Real Music & Real Estate . . .

Yiddishe Cup’s bandleader, Bert Stratton, is Klezmer Guy.

He knows about the band biz and – check this out – the real estate biz too. So maybe he’s really Klezmer Landlord.

You may not care about the real estate biz. Hey, you may not care about the band biz. (See you.)

This is a blog with a gamy twist. It features tenants with snakes and skunks, and musicians with smoked fish in their pockets.

Stratton has written op-eds for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.



I’m a musician-landlord from Cleveland — a curiosity to New York Times editors, no doubt. Definitely not a Harvard professor. You want more real estate stories? Here’s one.  Heads-up: it’s long, but it’s my best and is the basis for my Dear Landlord 1939 crossroad

I post a new story to this blog every Wednesday.

The Times didn’t activate the “comments” button on “I’m Not Evil. I’m a Landlord.” If you want to comment on the piece, you can fire away here.

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1 Jim Abbot { 03.12.16 at 7:54 am }

Mr. Stratton, congratulations on your most recent op-ed in The New York Times. I’ve just read your piece in City Journal together with some of your earlier NYT essays. “Deft” is the word that occurs to me: skillfully executed, light touch, droll: “But I used Benjamin Moore paint, Stratton. Only the best.” That made me smile, as did much else. I’m not surprised the paper of record has been publishing you: you’re quite good!

As it happens, my wife and I attended a talk by Matthew Desmond this week. The author, that is, of “Evicted.” He spoke here in Atlanta, at the Carter Library, which is a stone’s throw from our home. An appealing young man, Matt Desmond. Not what you’d expect in a tenured Harvard professor: unpretentious, earnest, passionate about this issue of housing for the poor. Then again, exactly what you’d want from a Harvard prof: deeply knowledgeable, clear-thinking, authoritative.

I asked him about landlords during the Q&A. He began by voicing exactly your point: many landlords whom he has encountered are de facto social service workers, and they make commendable efforts to be patient with and helpful to their tenants. He also noted that the guy who owns the rundown trailer park, the one in which he himself lived for several months, clears about a half million a year. That quieted the audience.

In any case, you conclude your City Journal essay with this: “The basic rule in Cleveland real estate is that the landlord gives you a fresh coat of paint, a clean refrigerator, and some heat, and you give him a third of your income. And you figure you should be paying a whole lot less than that.”

But according to Desmond, many poor people these days are paying closer to 70 or 80 percent of their income on housing. That’s a problem, don’t you agree?

It has nothing to do with whether you or the government is a better landlord. Desmond and many others (me included) grant that you are indeed a much better landlord. In fact, Desmond’s call for expansion of voucher programs is a not-so-tacit admission that the private market, in almost all cities, is where we should be helping poor families find decent housing.

So. I will look for your memoir. I wish you success with it. And should you have another chance to stand on the shoulders of the paper of record and address the world, I encourage you to meet Desmond and his kind halfway: that is, close the distance between yourself and this public policy issue — the distance created by your wry tone and humorous anecdotes — and grant that however flawed and frail we humans are, however undeserving we may seem, however much we bring our problems on ourselves, we all have a stake in making certain that a civilized society not become brutish.

Thanks for reading.

2 Bert Stratton { 03.12.16 at 8:35 am }

To Jim Abbot:

You should be the moderator when Matthew Desmond and I meet up! Thanks for your essay. I gotta Google you. You must be a pro writer. Nobody else writes that clearly and cogently at 7:54 a.m.

3 A'mie Roach { 03.12.16 at 9:31 am }

I was forwarded your piece this morning from one of my readers. Although I don’t wish the problems of a landlord on anyone (especially in MA), it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who finds the humor in the horror. If you want to commiserate and laugh, check out some of my stories at

4 Ralph Spaugh { 03.12.16 at 10:10 am }

I look forward to reading your memoir. Don’t wait too long – I’m 80.
Your NY piece gave me some good lines. Thanks.

5 mason { 03.12.16 at 10:13 am }

You’re a real hero, doing social work without ever thinking of yourself. I can’t wait to read your book: “Landlord in Wonderland.

6 Jim { 03.12.16 at 11:53 am }

Enjoyed your observations.
We too are caring landlords who attempt to provide safe,clean housing at affordable rates. Over the years we have noticed a change in the tenancy however.
Young people once rented with an eye towards saving for their future home. That constituency has been replaced by those who never expect to have their own place nor do they advocate such a possibility to their children.
What is instead taught is that the landlord is the enemy. Security is to be used for anything but it’s intended purpose. If evicted, trash the apartment on the way out. Expensive TVs, cell phones and the like are more important than rent.
We have 3 levels of security in our building(s): an outside door lock, inside door lock and individual lock for each apartment door. It is the norm that the two outside door locks are commonly broken by our tenants so that they need not bother to leave their apartment to let their friends in. When that is too inconvenient the door is broken off.
And, these are just the easier challenges for a landlord.
As we all know, the more difficult areas are lack of family unit, crime and drugs which exponentionaly contribute
to the problem of providing housing.

7 Tony B { 03.12.16 at 11:58 am }

Why don’t you keep a real tie in your car instead of a clip-on? Is the implication that clip-on are cheaper? Take up less space? Or is your personal tacky? Or do you not know how to tie a tie? I am genuinely baffled by this!

8 Haverford Douglas { 03.12.16 at 12:25 pm }

I didn’t find your piece either humorous or humane. ‘Luckily for me’ was a grotesque but when dealing with a suicide. Like most awful people, you see your predicament as that of a saint dealing with the abuse of the world. Instead, see your absurd position as a inheritor and destination of others labor as a deeply fortunate one. Whatever regulation or demand the city/state places upon you is nothing when compared to the leisure earning mailbox money lifestyle your existence allows. You are as tasteless in your writing and curation of your ‘anecdotes’ as your clip on tie.

9 Michael Wex { 03.12.16 at 2:15 pm }

Mazl tov, Bert.

10 Seth B. Marks { 03.12.16 at 2:28 pm }

Hey just cause the NYT won’t grant you a comments section (why, pray tell, will you jam up the intertubes?) these erudite comments are gonna ruin your reputation in this blog. I agree about the clip-on v. real tie dispute, ibid. I think.

11 Ed Hoogland { 03.12.16 at 6:23 pm }

One reason clip-on ties are worn by security personnel is to prevent being used like a leash during a fight. A guy grabs at your tie in an attempt to control you and if it’s a clip-on tie he gets a surprise!

12 Barry { 03.13.16 at 12:44 am }

How are you exactly better at providing affordable housing than the government?

To me, you’re just a typical landlord. Nothing I read in your op-ed makes me think you’re providing social services.

13 Right said fred { 03.13.16 at 1:26 am }

Only $20 late fee? My landlord hits me with $40, then another $35 for posting the notice. He’s a good guy though, and works hard at upkeep. I’ve always admired the dedication to his good fortune. Your comments section is like real life. Including those that think everything should be free. Reminds me of a porn movie; “Even landlords need love.”

14 You got it. { 03.13.16 at 7:38 am }

I worked for a gov grant-funded affordable housing org, what a waste of taxpayer funds. The guy running it knew nothing about building or bldg management. He had an Americorp staffer who knew nothing and was busy promoting herself so she would get into law school. He didn’t have enough work for three people. It was a one-person job that he was not qualified to do. That’s fine, but not on taxpayer funds.

15 Ronald P. Bernard { 03.13.16 at 8:07 am }

Dear Mr. Stratton:
I write the monthly newsletter for the Southern Worcester County Landlords Association (Massachusetts). My I have your permission to use your oped “I’m Not Evil. I’m A Landlord” that was printed in the 12 March 2016 issue of the New York Times?

16 Jill { 03.13.16 at 3:12 pm }

A landlord legally gets to enjoy to privilege of making a living off the backs of the labor of people while holding on to land and watching its value rise. What is a landlord producing? Nothing. They are having the land values rise as another human pays the mortgage for them. Their labor goes to feed the lord over the land. Mr. Landlord, you’re no social worker. You are holding on to land for an increase in its value and having someone else pay the mortgage. What a deal….for you. One definition of evil is a person that has wealth created for him upon the backs of another’s labor. We are each born onto the land. It is the wealthy that can “buy” it and think they “own” it. You don’t own it. You are a violator of natural laws that say, a child should have shelter. Lords over the land make poverty a given. If you really gave a crap about the people you serve (your renters) perhaps you could discount their rent every time your land value rises. They have held your land for you while paying your mortgage. You should give them a financial benefit for being in a partnership with you that creates wealth FOR YOU. Evil can be found easily within the concept that you think you OWN the land. You are merely passing through here on the earth and you would do well to recognize that your power trip holds evil in itself. Wake up.

17 David Korn { 03.16.16 at 9:58 am }

Bert, I enjoyed your Times piece. I must say that I am really stunned by the animosity that it seems to have provoked on the part of some of the readers who have put in comments. But, I suppose, a thick skin is also a good thing to have, along with a big supply of 3-day notices.

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