Fear Of Slumlords: A Scrutiny Through The Social, Economic, And Political Lenses Literature Review Sample

Type of paper: Literature Review

Topic: United States, Poverty, Law, Immigration, Life, Prostitution, People, Fear

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2020/11/18

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According to the Oxford Dictionary of English (2010), a slumlord is “A landlord of slum property, typically one who charges extortionate rents”. Concurrently, the literature on slum proprietors and slum dwellers provide two distinct ways of defining a slumlord, each revolving around the given definition. First, based on property ownership, some of the literature identifies a slumlord as the proprietor of an area befitting the characteristics of a slum. According to the United Nations' Human Settlements Program (2012) slums have “deplorable living and environmental conditions and are characterized by inadequate water supply, poor sanitation, overcrowded and dilapidated housing" (p.99). Thus, any person who owns such property is a slumlord. Another set of literature defines a slumlord using the traits of landowners. Hence, slumlords reduce “maintenance and repairs of rental properties to a minimal level just enough to keep the building operational and profitable" (Way, Trinh and Wyatt, 2013, p.20). Thus arises this study’s cause of analysis, where irresponsible property owners subject their tenants to deplorable living conditions and for one reason or another, nobody issues complaints. Accordingly, this study analyzes the factors that allow the existence of slums and the success of slumlords through the themes of social, economic and political spheres in the United States.
On the social premise, scholars identify rapid population growth as one of the major factors contributing to the emergence of slums in the United States. Concurrently, Eitzen, Zinn and Smith (2013) estimate the country to be holding “4.5 percent of the world’s population” (p.4). For this reason, immigration is a significant contributor to the rapid population growth witnessed in American States. On that note, most immigrants in the United States gain access into the country without following the legal proceedings pertaining to the same. In addition, as the number of people continues to increase, that of available resources remains dormant and in some cases decreases due to over consumption. Authors of “The Seven Myths of Slums” (2010) concur by pointing out that the American government cannot guarantee adequate housing for the immigrant poor on such high scales (p.12). Therefore, immigrants living in the country have to resort to cheap accommodations because they are poor and will often lack proper credentials to find decent work. Spencer-Wood and Matthew’s (2011) article points out that the hardships immigrants often face are due to “restrictive laws” that go against the “undesirable foreigners” (p.3). As mentioned above, most immigrant workers are in the United States against the law, and if found, there are high chances of deportation. In such cases, an immigrant living in a slum will probably opt to overlook poor living conditions and negligence by the buildings’ proprietor just so he or she could have a roof over their heads. Where they lack the right paperwork associated with being in the United States, slums are better options as most owners do not care about such matters. Therefore, immigrants residing in poorly maintained houses would not attempt to have better accommodations because they distrust the government and fear going to court. In the end, a majority of the people living in slum areas cannot sue their building owners or report them to the right people because of their fear of authorities.
Economically, the issue of poverty in slums is like a double-edged sword that cuts deep and wounds all the people involved. At this point of the research, it is important to note not only immigrants live below the poverty line but rather, citizens of the United States also fall into the category. Eitzen, Zinn and Smith (2013) report on statistics portraying “31.7 million Whites”, “13.2 million Latinos, and 10.7 million African Americans” living below said poverty line (p.19). With such statistics in mind, negotiations for better accommodations prove risky for slum dwellers that fear their proprietor’s wrath. Said risk originates from the power of slumlords and the apparent cheaper costs they charge their tenants. Because they hold the rights to their houses, a slumlord can decide to evict a tenant on a whim and do so without fearing any repercussions. A good illustration of slum dwellers is evident in a research conducted by Overs and Loff (2013) on commercial sex-workers in the United States and other countries. According to the researchers, the disadvantage position and reduced earnings of prostitutes encourage their exploitation by “unscrupulous slumlords” (Overs and Loff, 2013, p.189). As in most countries, prostitution is illegal in the United States where law enforcers reportedly “publish pictures of arrested sex workers and their tests on official websites” (Overs and Loff, 2013, p.188). Such actions aim to shame sex workers and force them into different professions that are more acceptable to the society. Consequently, owing to their line of work, there are various reasons encouraging sex workers’ to reside in degraded areas, including their affordability. Aside from acting as a repellant to the dignified persons in societies, slums provide ample support for all kinds of criminal activities by providing cover from prying eyes.
With such factors in mind, as stated before, prostitutes are just an example of some of the impoverished groups that choose to live in slum areas. While this paper mentions immigrants as possible slum dwellers, one can consider lawbreakers aside from sex workers including robbers and pickpockets who live in such areas. For this reason, there is a guarantee for slumlords to have a continuous supply of people in need of their houses no matter the state in which of said accommodations. Hence, taking a complaint to a slumlord will only result in possible evictions and immediate replacement of occupants. Evidently, multiple subjects originate from the grounds of poverty, emphasizing on the researcher dubbing the issue a “double edged sword”. Apparently, when wallowing in poverty, people lack the means to seek better accommodations and in turn, have to live in dingy apartments without complaint or risk forced evacuation. Secondly, it is noticeable that most slum dwellers do not abide by the laws set by the United States government. Hence, in addition to the argument made about criminal activities, slums provide a perfect hideout as it is most unlikely that slumlords ask questions on their tenants’ backgrounds. Way, Trinh and Wyatt (2013) have the same opinion as they state poorly managed rentals “often serve as havens for crime, including drug dealing and prostitution” (p.58). One can regard such cases as a “no-questions-asked policy” where slumlords do not enquire of the tenants’ dealings and vice versa. In addition, because of the blatantly impoverished conditions of slums and the dwellers, governments and the public neglect said areas. Valcourt’s (2014) research in the Near East Side of Columbus, Ohio records personal accounts by residents living in slum areas. One respondent declares the area to be “the dumping ground for bad things in the city”, neglected by the government and other authorities (Identifying Need in the Inner City). In contrary, because slumlords fail to determine the credentials of all the persons to whom they lease their properties, the situation can only worsen with time. When that happens, tenants lose their homes while slumlords lose properties and in some cases serve jail terms.
Finally, yet importantly, the theme of politics revolves around the lack of proper resources with which appointed authorities can help tenants fight for their rights. Consequently, there is little to no dissemination of information on residential codes, residents do not know their rights, and the law does not help slum dwellers. The overall result is that residents in houses owned by slumlords and live in all the abhorrent conditions mentioned in defining slumlords. About such instances, Sosa's (2010) research analyzes the process of filing “class action suits” tenants take a united front and sue their slumlord(s). According to Sosa (2010), although such action is possible, some tenants fail to act because they think they are “entitled to nothing more than the ill-treatment” (p.86). Sosa’s findings reiterate the ideologies of slumlords instilling fear of immediate evacuation at the slightest complaint. As a result, tenants will live under deplorable conditions with the mentality that the property owners are doing them a favor for allowing them to reside in the apartments. While such concepts appear illogical to most people, one needs to consider the economic status under which a person lives for them to find slum dwellings habitable in the first place. In other words, nobody chooses to live in poor conditions voluntarily and in difficult times, slumlords appear as angels to their tenants. At the same time, Sosa (2010) argues, “government agencies lack the resources necessary for complete enforcement” of residential codes (p.70). Without the necessary supplies, even filed cases against slumlords remain unsolved, a fact that would encourage further degradation of houses and discourage any further action from the deprived tenants.
Conclusively, fear is a recurring factor in all the presented arguments. Slum dwellers fear authorities because some are criminals, and others are illegal immigrants, and the rest fear forceful evictions or unresponsive government officials. However, while some can argue that cities lack proper resources to combat slumlords, most of the literature emphasize the fact that slum tenants do not file any complaints. Consequently, while there are some cases where the involved officials were unresponsive for lack of proper resources, such instances are rare in the slums of the United States. On the other hand, claiming ignorance of the people seems farfetched as the avenues of education go beyond the classroom. The internet provides multiple sources of information about dealing with slumlords, and there is no need for one to fight a slumlord alone. The presented literature fails to factor in the use of social media in fighting against substandard living conditions and alerting the rest of the society on the situation in slums. Thus, there is a need for researchers to examine the fear of slumlords with consideration of the current trends that include social media and other avenues the internet provided over the last five years. After all, one finds more strength in numbers and even with the worst slumlord, public awareness of the plight of other Americans will garner better responses from the government.


Eitzen, D. S., Zinn, M. B., & Smith, K. E. (2013). Social Problems Plus NEW MySocLab with eText -- Access Card Package (13th ed.). NewJersey: Pearson.
Overs, C. & Loff, B. (2013). Toward a legal framework that promotes and protects sex workers’ health and human rights. Health and Human Rights Journal, 15(1), 186-196.
Share The World’s Resources. (2010). The Seven Myths of ‘Slums’: Challenging Popular Prejudices about the World's Urban Poor. London: Friendly House.
Sosa, C. (2010). Lords Of The Manor:' Fighting California Slumlords With Private Multi-Plaintiff Implied Warranty Of Habitability Litigation. The Scholar, 13(67), 67-103.
Stevenson, A. (2010). Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Spencer-Wood, S. M., & Matthews C. N. (2011). Impoverishment, Criminalization, and the Culture of Poverty. Historical Archaeology, 45(3), 1–10.
United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). (2012). State of the World’s Cities Report 2012/2013: Prosperity of Cities. Europe: Malta by Progress Press Ltd.
Valcourt, C. (2014). Identifying Need in the Inner City: Residents’ Experiences and Perceptions on Living on the Near East Side of Columbus, Ohio. Epistimi: Capital University’s Undergraduate Research Journal, VIII.
Way, H. K., Trinh, S., & Wyatt M. (2013). Addressing Problem Properties: Legal And Policy Tools For A Safer Rundberg And Safer Austin. Texas: The Entrepreneurship And Community Development Clinic University Of Texas School Of Law.

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