Letter to the Editor, 5 May 2022

Author: Lauren Leigh Rollins

Publication Type: Op-Ed/Guest Column/Letter to the Editor 

Original Publisher: Daily Hampshire Gazette

Link to Publication: https://www.gazettenet.com/Letter-Lauren-Leigh-Rollins-46142454

During a recent Northampton public forum on proposed legislation to shift the payment of brokerage fees from tenants to landlords, those in opposition (a group made up entirely of current brokers and realtors) argued that if the measure passes, landlords would simply raise their rents, thereby passing the cost on to tenants anyway. This, they explained, is how the “free market” works.

On the contrary, the most basic principle of free market economics is competition. Those with something to sell must find the appropriate quality and price point to attract and retain customers with multiple options. By that principle, in a market like Northampton’s that already lacks affordable housing, landlords who attempt to pass additional costs onto already-cash strapped renters will simply guarantee those renters cannot afford those units. The choice to do so, then, merely shrinks the size of the market in which those landlords can compete, thereby harming their own businesses.

It has become commonplace in our age of political polarization to throw around words, attached loosely to their nuanced meanings. But there is no escaping the fact that if an open, competitive, accessible rental market existed in Northampton, the proposed measure wouldn’t be necessary in the first place.

And contrary to the accusations of those who stand to benefit from the status quo, individual citizens who petition their elected representatives for a redress of grievances are not “socialists” either. They are citizens of the United States, protected by a Constitution that guarantees them that right.

While the protection of business interests is vitally important to a healthy local economy, no good ever comes from pitting industry against citizenry. Instead, when an old system — no matter how lucrative it’s been for a few — is clearly failing the majority, the free market compels us to innovate, change course and open up the market to new ideas and entrants.

If brokers are concerned about obsolescence, making adversaries of their customers is the best way to guarantee that outcome. Unless, of course, protectionism and a powerful lobby shields them from the consequences of the very market to which they claim to be bound.

Lauren Leigh Rollins