Jim Johnson, Last Surviving Landlord in the United States, Dead at 101
Provo, Utah—Mr. Jim Johnson, the last remaining survivor of the little-understood 20th century profession known as “landlording”, died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday. He was 101.
The Last of a Breed
With the death of Mr. Johnson, the last former practitioner of this exploitative (and now illegal) occupation, an era has ended.
Mr. Johnson entered the ranks of ‘real estate investors’ in 2006, a time when many of the laws that eventually led to the de-privatization of housing were still in their natal stages.
Although these ordinances were originally instituted as a way for financially-strapped cities to raise cash through the use of “occupancy permits” and “landlord registrations”, civic leaders of all stripes quickly realized that landlords and the housing that they provided were a major source of crime, blight, health hazards, and mental distress in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. With the creation of the expanded Department of Housing and Urban Development during the 3rd Rodham-Clinton administration in 2032, these problems were swiftly dealt with and, ultimately, wiped out.
In the early years of the 21st century, housing was not recognized as the basic human right it is today. During this dark period in American history, thousands of families were forced into a state of housing instability due to their inability to pay “rent” to the wealthy landlord-tycoons who controlled much of the nation’s housing. Others were forced by lack of economic resources to live in ancient, substandard housing, devoid of such basic amenities as central air conditioning and free internet.
The first step toward correcting this intolerable situation occurred in 2020, when the EPA’s “Lead Free USA” program demolished and replaced all of the country’s pre-1978 housing. Although the program caused an outcry among property owners, its approval rating among rental housing consumers was a record-high 97%, particularly after the law was amended in 2021 to include the rent-control provision which made it a felony for landlords to raise the rents on the new properties for 10 years.
While all ethical housing providers of the era also supported the “Lead-Free USA” program, and gladly paid their half of the $100,000 cost to demolish, dispose of, and rebuild each unit, a fringe element consisting of owners of lower-priced rental housing claimed that the expense was not economically feasible. These owners, though wealthy beyond the dreams of the average person, refused en masse to comply with the regulations, some going so far as to illegally abandon their properties rather than absorb their fair share of the costs.
As a result, lenders acquired nearly 69 million units of housing through foreclosure from 2021-2023 alone. Although most of these properties were eventually purchased by the Federal Government in the 7th round of the TARP bailouts four years later, a period of massive inflation driven by housing costs nearly destabilized the government in the 3rd decade of the 21st century.
These were the last years of prosperity for landlords like Johnson, who were able to circumvent the rent stabilization laws by collecting huge cash bribes from families desperate to find housing, a practice that continued until it became punishable by death during the brief period of martial law that followed the Housing Riots of 2025.
The Life of the Late 20th Century Tenant
While residents today enjoy all the benefits of publicly-owned housing, tenants in Johnson’s era lived a very different life. Unlike modern residents, early 21st-century tenants were required by law to pay for their lodgings every month, without regard to their personal or financial circumstances.
In fact, courts of the day cooperated in forcing tenants to move out of their homes for non-payment of their rents, even when the nonpayment was due to illness, loss of a job, poor innate budgeting skills, or the purchase of necessary lifestyle items. Although today’s Housing Rights Department will subsidize 100% of any resident’s rent for as many as 4 months per year (more in case of dire need), only “lower-income” families—those making less than $58,000 per year—could be considered for assistance in Johnson’s time.
Perhaps most shocking to modern sensibilities is the fact that housing in that era was distributed according to economic ability.
Housing with more square footage and/or amenities than average was only “affordable” to those elite who, by accident of birth or genetics, were able to earn more money than the average person. Certainly this practice goes against the modern philosophy that each person has the inalienable right to live where they choose, regardless of their economic luck. Today’s “lottery system” of assigning housing, originally tested and proven in the Republic of Cuba, is considered by Housing Rights experts to be the most fair and rational system ever developed for assigning residency.
Interestingly, though he may not have recognized it, Mr. Johnson saw the roots of our modern system in his own day. In the 1990s, a federal program originally intended to assist lower-income renters with rent payments embarked on the more important mission of ending economic discrimination in housing. The “Section 8” program quietly enacted a policy of rejecting units in lower-income areas and encouraging its clients to look for units in more affluent neighborhoods; within 10 years, the nascent social program known as “economic nondiscrimination” was in full swing. In her comments at the signing of the Federal Housing Rights Act in 2023, HUD czar Stormy Daniels paid tribute to the early workers in the field of housing rights. In recognizing these pioneers, Daniels said,
“We owe thanks to every Section 8 inspector who took the moral high ground by refusing to approve a unit in a substandard area, to every legal aid attorney who fought tooth and nail to keep poor tenants from being made homeless due to nonpayment of rent, to every legislator who voted for laws making it more difficult to put families on the street, to every attorney who sued a millionaire landlord on behalf of a lead-poisoned child, to every official who introduced regulations to protect our country’s citizens from the greed and abuses of private housing providers. Were it not for these innovators, we would not be here on this historic occasion, putting behind us a society where a tiny number of corrupt magnates control the nation’s housing, and looking forward to a future where this important right is provided by the people for the people.”
Like many tycoons of the day, Johnson believed himself to be a “good” landlord. In his journals, he recorded his pride in providing clean, affordable housing to his tenants, paying more taxes than the average citizen, employing dozens of people throughout his careers, and rehabilitating older, distressed properties. Although little is known of his early life, Johnson also claimed that he did he obtain his wealth through inheritance or by exploiting others. He imagined himself to be no more than an average person who had the foresight to make wise real estate investments and to manage them profitably.
Johnson will be laid to rest at the Coldstream Memorial Gardens on Friday. The family requests that contributions in his memory be made to the American Socialist Party, c/o the White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.
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