On December 22, Publicola's Katie Wilson brought the South Seattle “Nightmare Tenant” story to a standstill. And what a run it had. After first appearing in a big way on Jason Rantz's radio show in August, it went national (Fox News), and then international (Daily Mail).

Not wanting to miss out on some serious rightwing action, the Seattle Times even gave the homeless landlord (he lives in a van while his tenant brazenly lives in his house) a whole column to vent his frustration with a system that's done him so wrong, a system that works for the do-nothings and not for his kind (the hardworking); a system, in short, that doesn't reward common sense values but the hysteria of the far left. Wilson's post, "Nightmare Tenant Story Amplified by Seattle Times Crumbles Under Scrutiny" revealed that the story is much more complicated than the one presented by the right-wing media (near and far) and the alleged victim, Jason Roth: "Small landlords are at the mercy of broken King County eviction court."

To get a sense of how disruptive Wilson's reporting was to those who so easily, so thoughtlessly (or better say instinctively—more about this when I get to the Kant section of this post) fell for the whole "the poor, the criminals, the junkies, the deadbeats, and all kinds of delinquents have too much power, thanks to the progressives and socialists" schtick, can be seen (if you have access to) Facebook's Columbia City group.

A person identified as Jason Roth is a very active member of the Columbia City group, which, to be fair, is a mixed bag of voices and positions. This cyber-Roth seems to speak for the real one. And the cyber-Roth, as far as I can tell, offers no real explanation for Wilson's findings, which included eye-clearing court records. His renter did not, for example, run the Airbnb without his awareness or, according to Publicola, disapproval. The renter and landlord were, according to records, also business partners. In the face of these facts, many on the Columbia City Facebook group refused to see Roth as the victim of a system that's spun out of control. Some, however, confronted him about the Publicola post. 


As Wilson made abundantly clear, this story is messy as fuck. Who is right and who is wrong is not at all evident. And a number of the claims in the (infamous) Seattle Times' guest editorial are completely contradicted by official records.

For example, Roth writes: 

I started working and saving money to purchase a house from the time I was in high school. I spent years and thousands of hours improving a Beacon Hill house after purchasing it in 2016. Earlier this year, to pay for pilot school, I decided to rent it out while I moved into a small apartment to live frugally as a working full-time student.

But Wilson shows the home is actually owned by Roth's parents:

While news stories mention Roth making mortgage payments on the Beacon Hill rental house, there’s no evidence of a mortgage or deed of trust in the land records. Instead, it appears to be owned outright by an LLC of which Roth’s father, Cary Roth, is the only listed governor and executor. The same LLC (under a previous name) owned a West Seattle beachfront home worth over $2 million, which was transferred to Roth’s parents in 2022.

This is to be expected. The media wanted a story that fit an idea, and the mere appearance of this story fit that idea. The image matched a particular feeling. That's what mattered. The appearance of a landlord being exploited by a renter. This is the upside-down world we now live in, apparently. That's the hot stuff. The one where day-to-day people spend way too much of their income (usually in the form of low wages) on rent primarily for the benefit of a very small investor class—that story should, like sheep jumping over the moon, put us to sleep. This is the main structure of information received by the public. And, as always, it's not about the rich but those caught in the middle. 

Recall the explanation Bartell's provided when it began closing stores: Too much crime and too dangerous for our workers—or, as they are called these days, teammates. (Some companies even go as far as to call them "associates"—"employees" is apparently too charged a word for the bossy class.) The safety of workers is all of a sudden just too important for managers and owners to sit on their hands and do nothing. Target is repeating the very same story as it closes the doors on a number of stores in Seattle and Portland.

Target to KGW 8: 

In this case, we cannot continue operating these stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance... We know that our stores serve an important role in their communities, but we can only be successful if the working and shopping environment is safe for all.

Those at the top are saving those at the bottom; they are thinking about them (day and night); they only have love for the workers and, as an afterthought, those who buy their stuff. Though this story (and its structure of feeling) got a bunch of conservatives elected to Seattle's city council, it's facing some mainstream resistance in Portland and Seattle (KING 5: "Target closure explanation contradicted by report on crime at Seattle stores").

The appearance of crime is no longer enough. Some are now asking for more than what is shown to us night after night: people breaking the law or victimizing law-abiders. But back to the homeless landlord for a moment. Here is a world we can (only) imagine: 10% of its homeless population are, my God, landlords. The homeless with homes. Thousands of them sleeping in vans or tents as their heartless and unevictable renters smoke cigars and drink champagne in their living rooms or plug-and-play hot tubs. What a world. What a world.

But back to life, back to reality. Seattle has, so far, one landlord among the 15,000 or so experiencing homelessness in the usual way: poverty, lack of affordable housing, deep cuts in social spending. This means Roth is exceptional or singular. His situation is, in this respect, not unlike quantum tunneling. It's unlikely to happen, but once in a blue moon it does. Anything can happen in the universe if given enough time. Once in a while, God's loaded dice don't work. And the god of our historically specific world is, of course, the capitalist.

(I was at this late point going to mention Kant, and the value of pre-Kantian metaphysics, which, unlike post-Kantian metaphysics, still imagined an objective world with a power or a force or Mover Unmoved, as its essence. This older, Aristotelian metaphysics, is useful when explaining what the young and rising star of Western Marxism, Søren Mau, calls "mute compulsion." The post-Kantian metaphysicians are stuck with what the philosopher Christina Hendricks calls Foucault's "ontology of ourselves," which may not even be Kantian at all, as Foucault insisted in his essay on Kant's Was ist Aufklärung?, and, more problematically, is too humanist to be of any real use for an analysis of a society whose motion is determined by market forces, which are, as Mau correctly argues, mute. But I will bring all of this up in another post. This one is long enough.)