Housing advocates are increasingly calling for laws to protect the rights of tenants. But the fact is, tenants have always had rights. New laws protecting “tenants’ rights” will ultimately lead to the destruction of the rights of all individuals, including tenants.
The Declaration of Independence declares that all individuals are endowed with certain rights, namely, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These rights apply to all individuals, including tenants and landlords. These rights pertain to freedom of action—the freedom to choose and pursue the values that will lead to a happy life.
Rights protect the freedom of individuals to attain the education and job skills that will provide them with the standard of living they desire. If an individual wants a better car, or better clothes, or better food, or better housing, his rights protect his freedom to take the actions necessary to produce or earn them. His landlord can’t stop him. The only person who can stop him from improving his life is himself.
The advocates of “tenants’ rights” imply that tenants have rights that are separate and distinct from landlords and other individuals. This means that tenants allegedly have the freedom to take actions that others may not take, such as staying in a property without paying rent. But if individuals have a right to a value, such as housing, then what of the rights of those who must provide that value? They are no longer free to pursue the values of their choosing.
Rights do not apply to groups. Rights only apply to individuals, and they apply to all individuals equally, tenants and landlords alike.
If your home is burglarized, it is not an issue of “homeowners’ rights.” If you are defrauded by an unscrupulous financial adviser, it isn’t an issue of “investors’ rights.” If a landlord violates the terms of his lease agreement with a tenant, it is not an issue of “tenants’ rights.” In each of these instances, it is an issue of individual rights—an individual has been deprived of his property without his consent.
When “rights” are applied to groups, the result is pressure group politics. Each group’s “rights” can only be protected at the expense of individuals in other groups. The individual not in the currently popular group is caught in the crossfire. His freedom to act is secure only so long as his group is in favor.
Those who are truly interested in helping tenants should be advocates for individual rights. When the rights of all individuals are protected—as individuals—then all be free to pursue the values that they want and need. And that includes both landlords and tenants.