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considerations when renting an apartment - Ilya Shlyakhter (notestaff) - letters to editors
May 9th, 2004
07:14 am


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considerations when renting an apartment
Rental ethics

I'm looking for an apartment. If I take an apartment priced below what I can afford, I take it away from someone who can't afford a more expensive one. If I take a more expensive one, I contribute to the upward pressure on prices for all apartments. Do these choices cancel out, or is there a preference?

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Date:July 27th, 2006 11:18 am (UTC)

answer by Randy Cohen, "The Ethicist"

As a Manhattanite, I'm struggling to grasp the concept of an apartment that's just too cheap. I'm sorry. Your words make no sense to me.

O.K., I've had an out-of-towner explain this arcane idea.

There is no ethical barrier to renting an inexpensive apartment. Some rentals are reserved for those in particular income brackets, and you must obey the relevant regulations, but after that you may apartment-hunt as you like. Your forswearing this particular apartment would be admirable but not required. Similarly, while I favor a more steeply graduated income tax than the current one, I have no ethical obligation to send the I.R.S. a little extra each year.

For either you or me to act so charitably would be supererogatory -- estimable, but beyond the call of duty.

As a practical matter, declining that apartment would be a futile gesture: most likely it would go not to someone who earns less than you but simply to the next would-be tenant who sees it. A better way to help the poor find housing is to work with and donate money to organizations fighting for this worthy goal.

Nor need you worry about abetting upward pressure on rents. There is a built-in mechanism to impede that trend (albeit with limited effectiveness): the fervent desire of nearly all tenants to pay the lowest possible rent.
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