A report published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution claims that landlords force renters to sign away their rights. The report details provisions in a standard lease that offer unattractive options to tenants and asserts that this is an act of force. The truth is, having to choose between unattractive alternatives isn’t force.
As an example, the report cites a provision regarding damage to a renter’s property:
Resident should purchase property insurance for loss of or damage to Resident’s personal property. Management is not liable for any loss or damages to Resident’s personal property due to theft, vandalism, bursting or leaking pipes, fire…
The report claims that this provision is an attempt to avoid responsibility. No mention is made of the fact that renters who do not purchase property insurance are avoiding responsibility.
Provisions such as this are not an act of force. Tenants have several alternatives to choose from. They can try to negotiate the removal of the provision. They can accept the provision and purchase property insurance. They can accept the provision and refrain from purchasing insurance. They can find housing that does not include such a provision. Renters may not like these alternatives, but they remain free to act as they think best.
The report implies that landlords should be held accountable for damages to a tenant’s property, and the tenant should not be held accountable for refusing to buy insurance to mitigate his losses. This is a double standard, and it is frequently used to castigate property owners and landlords.
An act of force uses physical harm or the threat thereof to remove alternatives. An armed robber who demands, “Your wallet or your life,” has removed an alternative—retaining both your wallet and your life. Landlords do not and cannot do anything of the sort.
In contrast, housing advocates want to use physical force against landlords. With policies such as rent control, “ban the box,” and compulsory acceptance of housing vouchers, advocates seek to compel landlords to act as they—the advocates—think proper. And those who do not obey face fines, jail, or both.
We may not always like the alternatives that we face, but choosing between unattractive alternatives isn’t force. If a hurricane is approaching, we have the alternatives of “hunkering down” or fleeing, neither of which is particularly attractive. No matter which option we choose, we aren’t being forced. The same is true of unattractive alternatives offered by landlords.