that the St. Louis Sheriff’s Office was struggling to purchase basic supplies. “We wanted to let you know,” Taylor said, “that landlords are not all bad. We want to be seen in a positive image, and we appreciate all that you do in assisting us.”

Betts addressed the audience for about 20 minutes. It was mostly about evictions. He said that the eviction moratorium had been hard on him and that he’d spent a lot of time “refereeing” between tenants and landlords who wanted to evict them. “In the city of St. Louis, once I come to evict you, you can’t carry anything out of that house but what you can carry in your hands,” Betts said. “That’s tough, ain’t it? That furniture and TV? It all belongs to the landlord once I come.”

(Landlords in the St. Louis area filed requests for more than 18,000 evictions since March 2020, according to public records tracking at Eviction Lab.) 

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“Seems kind of heartless, almost,” Betts continued, “to put a person out and all they can carry is their purse and the clothes on their back and all that kind of stuff. But I found myself, during the moratorium, doing a lot of refereeing and trying to help on both sides. I was a landlord once myself.”

The ceremony set the tone for the rest of the conference.

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Matthew Gault photo.

I was excited for my trip to the 21st Annual Mr. Landlord National Landlord Convention. This is in part because the Mr. Landlord website and conference branding is a perfectly-preserved bit of 1999, but also because landlordism—one of the oldest professions—is at an inflection point. 

Landlords are some of the most hated members of our society, the target of class warfare from a working class that’s seen rents rise to all-time highs; rent bidding wars are now common because housing stock is so low and the real estate market is so hot. Meanwhile, landlords have spent much of the pandemic claiming that, as backbones of our economy and as small business owners, they were the true victims of COVID-19, unable to make ends meet because they were prevented from evicting tenants who were unable to pay their rent. The California Apartment Association, a lobbying group for landlords, for example, has been pushing legislation that would “help more landlords recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Some landlords now see the terms “landlord” and, of course, “slumlord,” as slurs, and would prefer to be referred to as “housing providers.” Meanwhile, a new generation of gurus in the #FinTok / financial advice podcast industrial complex see “rental properties” as a path to “financial independence,” a core strategy in the “Financial Independence, Retire Early” (FIRE) movement. Landlords have become meme-worthy, with irreverent satirical (maybe?) subreddits like r/LoveForLandlords talking about “landchad rights,” deadbeat “rentoids” who can’t afford rent but have hundreds of expensive FunkoPops, and the daily challenges of “landphobia,” while the earnest r/LandlordLove is a “tenant-friendly space meant for posting about both the individual and systemic problems caused by landlordism or, simply put, shitty things landlords do and/or cause.”  

In recent years, websites like Bigger Pockets that explain how to buy and manage rental properties have cropped up and become popular among a new generation of landlords. Bigger Pockets now boasts more than 2 million members and has the tagline “Live life on your terms with real estate investing.” 

The Mr. Landlord community, meanwhile, feels like the old guard.

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I wanted to go to St. Louis to get to know the landlords, to live among them, to hear their hopes and fears and struggles. It’s not every day you get the opportunity to “join other like-minded landlords,” meet with “the Savvy Landlord,” or network with the legendary Mike Butler at the “awesome, incredible, best time ever 21st annual Mr. Landlord convention,” after all.

The landlord is an archetypal American character: a hustler concerned about their image, worried about Big Government, and looking for a way to squeeze money out of every interaction. Facing a declining empire, rising prices, and an uncertain future, the landlord instinctively understands the new American dream: Get rich enough to buy your way out of capitalist wage systems.

Everything has gotten more expensive. Inflation and corporate greed have driven up the cost of living for everyone. Rent, which always goes up, is creeping up to what landlords call “market rates.” Entire elections are being run on platforms related to homelessness and housing

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The landlords who attended the conference are ready to move beyond COVID and its attendant moratoriums on evictions and rent increases and go back to normal. (The theme of this year’s convention was, in fact, “Moving Beyond Covid.”) They’re ready to raise the rents, and eager to get back to the business of throwing people out of their homes.

Jeffrey Taylor has been doing this a long time. MrLandlord.com, which offers “all the keys to your landlording success”, looks like it was designed in the late 1990s, and that’s because it was. A look at the Internet Archive shows that the site dates back to at least 1998, and that it looked essentially the same then as it does now. The site notes it is “now in our 13th year” and features an active forum that hasn’t changed much since 1998.

From its various landing pages, the curious landlord can learn about Mr Landlord’s “FANTASTIC Landlord Getaway Cruise.” (“Learn from top real estate professionals while having the time of your life on the high seas - there’s no better tax deduction available!”) It also sold a printed, mailed landlord newsletter, part of the “Best Subscription Package Offer EVER for Web site Visitors for the paper version of MR. LANDLORD,” which cost $79 annually at the time. (This was a $338 value, the site claimed.)

By the early 2000s, MrLandlord.com was selling a CD-ROM “TENANT TRACKING Software System For Landlords,” a piece of software Taylor said normally sold for $599 but could be yours for a mere $399. (“Learn How to actually receive 110% of the Rent actually owed YOU!; Stop knocking on doors for Rent; Receive $$ for Tenant caused repairs; Manage up to 1,000 units; Do all of your Late Notices in minutes; NEVER miss an annual increase in Rent,” the site said of the software.) “I highly recommend this software,” one reviewer wrote. “Jeffrey you must have a Golden Tongue to have gotten them to allow you to sell it so cheaply on here.”

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Today, Mr. Landlord’s online presence is dizzying. There’s MrLandlord.com. There’s the bespoke page for the Mr. Landlord Landlord Convention. There’s a website called “Landlord Coach,” where you go if you want to hire Taylor to give a pep talk to you or your organization. It features a list of his upcoming speaking spots—the Carolinas Real Estate Investors Association, the Central Florida Realty Investors Association, the HomeVestors conference in Dallas, the North Iowa Landlords Association, and Taylor’s own Landlording Summer Bootcamp (in Orlando) and the 33rd Annual Getaway Conference Landlord Retreat at Montego Bay, Jamaica. The Landlording Summer Bootcamp ($995) website is camouflage-and-hundred-dollar-bill-themed, and explains that Taylor can teach you what would normally take “5 to 10 YEARS” to learn in “two DAYS” and can “Strengthen your procedures, your business, your cash flow.” The Landlord Retreat is a place where you can “improve your net rental income by going on vacation!”

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Mrlandlord.com screengrab

There’s also a YouTube page of testimonials, and, of course, the forums, which look and feel like a Yahoo Newsgroup yet are still very active—in fact, shockingly so. On these forums, landlords ask each other questions about dealing with problem tenants, how to deal with property taxes, and home construction basics. There’s also a long thread of upset landlords discussing the “cancel rent movement”, where one poster claims that “some of the extreme left wing tenancy advocates here are receiving generous government funding.”

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Other threads: “Concerned neighbor”; “Reporting debt”; “tenants from hell”; “fake renter moves in”; “Use for Poison Ivy,” which advocates using poison ivy to keep out home intruders (“Some people are immune to poison ivy. I would use more traditional methods like razor wire,” one person posted); “Garnishment success”; “Eviction reason?”; “Claiming strong odor”; “Raising Rent”; “Immigrant application”; a thread about a tenant who left “dust” behind; a tenant who was “lazy sloppy & no respect”; “Eviction re: Covid relief … NOTE: Tenant has other lease violations (unauthorized pets, additional person and never mows the grass) … thinking we could evict tenant by June.”; “Cock roach infestation” [sic]; and “rude entitled renters.” (“The problem is renters move in and then quickly start to consider a nice looking lawn one of the entitlements of the rental.”)

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The Forums. Mr.Landlord.com screengrab

Another long thread considers the question of whether users should brand themselves as “housing providers not landlord”: “Housing Provider says we provide a SERVICE - a GOOD for the Community SERVICE. We provide HOUSING. We work hard, we contribute. What does ‘landlord’ convey? It implies superiority. I think it's an outmoded, outdated, should-be-abandoned term. I like Mr. Landlord. I don't like ‘landlord.’”

 All of this is part of a broader landlord internet and a landlord-services economy that includes rental property management services, maintenance services, locksmith companies, and debt-collection companies. Representatives of some of these businesses were scheduled to be present at the 21st Annual MrLandlord.com National Landlord Convention as sponsors.

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I was excited to meet these people.

“A lot of them are good tenants because they’re being watched,” he said of people on probation.

The Renaissance Marriott Hotel, a large black obelisk, is a shuttle ride away from the St. Louis airport. It seems nice on the surface, modern and sleek, but the rooms have the unmistakable feel of a hastily constructed building, covered up with new furnishings and fixtures every few years.

A billboard across the highway proclaims “WE *HEART* YOU STL.” Down the road there’s a Hustler lingerie store. The first night I was there, I ate at a Jack in the Box next to an abandoned and hollowed-out Wendy’s. Over at the hotel, near the conference rooms, a wooden table was set up advertising the Mr. Landlord VIP Luncheon ($129.95 per person). A giant pencil sketch of a hand gripping a baseball loomed behind the table. 

I was eager and ready as I made my way into the hotel for the first day of the conference. Who is the Mr. LandLord behind the site? What kind of people attend a landlord convention? What are the concerns of the people who collect rent from us? What do they talk about when they meet each other? Finally I would have answers. Signs around the room set the energy for the event:

“Now Is The Time!”

“Do Less, Make More!”

“Time To Make Changes!”

The room was full of about 200 attendees—not standing room only, but with every table in the place packed. Landlords, like America, are diverse (at least at this conference). Yes, there were a lot of pink, middle-aged white guys, overweight in a strange way. But there were just as many women (many of them in the girlboss archetype), people of color, and immigrants from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia.

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I saw old landlords, young landlords, boomer landlords, millennial landlords, landlords in coveralls, and landlords in business casual. I saw a boy of about 12 who wore a suit every day. I saw a schlub in boat shoes and a Hawaiian shirt who, I was told later, was a state representative from Indiana. I saw an old woman leaning on a walker to keep steady. I saw a Black man who owned more than 500 properties in the Chicago area. I saw a white guy from the same area who owned three.

For all their diversity, they are shockingly similar, and they were, on the first day of the conference, all waiting for Mr. Landlord to speak.

When Jeffrey Taylor arrived, it was 8:30 a.m. The crowd applauded his entrance. Taylor is a slim, Black man with an intense, piercing gaze, and he was wearing two pieces of a three-piece suit (no jacket). The sleeves of his white dress shirt were rolled up to his elbows. The ties at the back of his vest hung loose. He was ready to work, all charm and charisma, smiling and projecting across the room. He crackled with energy, and seeing him for the first time, I understood immediately why people come to these conventions. They come to see Taylor deliver his message. He’s the kind of character we only make in America. 

Taylor laid out his three rules for success:

1 - “Don’t take it personal!”

2 - “Do not leave it up to the judge!”

3 - “Start delegating in small ways.” (Put another way, “Do less, make more.”)

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He hammered on a few different themes in his opening. One was that landlords should raise their rents. “Raising rent is not a moral question,” he said.

Face to face, Taylor is a different person. The bombastic online personality and American showman are filed away. He’s soft-spoken, a former teacher who started in the landlord business almost 40 years ago. A few years after he started, he began putting out a newsletter called MrLandlord, in which he shared tips of the trade. The newsletter was well-received and it led to his first speaking engagement.

This led to the website, the forum, and the conventions, which have been running for more than 20 years. “I like serving people,” he said in the hallway outside the convention hall. “It wasn’t something I set out to build, a conglomerate or an empire… I still consider myself just a landlord.”

As a landlord, Taylor was concerned about COVID. Not just because of the disease itself, but because of the overwhelming change it brought. COVID, according to Taylor, has been bad for landlords. “It was, and still is, tough for many,” he said. “Some feel like they were taken advantage of, because they knew that their residents were still working. And yet, for whatever reasons, they claimed that they couldn’t pay.”

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Matthew Gault photo.

The convention was mostly a series of pitches. Almost every speaker was there to explain a trick or technique that will help a landlord make money. For $597, Mr. Land Trust, Randy Hughes, will teach you how to use an elaborate system of trusts to reduce tax liability and legal risks. For $1,997, Wall Street veteran John Burley will teach you the secrets of raising private money.

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Paul Diznang, the owner of a real estate investment company, came to St. Louis to teach the landlords about “navigating treacherous roads.” Like Taylor, he’s high-energy, and he looks like what most of us picture when we think of landlords: a middle-aged white guy in a blazer and blue jeans.

His seminar is about dealing with lead paint, criminal tenants, comfort animals, and sticky regulations in general. It’s about the strange legal gray areas landlords must navigate. Do you run credit checks? Do you deny based on credit scores? Can you ask for Social Security numbers? What if someone tells you their pet alligator is a service animal? Can you deny people because they’re on probation?

“A lot of them are good tenants because they’re being watched,” he said of people on probation.

When he got to the issue of lead paint, the audience perked up. People had a lot of questions. More regulations are coming, and that means Big Government, and Big Government doesn’t mess around when it comes to lead paint. Attendees joked that they won’t be buying properties constructed before 1978, the date at which extra regulations kick in.

It’s not that landlords want people to get sick; it’s that they want to not get in trouble. (Remember, don’t take it personal and don’t leave it up to the judge.)

I was sitting next to Kevin Bouse and his 19-year-old son, a third-generation landlord. They were both pleasant and affable. Kevin said he has hundreds of properties in the Illinois area, that a big part of the business is investing back into the property, and that he's comfortable raising rents because he puts everything back into the business and the tenants see those improvements.

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A lot of landlords give off scumbag vibes; Kevin and his son didn’t. I asked him if he was worried about big business squeezing out the mom-and-pops, and he told me he’s a huge employer, that he started as a mom-and-pop but has lately realized he is the big business.

He said he did alright during COVID. He had to pull back, he explained, but he doesn’t own boats and hasn’t spent a lot of money on toys like “some of these people.” He also said there was a lot of money floating around during COVID and that it was easy to help tenants get it.

Diznang, meanwhile, droned on, talking about the nationwide scourge of bedbugs. A landlord in the crowd suggested scheduling home visits with prospective tenants before they move in to make sure they aren’t bringing bedbugs with them.

Bouse was unlike many of the other landlords in attendance, who seemed to view the humans in their properties as regrettable parts of the business, a hurdle they have to overcome on the way to making money. During a presentation on taking nice photos for Zillow, someone in the crowd yelled, “It would be perfect if you didn’t put residents in it.”

There was something deeply American about all of this—a push to acquire more, be more, get more. Every presenter had a hustle, something to sell: a book, a program, a key that will help unlock your potential landlording powers. All you have to do is cut them a check for around $1,997.

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Friday morning, after I filmed Taylor talking about denying tenants a place to live if they used bad language, he approached me and told me he was concerned about the length of the videos that I was taking for my notes. I showed him some of the reels I’d captured and he expressed concern about the clips that had gone over a minute. 

“You’re not capturing my whole conference,” Taylor said. Later that day, everyone got a sheet of blue paper explaining that a recording of the event can be purchased for $249. It’s a special deal. Once the conference ended, the price increased to $299.

On the second day, I sat next to a red-haired teen who fidgeted in his seat. He obviously didn’t want to be there. He was there with an older, white-haired woman, maybe his grandmother. She kept pulling his phone out of his hand and asking him to watch the presentations.

“It’s just advertising,” the kid moaned.

He was right.

Most speeches started with a disclaimer. The landlords are not lawyers, they explained. They are not financial analysts. They’re just talking. Take this advice or don’t. But if you do, and especially if you buy their program, you could get wealthy, do less and make more. Many of the pitches included pre-written contracts and links to automated systems that will help people maximize profit.

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Matthew Gault photo.

Eric M. Wohlwend attended with his wife, Lila. They’re realtors from Ohio. Their kids came with them; one wore a suit. Lila and Eric have co-authored a book. One of their kids has written two books of his own: If I Can Do It, So Can You!: How I Started Buying Real Estate at Age 7 and The Garage: Five Kids. One Dog. Big Dreams. They give off a powerful Righteous Gemstones energy. The four of them always sat near the front for every lecture, and both Eric and Lila participated in group discussions and tossed out comments. Eric and his oldest son have identical buzz cuts. Eric wore a small, tasteful, gold chain bracelet and snakeskin boots.

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During a presentation by Mike Warren—the most terrifying of the presenters—Eric cracked a joke about his bad tenants spending all their money on “Marlboros and Budweisers.”

Warren had been talking about the eviction moratorium. “I don’t think that was fair,” he said. “I understand helping people in need, but shouldn’t that money have been paid to landlords specifically? Where’s the common sense in that? You save one party, help them out, and give them free money that they then go out and by doo-dads. Depreciating assets. Whereas landlords suffer.”

Warren isn’t a landlord. He’s another kind of middleman; when a landlord has a court-levied debt he can’t collect, called a judgment, Warren buys it from the landlord for pennies on the dollar. Then he goes after the debtor to claim money he was never originally owed.

“Oh God,” Tony said to the crowd. “I’m gonna have to boot cancer boy back down to twelve-five.”

Warren informed the crowd that pets are personal property and that you can, if you’d like, repossess them from people who owe you money. Even the landlords groaned at this. “That’s brutal,” a woman next to me said.

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Warren telling the crowd about repossesing pets. Matthew Gault photo.

Later, I ate lunch with Diana Hall and Leslie Barth, from Ohio. When I asked them what they’re worried about, they echoed Taylor and every other landlord I’d spoken with. “Government intervention,” they said in unison.

“As a housing provider, we’re providing a very valuable community service,” Hall said. “If we weren’t there, they would be under a bridge. And that’s what the cities don’t see. They just think that we’re raking in the money. They don’t see that you have taxes and insurance to pay, they don’t see all the nitty-gritty details that we have to deal with… if the government is gonna crack down on landlords, we’re gonna sell out. Now, where are those people going to go?”

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Taylor hit me with the same hypothetical. “Now there’s legislation introduced in some states where they’re going to limit the amount of rent increases,” he said. “Well, the very people they’re trying to help could actually have more negative results. Because, if the landlord is limited in terms of the amount of rent they can get, and it gets to a point where it can’t be affordable for them to rent, they’re going to sell and that makes even less units available for the people that they’re trying to help.”

Like Hall and Barth, Taylor says government regulations are squeezing the landlords. That was one of the biggest lessons of the eviction moratorium and COVID: The government can use its power to upend your world. “So the scary thing for landlords is…if they can do it with this, what else might come around that they say, ‘Hey, this is a situation where the government has to step in and change the rules… for that reason, many landlords have gotten out of the business.”

It’s hard for me to even process what he means—that suddenly a bunch of people whose mortgages are being paid for them by renters will suddenly leave the business and everyone will become homeless. Only then will we realize the benevolence of these housing providers. But the theory of housing underlying this and other beliefs of the housing providers points, in an odd way, to something that could be viewed as inspiring.

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Regulations are always coming. They're always getting priced out, fucked over, or pushed around by Authority. The landlords gather to learn the latest tricks and tips for avoiding Authority, the new financial and legal technologies developed or discovered that let them avoid responsibility—all in pursuit of the American dream. This is not, and never was, the nuclear family and a house with a car in the garage; no, landlords know the real American dream is making enough money to be left the fuck alone, and to make enough passive income that you can become rich with as little effort as possible. 

The issue here of course is that landlords are Authority. For millions of Americans, the landlord is the apotheosis of authority. If you have next to no control over where you lay your head, then how much does everything else beyond that really matter?

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Matthew Gault photo.

The convention began around 7:30 or 8 am every day. It broke for dinner around 6 and then resumed at 8 for “brainstorming sessions.” In these evening gatherings, Taylor read out questions and the landlords came to the front to speak into a microphone about their experiences.

The brainstorming session, at times, felt like an audition to be a speaker at the convention proper. Who has the gravitas and personality to command the room? Who has the pitch that might get a tight-fisted landlord to drop $997 on a new system?

Taylor is fashioning a product, creating something for his community. He knows he’s being recorded and is constantly talking to the secondary audience: the people buying the recording.

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During a discussion about how to make tenants work for you, an older woman named Betty Jo stepped up to the mic. Poor Betty Jo won’t survive this business. “I believe in trusting people,” she said.

She then proceeded to tell what is, in the landlord community, a horror story. She’d just recently accepted a tenant no one else would rent to. He was so grateful that he made himself available to her for lots of little handyman tasks. She’s even letting him borrow her truck, something she says she NEVER does. And he’s collecting rent for her while she’s gone.

The room went wild with people explaining all the ways this could go terribly wrong. What happens if he crashes the truck and kills someone? What happens if he steals the rent?

“But he works at Popeyes!” she declared. Apparently, they trust him to make the deposits there.

During a discussion of how to find deals, a landlord named Tony from the Chicagoland area got on the mic and told the story of the first property he ever bought. He found a listing on the internet; someone wanted to sell a property for the dirt-cheap price of $30,000.

Curious, Tony arranged to view the home. He walked in the front door and was struck by the strange design. Everything was black. It also appeared velvet. He approached the walls and realized everything was covered in black mold. The entire house was the same. 

Tony told the guy he’d take the house off his hands for $1,000. They negotiated and came to a verbal agreement on $12,500. Later, Tony came back to close on the deal and meet the owner one last time. He said the guy got out of a car followed by a pregnant wife. Then he noticed the owner was completely bald and had a chemo shunt in his arm.

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“Can you do better than $12,500?” the guy with cancer and the pregnant wife asked.

“Oh God,” Tony said to the crowd. “I’m gonna have to boot cancer boy back down to twelve-five.”

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Matthew Gault photo.

In the middle of the last day, they sold the crowd on the next event: a retreat for landlords. This all began as a series of Taylor-hosted cruises. Taylor’s wife, Dot, led the presentation. The 21st Annual Mr. Landlord.com National Landlord Convention ended with a pitch for the next convention, before the 22nd Annual Mr. Landlord National Landlord Convention, of course. A slideshow of the good times had at the last retreat played while Dot made her pitch.

When Dot finished, Taylor called all the landlords with 30 years of service and 60 or more properties to the front of the room. He wanted to give them a certificate recognizing how long they’ve been in the game and ask them to share some wisdom with the crowd.

Diane and Leslie from Ohio were both there. “Meet people where they are and do your business with compassion,” Leslie said when asked for wisdom. 

“If we didn’t have rental properties in our town, where would people go? They’d be under a bridge,” Diane said, repeating what she’d told me the previous day during lunch. The ceremony played out while a slideshow of people enjoying the resort ran in the background.

I came to the conference with few preconceived notions about landlords beyond my own limited experiences and those of my friends. The best landlords (like the best tenants, I was repeatedly told) are hands-off. When they’re good, you don’t think about them. When they’re terrible, they make your life a living hell.

All the while, rents go up and renters are running out of options. One reason is a basic issue of supply and demand. There just aren’t enough houses to go around to people who need them, partly because of government restrictions on who can build what and where. More homes would lower rents, or at least keep them steady, but most of the landlords I spoke with aren’t builders. They’re middlemen, looking to squeeze what they can from people trying to find the basic human necessity of shelter.

The incentive for the landlord is not to make life better or easier for the tenant. These are “real estate investments” or “investment properties.” The goal is to make money, to get a return on investment. That’s it. That was the single ambition of many at the conference. They wanted to acquire as much as they could, within the technical bounds of our often lacking regulatory systems. 

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Matthew Gault photo.

Jennifer Donley was the last guest speaker, and her presentation was so shockingly different in tone and content from what came before that it felt like she had arrived from the future to make landlords understand what they’ll one day be forced to accept.

The self-styled “Queen” of Section 8 housing, Donley only deals with people who are getting housing coupons from HUD. The crowd was skeptical and Eric said his Section 8 tenants are terrible and that one left the oven on twice and burned down a unit.

“The beauty of a government bureaucracy is that, even though it makes you crazy, it’s consistent,” she said.

She had no trouble during COVID, she said, because all of her tenants were using housing coupons. The government was paying for everything, and it ran on time. She explained that the demand for Section 8 housing is overwhelming and that no one is filling the demand. She puts money into the units, makes them nice, and keeps tenants for five and six years at a time. The rent goes up, and the government is always covering the cost.

Her systems are completely automated. All the locks on her homes are electronic. When she needs to show a house, she doesn’t even show up, just gives the prospective tenant a code to the house that’s only good for an hour.

She said she’s sure she’ll get robbed or something bad will happen one day, but that it hasn’t happened yet in all the time she’s been doing it. She also doesn’t want to meet tenants before they apply. She has a strict checklist for applicants and runs everything against that checklist. Meeting people, she says, creates bias. She wants to be data-driven.

I was ambivalent toward landlords before this event, but somewhere around the time Mike Warren suggested repossessing pets, I was radicalized. Landlording is a type of feudalism. For Taylor, raising the rent may not be a moral question, but it feels that way to most of the people living under landlords. 

What seems cruel to us—the rent hikes, the avoidance of legal liability, and the eviction of the weakest among us—is just business for them. This is the game. This is the way it’s done. They’re fulfilling a niche our ecosystem created. 

I caught up with Donley after her talk and asked her why she thinks landlords get a bad rap.

“Because some of them are awful,” she said.