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Landlord Sins - Envy

The vintage cautions of the Seven Deadly Sins have much to offer the equally ancient practice of being a landlord.

Envy comes at you from all directions as a landlord because once you hit a certain age, everyone you know has a story to tell about making money in property.

You'll hear about awesome tenants, adroit agents, diligent trades-people, steady rents, and low vacancies. To add zest to the experience, you'll be told all this while mindful of your struggle with property managers who couldn't bang two rocks together, let alone fill the vacancies in your money-pit slum before it disintegrates in a pile of dodgy construction.

Your successful companion's tales of being a landlord may even be an interlude before the climax of flipping the property for immense capital gains.

The more skillful the narrative, the more you will ask, "Why can't I do that?"

The good news is that envy goes beyond merely scouting for opportunities. Even better, envy feels bad, unlike the idealistic zeal of lust or wrath. Your desire to stop being envious will help you do so, along with reflecting on:
  1. The nature of envy.
  2. How circumstances can be reframed. 
Envy begins when admiration turns into covetousness, but even that is not fatal if kept in check.
The danger lies in what happens if it is not. Aquinas believed envy to be a 'gateway' sin, tempting you to schadenfreude, or even leading you to undermine others, a la Cain and Abel.

Being Kind to Envy

Envy is a natural part of being reminded to focus on one's flaws with scripture like:

"And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own?" (Luke 6:41, NIV)


"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (John 8:7, KJV)

Envy is a backlash against all the well-intentioned warnings we received about pride.

Not that we see the fortunate as blowhards (although some are). Our misguided sense of justice wants them to be brought to our level so that they suffer envy as we do.

What if they did? What if everybody else was just as envious?

Stay with me on this one.

Property is incredibly complex, and to tell a story about it compellingly requires over-simplification. The end must be kept in mind so that the teller can edit out all the bits that dilute what they wish to convey. If you are envious by the end of their tale, perhaps it was intentional. Perhaps what they were projecting was not pride, but their own envy; their wish for something to be proud of.

So for this exercise, don't just count your blessings, list several things you have that others may envy you for. It's not hard, even if you consider yourself conventionally unfortunate. If unemployed, you have time. If single, freedom. To a house-flipper, long-term plain-vanilla landlords represent the holy grail of sustainable passive income. You may envy someone who profited from the sale of their property while they, in telling their tale, reveal how envious they are that you get to keep yours.

Being kind to our own envy can make us kinder to the jealousies of others.

The Log in our Eye

If envy also means desiring what others have, we should ask ourselves if we would really want everything they had. Would we swap places with them if we couldn't cherry pick their boons? Would we really want their job? Their families? Their mortgages?

Widening our scope halts our envy and raises questions about what remains unconsidered. The landlord who 'successfully' bought and let out the worst house in the best street may still be struggling with the repayments. The hotshot developer certain to make stratospheric profits may just as certainly see their margin felled by expenses. Low vacancies and lasting tenancies may be a product of below-market rent. Would we really accept all the inseparable conditions associated with the targets of our envy?

Envy is less a product of our imperfect capacity as it is our imperfect perception. If we could see the price tag for 'success', we probably wouldn't pay it.

Indeed, Invidia, Latin for 'envy', translates as 'non-sight'. Dante's envious were shrouded with leaded cloaks, eyes sewn shut with leaden wire, blind to their blessings. This description was repeated more recently as:
"Blind to the good they already have." (Nelson Aldrich, 'Old Money')
Because we do not have (God's) perfect vision, the logs in our eyes blind us to our gifts, our faults, as well as the true nature of what has been bestowed upon others.


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