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The rise of the young landlord

Gen Z are known as the anti-capitalist generation – so why are there so many young landlords on TikTok?

When you picture a landlord, it’s likely you imagine a seedy boomer trying to convince you that the mould growing on your clothes is actually your fault for ‘not opening the windows enough’ (even though it’s January).

When over half the wealth of the housing market is owned by over 65s, and one-third of millennials will never own a home, young landlords are a rarity. However, more and more, landlordism is being presented as a kind of “get rich quick” scheme on apps like TikTok, with videos professing how to generate passive income by building a mini-empire of rental properties that can then be leveraged for profit. At present, the hashtag #PropertyTok currently has over 125 million views.

28-year-old James first experienced the private rental market as a student at the University of Leeds, where he lived in a houseshare with four other students. “Instead of going with the norm of hating your landlord, I actually got quite inspired. I thought this landlord is making really good money,” he says. Juggling a full-time job with university classes two days a week, James was able to buy his first property in the East Riding of Yorkshire at the age of 21 for £58,000.

After spending 12 months refurbishing the property, James was able to sell it on for a tidy profit of £40,000. Reinvesting the money, James kept flipping houses before eventually having enough money to start buying buy-to-let properties at age 24. Now James posts business-related, DIY, and day-in-the-life content to over 430,000 followers on TikTok, alongside managing his five rental properties.

“The messages I get, mostly on Instagram and TikTok, are from a lot of youngsters,” James explains. “I’m quite inspired by that, because I think there’s actually quite a lot more entrepreneurial-minded youngsters nowadays than when I was growing up.”

Some creators have even cashed in on this growing interest, supplementing the income from their property letting by selling online courses and e-books. James launched James Property Academy in 2021 to help others get into property and teach everything he wished he knew when starting out. The academy currently has over 1,700 students, retailing online for £297. 

“We don’t get taught about finances, how to save, how to invest, how to buy properties. It’s about breaking out of that cycle, that wheel of the 9-to-5 and making some really good money from property,” says James, explaining the premise behind the James Property Academy. “We get a lot of positive comments and we get a lot of negative comments.” In response to the negative comments, James says: “I went through that system myself. I was a student, I paid £95 a week [in rent], and I took inspiration from it rather than negativity because if my landlord could do it, I wanted to be able to do it.”

In the past few years, landlords have become the subject of more criticism and derision than ever before. A national housing crisis has pushed up rents around the country and become one of the biggest drivers of inequality, where rich kids are bought their first home via the bank of mum and dad while the rest of us are mostly stuck in a carousel of insecure rentals. And while it is tempting to see 20-somethings as a united progressive force against such inequalities, with reports showing that Gen Z and Millennials are the first generations to become less conservative with age, the reality is more complicated. 

In an article published last year, Vicky Spratt, housing correspondent and author of Tenants, discussed how economic conditions – namely rising house prices and stagnating wages – are making younger people more individualistic and right-leaning. “Against this bleak backdrop, why wouldn’t you want to circumvent a poorly paid job which might never buy you security and opt for work in which, if you hustle hard enough, you could make it big and live happily ever after?” she wrote.

“When the ideological end goal of owning multiple properties and renting them out is presented in the same fashion as being a famous influencer, or even in some cases as ‘easy money’, then people vastly underestimate the actual responsibilities that come with commodifying shelter” – DJ Muel

This is the same generation who’ve been hit hardest by spending cuts and unemployment, and are overrepresented in low-paid jobs and insecure work, so it’s understandable that young people are eager for alternatives to the harsh reality of the workforce. We’ve also witnessed house prices skyrocket – if you bought a house for the market average in July 2012 and did nothing but sit tight for ten years, you would have earned a life-changing £121,417. If you rented out that house, you would have paid off your mortgage faster and earned even more money. For young people raised in these times, it’s easy to see how buying a house – and, by extension, buying to let – has become a ticket to instant financial security.

However, landlordism is at its heart an individualistic solution to a systemic problem. These people see property as an economic function, something that is a good investment in the long run. However, treating property as a fashionable investment option rather than as a human necessity, inevitably prices out those seeking somewhere to live. “Of course, the idealised place to be in your mid-twenties – as fed to us by the lies of neoliberal capitalism when we grow up – is: owning your own house, having a long-term partner or being married, and of course having a good job with a fat paycheck,” adds DJ Muel, Elected Member Solidarity Officer at Greater Manchester Tenants Union. “This idealised life is so far from the truth that people are desperate to look for a way to get out of the miserable exploitation and bullshit jobs we all have to suffer as working-class individuals, and one of the ways out that is being sold to zoomers is of course ‘landlord hacks’.”

“When the ideological end goal of owning multiple properties and renting them out is presented in the same fashion as being a famous influencer, or even in some cases as ‘easy money’, then people vastly underestimate the actual responsibilities that come with commodifying shelter,” explains Muel. “It’s also important to note that while anti-capitalist and left-wing ideas are permeating popular culture more and more, capitalism is in its late stages and the normalisation of exploiting others in literally everything we do is so commonplace. So it’s completely understandable – yet regrettable – that youngsters are lacking the understanding of why it’s bad to do that.” Additionally, while landlords are the easiest target at which to aim our vitriol, the government who props them up is also clearly to blame for failing to provide affordable properties or fair property laws that allow some to manipulate an under-regulated side of the industry.

Ultimately, devotion to the illusion of meritocracy often disregards the possibility of collaborative efforts that could lead to significant transformation. In light of this, Muel has some advice to anyone tempted by the property mogul lifestyle: “You may not end up as rich financially, but spiritually and ideologically, there is no wealth greater than the knowledge that you’re fighting an unfair and unjust system designed to profit off one of the greatest human needs.”

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