Although Matthew Desmond shows some positive aspects of the landlords’ behavior, most readers will find it hard to sympathize with their actions. Desmond further shows that when tenants fall behind, paying the back rent is not enough to spare them from the landlords’ wrath: even after the tenants settle in full, the landlords are likely to evict them anyway. The constant in the book is the landlords’ eagerness to pursue eviction more often than they try to help their tenants.
One landlord he profiles is Sherrena, who owns a number of properties in a poor area of Milwaukee. Her refusal to maintain the properties up to legal standards is one of the threads that runs through the book. Although this behavior is carried out across the board, not deliberately directed at any one tenant, Sherrena’s failure to accord her tenants the basic rights to which the law entitles them is callous and disrespectful. In addition, by setting the rents at artificially high rates in comparison to the value of the housing, Sherrena is indulging in price-gouging, thus treating her tenants unethically. One example of her harshness is cheating Lamar by refusing to pay the agreed amount for cleaning and painting.
Another example of harshness is retribution. Tobin’s tenants appear on a television news coverage of the trailer park’s numerous legal infractions. Although he had been inclined to work with Larraine, as she had nearly caught up with her delinquency, he evicts her after seeing her on the news. He also evicts Pam when she is seven months pregnant.