Young landlord TikTok is here and it's truly as grim as it sounds

Girlboss, gatekeep, gaslight!

by Beth Ashley
|
06 May 2021, 9:11am

We regret to inform you that the landlords are now on TikTok (and, by extension, Instagram Reels) to boast about their wealth and document the process of the “job”. Please, try not to throw up. The “PropertyTok” hashtag now has over 482,000 views on TikTok, while the “landlordlife” tag has an unfortunately large 8.4 million participants.

If you haven’t yet been exposed to these videos, good for you, but to give you an idea of their cursed contents: on TikTok, landlordism is presented as a kind of "get rich quick” scheme, or simply a fun lifestyle choice. Some creators have even managed to mix property-letting with multi-level marketing schemes, encouraging viewers to invest in properties they have lined up to get their foot in the door.

 There are those bragging about the financial freedom they’ve acquired at such a young age, those filming their empty properties as they document a fresh eviction and, of course, those meme-ifying themselves.

The majority of TikTok landlord videos fall into one of three categories: there are those bragging about the financial freedom they’ve acquired at such a young age, those filming their empty properties as they document a fresh eviction and, of course, those meme-ifying themselves, for how abysmally shit they are at their “jobs”. Doomscroll long enough and you’ll even find sob stories, like the one below about how a property consultant became a millionaire.

“I work in London, I live in Buckinghamshire but I invest up North,” he yells in another video, as he breathlessly stands in the road for unknown reasons. This kind of bizarre flex is unfortunately not unique. Many similar videos have been uploaded, celebrating the profits earned from buying and letting affordable properties in low-income areas like Huddersfield and Leeds.

But at the beginning of April, North West property investment company Ko Estates posted a reel that perfectly encompasses what Landlord TikTok is all about. A young landlord dances to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” in front of a buy-to-let property, and in classic TikTok form, her movements produce square text bubbles: "£98,000 property", "£24,000 deposit", "£570 rental income per month". She punches the air in celebration at the last one: “£417 profit per property per month”. The video description reads "passive income is something that deserves celebrating," punctuated by the confetti emoji.

It’s reels like this one that have justifiably upset young social media users, with one writing, "Seeing these bullshit schemes pitched as TikTok memes is somehow more aggravating than simply knowing they exist". Another adds, "Not pictured: the family losing £417 a month because they can't put it into their own property.”

Most tenants would find it hard, in any year, to enjoy a TikTok trend centred around bragging about the ownership of multiple properties, but post Covid-19, with financial devastation enveloping the UK, it really just hits different. The coronavirus pandemic is to blame for propelling the country further into the housing crisis throughout 2020, but much of this problem stems from private landlords propped up by the government, just like the ones throwing it back on TikTok, who manipulate an under-regulated, unfair side of the property industry.

Last year, when the pandemic began and the UK went into an emergency lockdown, the British government assured us that no tenant would lose their rental home due to coronavirus, announcing emergency legislation that restricted section 21 evictions (also known as “no fault evictions”). Despite calls for extension, this “ban” didn’t span the full length of the crisis. British renters were only offered five months of immunity, with landlords able to evict again from August of last year.

Back then, housing charity Shelter warned that an estimated 227,000 renters could lose their homes, but the true fall-out was much worse. According to a survey from Generation Rent, approximately 694,000 people have faced eviction since March 2020, many of which were the section 21 evictions the government promised to prevent. In the US, evictions have been estimated to have resulted in at least 10,000 additional Covid-related deaths.

TikTok’s algorithm encourages “trench warfare” rather than echo chambers. “Trench warfare increases polarisation by showing users contrasting opinions that make them angry, like when liberal people see content from Tories, or vice versa.”

With these glaring statistics in mind, it’s no surprise that the comment sections under #PropertyTok content are filled with devastated renters pleading with the creators to see how evil this system is. 27-year-old TikTok user Harry, who struggled to pay his rent during the pandemic and was refused rent holidays by his landlord, says the trend is particularly upsetting due to the apparent age of the landlords taking part. Referring to the now-viral Ko Estates video, he writes, “She’s like 21. That’s just not who you expect landlords — who are inherently evil — to be.”

Most social media platforms herd users into communities similar to their own, based on background and interests, making it easy for young people to fall into echo chambers that validate their choices. However, Dr Carolina Are, a criminologist and expert in online censorship, says TikTok’s algorithm encourages “trench warfare” rather than echo chambers. “Trench warfare increases polarisation by showing users contrasting opinions that make them angry, like when liberal people see content from Tories, or vice versa.”

Associate Director at the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies, Malcolm James, is an expert in youth politics, urban culture and alternative political formations. James explains that social media often encourages or facilitates obnoxious content because the algorithms work to promote online material to the end of increasing circulation and profit. “This is fed by and to society — social media amplifies the obnoxious or extreme positions held in society, and at the same time, helps create them,” he explains.

The very nature of TikTok may encourage landlords to boast, knowing the grief this will cause, and its disuniting algorithm explains why these videos are being promoted to tenants, despite them demonstrating no interest in the subject.

Malcolm explains that this kind of content creates a looped cycle of unhelpful behaviour. The makeup of TikTok leaves us trapped in a loop of observing, becoming angry and repeating — instead of inspiring any meaningful action. “As for the tenants, they have a right to be aggrieved in this instance, on political grounds alone,” he explains. “The landlords are celebrating off of profit based on greed and maybe, from the perspective of the young tenants, also mocking the economic hardship many young people face.”

So, what are angry tenants on TikTok doing in response? Fortunately, there exists a thriving oppositional sub-community dedicated to just how awful and unethical some landlords can be. TikTok tenants have flooded the hashtags that landlords use to boast their businesses and film themselves counting money (yes, really) with their own experiences of what landlords are actually like. It’s not restitution, but at least there’s some catharsis and community to be found.

For now, there’s not a lot more that more tenants can do. Private renting remains heavily unregulated and the government have failed to prevent pandemic evictions. Karl Marx said that “Landlordism is the commodification of land, of site and of soil.” But perhaps earning profit from keeping a monopoly on homes was not enough; now landlords must use it for content creation too, generating influencer-landlord hybrids.

Ultimately, homes are necessary for survival. And as the UK government has failed to provide affordable properties, or indeed fair property laws, as we emerge from the pandemic, the scale of the harm this has inflicted across society is now more visible and visceral. Anyone who directly benefits and profits from this deep-seated inequality should know that they are complicit in what essentially amounts to human rights abuse. Yes Becky, even if you are a girlboss.

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