Landlords are becoming TikTok stars while their followers suffer a cost of living crisis

Among the many things we prematurely celebrated the end of in April 2020 – like commuting and dressing for the office – there was arguably no greater misfire than calling time on AirBnB.

It was understandable: the company was reporting an 85 per cent drop in bookings and social media seemed littered with landlords sweating about properties sitting empty. Landlords began switching their short-term lets and renting them out as longer-term ones; rent prices dipped (alongside Airbnb’s stock prices). There was no reason to think that this wasn’t the moment this ever-ballooning bubble was finally going to burst.

But, two years later, the housing market has more than made up for lost time. Despite the brief increased affordability of homes, house prices are higher than ever, home ownership has become even less affordable (coupled with rising interest rates), and travel is back on – bringing business back to short-term landlords relying on holidaymakers. Local councils have even reported landlords evicting their long-term tenants to turn their properties into Airbnbs and lets.

And online, the influencers, self-help gurus, and business-focused life coaches are encouraging their followers to take part in this continued property boom – despite their young audiences frequently being at the sharp end of its impact.

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One of the primary places landlordism is thriving is on #PropertyTok, a subsection of TikTok full of content by and for landlords. Here you can find videos of landlords bragging about price gouging homes they bought for cheap, charging often quadruple the monthly mortgage in rent, giving guidance on how to find and flip cheap properties, and boasting about how they live entirely off of the “passive income ” they receive from their property portfolios.

While #PropertyTok does include some content that merely talks about homes or personal home renovations, some of its most popular videos come from dedicated landlord influencers. These include people such as Samuel Leeds (149K followers) and James Property (341K followers) who use their accounts solely to talk about and promote landlordism – preaching about how easily it could become your lucrative lifestyle as well.

These types of influencers are at the forefront of the online landlord movement and play a major role in promoting a vulturistic approach to real estate investment. But beyond the broad-scale rise of landlord influencers, niche, more specifically-targeted landlord influencers have begun to emerge that attempt to shift and sugarcoat the consequences: arguing that becoming a landlord can be, in fact, an act of “self-care”.

This particular language is often deployed by so-called “property coaches”, a type of landlord influencer typically found on Instagram whose content is aimed at millennial women, using girlboss-style talking points to encourage people to sign up for mentoring. Shrouded in half-baked feminist language, these “coaches” talk about how – for a fee – they can make women feel “empowered” and “free” through teaching them to build a property portfolio, saying they can help women “​​become successful Landlord Queens”.

#PropertyTok is one of the primary places that landlordism is thriving (Photo: Paul Thomas/ Getty Images)

These influencers make pseudo-feminist arguments, talking about how there is a gender bias in landlording and real estate investment, with mission statements that reference correcting this imbalance with more female landlords. In the US, whole businesses and programs have sprung up in the last few years built on these ideals, such as Lady Landlords and Real Estate InvestHER, which charge mentorship fees and offer pricey coaching packages costing thousands of dollars under the guise of teaching women how to take care of themselves “mentally and physically” in order for them to be capable of “building generational wealth.”

Although not entirely exclusive to female-targeted accounts – “financial freedom” is the buzzword du jour for most full-time landlords – the adopted social-justice-laced lingo helps to mask the wider impact on others (not least many of their younger followers ) of inflating rents and buying up extra properties for profit. By focusing on narratives of individual “empowerment” through wealth procurement, they choose to frame full-time landlording as a societal good.

While landlord content can feel almost inescapable online, its popularity sits in ironic opposition with the financial reality of most people who consume it. Much like a lot of the trends written about in the last year, such as the Great Resignation, with employees voluntarily quitting their jobs en masse, the death of ambition, a movement of people putting less value on professional success, and the YOLO economy, in which young people have chosen to forgo work altogether, the rise of landlordism represents only a sliver of a relatively wealthy section of the population – with ample savings, resources, and a large enough salary to acquire deposits and mortgages.

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Its widespread popularity, then, reveals who this trend speaks to. It reaches beyond those who actually have a chance of being a landlord and speaks to those for whom full-time landlording will always be an aspiration; an extremely unlikely future reality. Like much of influencer output online, landlord content serves both as functional for those already in that position, but also as an aspirational bar for those who simply wish they were.

The rise of landlordism online doubles its negative impact: it doesn’t just hurt the housing market and affordability, but it also shifts opinion among young renters, encouraging them to see landlording as something that people do not just for cash, but also “rightly ” for self-care, rather than a core part of what’s making their lives increasingly unlivable.

In the UK, governments have begun to take steps to reduce the number of short-term lets as well as the number of buy-to-let properties. In Edinburgh where, before the pandemic, Airbnbs accounted for one in ten homes in the city center the city council has just received approval to crack down on landlords turning residential properties into short-term lets. In Wales, new rules come into effect next year which can require second homeowners to pay up to 300% council tax, with similar plans being considered in other parts of Britain. Just last month, the UK government launched a consultation into the balance of homes used for tourism and homes used for locals.

However, it seems unlikely that these relatively minor penalties will be enough to dissuade aspiring landlords (as well as current ones) from attempting to become part of the lucrative short-term let boom, given the massive rewards being evangelized about online.

Until stricter rules are put in place, the gap will only widen between those creating landlord content and those stuck watching the videos from their overpriced house share.

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