What happened to Madison Slumlords?

The landlord-shaming project died of a thousand cuts.
An illustration shows a man’s face with a streak across his eyes, an apartment building visible in the background, and various icons associated with a website that is out of service.
Illustration by Kay Reynolds.

The landlord-shaming project died of a thousand cuts.

When I learned Madison Slumlords, the locally-run, landlord-shaming website and its Twitter handle were down, I was concerned that a disgruntled landlord had uncovered the identity of the site’s creator and sued them into oblivion. After all, when I spoke to them last year, they asked not to be identified because “Are landlords the litigious type? Yep, they are.”

Instead, the website’s downfall was much more mundane. 

“Nothing too earth-shattering,” the site’s creator says. 

There was always the threat of a lawsuit, and once that threat did hit a little too close to home. One of the landlords profiled on the website sued a tenant. Not for anything posted on Madison Slumlords, but the situation was too close for comfort. 

“Just to be clear—there was no immediate threat,” they say. “But a landlord we had up on the site sued a tenant for defamation so the possibility became real.”

The project also became too difficult for one person to manage. The founder had always hoped they’d be able to find others to help but “it never worked out in a meaningful way.” So when complications came up, there was no one to step in and help. Like when the hosting provider suspended the site “without warning for ‘resource abuse’ and tried to charge a bunch of money to keep it up.” 

“That wasn’t such a big deal but ate up a lot of time and money getting it moved to another hosting service,” they say. 

It’s hardly the first time that an effort to hold Madison landlords accountable and empower renters has faltered against overwhelmingly tough odds. Rising rents, state preemption laws that leave tenants with few protections, and the relative lack of resources available in Madison to help renters enforce what few legal rights they do have remain obstacles. Local efforts to organize a rent strike during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic stalled out. During a 2022 heat wave, one landlord banned the use of window air-conditioning units, and tenants had basically no recourse.

The founder also had another web project that required time and attention, and they went through a stressful period in their organizing work and personal life. So when the website ratethelandlord.org came online, they felt that it was no longer worth it to keep up Madison Slumlords. RatetheLandlord.org is an open source website with reviews for the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The first Madison review is from April 18, and the page already has over a dozen reviews. And if you’re concerned about how honest the reviews are, one simply reads: “They are gigantic dicks.”

“I felt they had a better team and site, so I just said ‘fuck it,’” they say. “The site was becoming an enormous headache/liability, so I took it offline. I still have all the data but I won’t have it back up for the foreseeable future.”

The site was taken offline on April 18.

“It’s really just a classic tale of organizer burn-out,” they say. “I’ll be back in Madison leftist politics at some point but am taking a break to recuperate.”

In the meantime, they recommend tenants check out Madison Tenant Power, a working group with the Madison Democratic Socialists of America, and ratethelandlord.org.

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