‘Rental hous­ing provider’ group’s pre­ferred term

Calgary Herald - - NP - Jake ed­mis­ton and nick Faris

A group of prop­erty man­agers and apart­ment own­ers in Hamil­ton wishes to be called land­lords no longer, ar­gu­ing the term, haunted by its me­dieval his­tory, has too many neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tions.

“It just has a bad ring to it,” said Arun Pathak, pres­i­dent of the Hamil­ton District Apart­ment As­so­ci­a­tion. “It’s the two words to­gether: Some­body lord­ing over the land.”

The term land­lord con­jures an image, Pathak said, of a cal­lous and wealthy man col­lect­ing cheques each month and do­ing lit­tle else. But in re­al­ity, he said, “there’s a lot of work.”

“We’d like to try and find a term that works bet­ter,” he said. As of now, the group is of­fer­ing this: rental hous­ing provider. It works, said Pathak, be­cause it isn’t gen­der­spe­cific and points out they’re pro­vid­ing a ser­vice.

“Hope­fully, over time it will catch on.”

The group has dis­cussed this re­brand­ing for sev­eral years, and did so again at a meet­ing last week of its 250 mem­bers. Chang­ing the name land­lord has be­come a small facet of their plan to deal with a public re­la­tions cri­sis.

Prop­erty own­ers, Pathak said, have been vil­i­fied af­ter sev­eral high-pro­file land­lord-ten­ant dis­putes in the area. (Most no­tably, a ren­ters’ strike against an apart­ment com­plex in Stoney Creek has dragged on for months, with the Hamil­ton Spec­ta­tor re­port­ing on a neigh­bour­hood bar­be­cue in Au­gust where chil­dren beat a pi­nata em­bla­zoned with the face of the ex­ec­u­tive be­hind the rent in­creases.)

“It’s been a very one-sided story,” Pathak said, stress­ing that try­ing to change the term land­lord was a mi­nor part of the group’s public out­reach plan.

“It’s not a big rich land­lord who’s do­ing all this,” he said. “A lot of it is just a guy in the street, a guy who’s been work­ing at his other job for a long time.”

At least one prop­erty man­age­ment group else­where in Canada is sym­pa­thetic to Pathak’s ar­gu­ment, though it’s un­clear if his pro­posal to aban­don the term would garner much sup­port around the coun­try. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of as­so­ci­a­tions in B.C., Saskatchewan, Que­bec and Nova Sco­tia told the Na­tional Post that they don’t con­sider land­lord to be a dirty word.

“It’s been in­grained in our in­dus­try for a long time now, and I don’t see the real rea­son for chang­ing it,” said Kevin Rus­sell, the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the In­vest­ment Prop­erty Own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Nova Sco­tia.

Chanda Lock­hart, Rus­sell’s coun­ter­part at the Saskatchewan Land­lords As­so­ci­a­tion, said any name change would be fu­tile be­cause it wouldn’t con­vince the public to fol­low suit. “Ev­ery­one would still re­fer to us as land­lords,” she said, adding that land­lords should strive to over­come neg­a­tive stereo­types by fo­cus­ing on the job at hand — “pro­vid­ing good cus­tomer ser­vice and qual­ity rentals.”

On the other side, Man­i­toba’s Pro­fes­sional Prop­erty Man­agers As­so­ci­a­tion de­lib­er­ately es­chews the term land­lord be­cause they feel it isn’t the most ac­cu­rate sum­ma­tion of their role. “We man­age apart­ment build­ings. We don’t lord over land,” spokesman Avrom Charach said, not­ing that the PPMA would sup­port Pathak’s idea.

The term land­lord is likely more than 1,000 years old, with the first known use of its Old English an­tecedent — landhlaforde — in 1000 AD, ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford English dic­tio­nary. But the con­cept of the land­lord, as we un­der­stand it, starts in Eng­land af­ter the Nor­man con­quest of 1066. And the ver­sion of the land­lord-ten­ant re­la­tion­ship that Wil­liam the Con­queror brought from con­ti­nen­tal Europe stems from the cul­tural tra­di­tions of the Ro­man Em­pire.

“I can see why they think it’s a loaded term,” said An­drew Moore, a PhD can­di­date in me­dieval his­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Water­loo.

Moore stud­ies records kept at English manors dur­ing the 14th and 15th cen­turies, de­tail­ing dis­putes be­tween me­dieval land­lords and ten­ants. In those files — the me­dieval equiv­a­lent to civil court doc­u­ments — the land­lord is re­ferred to as the Latin domi­nus, mean­ing lord or mas­ter (among other things).

The dy­namic has vir­tu­ally no re­sem­blance to the mod­ern ver­sion, he said: “The me­dieval lord had far more power over the daily lives of the ten­ants than in a mod­ern sense.”

Start­ing af­ter the Nor­man con­quest, a king gen­er­ally


be­stowed land on a no­ble­man in ex­change for fealty and mil­i­tary ser­vice; that no­ble­man gave land to ten­ants in ex­change for rent by way of crops, live­stock, or money. There ap­pears to have been two ex­tremes of the me­dieval land­lord: one as the linch­pin in an idyl­lic ru­ral har­mony, the other a dom­i­neer who ap­proved mar­riages be­tween ten­ants, de­manded free labour and took the best an­i­mal from a fam­ily when their head of house­hold died, as a pay­ment for set­tling the dead man’s af­fairs.

“This me­dieval con­cept of the land­lord who has a cor­ro­sive re­la­tion­ship with the ten­ants may never have ex­isted in Canada, and cer­tainly not since Canada be­came an in­de­pen­dent coun­try,” said Shami Ghosh, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of me­dieval his­tory at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto.

“I fail to see how that’s go­ing to af­fect the image in Hamil­ton right now.”

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