Satire | Ally to renters? This South Oakland landlord claims he’s ‘one of the good ones’

By Thomas Riley, Staff Columnist

As lowerclassmen begin the hunt for off-campus housing for the next school year, they may struggle to not only choose a place to rent, but also to choose a landlord. There are plenty of horror stories out there from past and current renters, but one local landlord says he’s trying to make a difference.

Robert Way, who owns several properties in South Oakland, disagrees that landlords are all “parasitic and, quite frankly, just uncool,” as he has overheard some tenants say. Way wants what’s best for his renters, so he doesn’t run his business like the other landlords. He runs it the “Robert way.”

“First, can I just say, I hate the term ‘landlord,’” Way said. “It sounds so feudal, and that’s really not the case at all. I just own the land and allow people to live and work on it in exchange for a sizable portion of their income — it’s not some archaic practice.”

Rather than seeing his contracts with tenants as solely monetary, Way likes to think of these agreements as the beginnings of new friendships. The money aspect, though imperative and nonnegotiable, is secondary.

“You know what term I prefer?” Way continued, unprompted. “Dad. This street whose housing I’ve monopolized is a family, and I am the father. In some ways, I am helping to raise these students — raise these students’ rent, that is! Kidding, don’t put that in the article.”

The esteemed landlord offered to give me a tour through one of his properties to exhibit the ways in which he goes the extra mile for his tenants. After temporarily removing the current renters by force, Way held the door open for me to step inside. 

Immediately, I could not help but notice the thick layer of eggshell white paint caked over everything on the walls and ceilings, from light switches to smoke detectors. Way claims the paint job isn’t to spare expenses, but rather that the paint helps to seal these objects to their respective surfaces. 

“I go above and beyond though,” Way boasted. “Some landlords paint over the outlets entirely, but I want to make sure my tenants can still plug in their devices. So, after I paint over them, I insert metal pins into the outlet holes to ensure the paint doesn’t dry over them. The process is excruciatingly painful, but the love I have for my renters saves me from cardiac arrest.”

Despite Way’s pro-renter attitude, he received many complaints about not returning security deposits. In fact, nearly every previous renter I spoke with said Way kept their deposit, and many believed the reasons he provided were unfair.

“It’s unfortunate,” Way said. “But I can’t just throw my own money around when I find damages. In nearly all of my properties, I’ve found black burn marks around almost all of the outlets, and sad as it is to say, that’s gotta come out of the security deposit. I love my tenants — more than my own children, in fact — but I’m still running a business.”

With the recent midterm elections on my mind, I wondered how Way incorporated his love for renters into his political views. The conservative ideals of running a tight business coupled with the progressive principles of renter empowerment seemed almost incompatible, but Way had already thought a lot about this.

“I’m staunchly Republican,” he explained, gesturing to his MAGA hat. “But not for the reasons you might think. It seems no matter who gets elected, my livelihood as a landlord is never even remotely at risk, so I can focus more on wedge issues that matter most to my tenants — specifically, gun ownership.”

Way told me that gun control is currently the biggest threat to renters, and that’s why voting red is the best thing anyone can do.

“You wanna know the best way to protect these tenants? It’s not with rent control or city regulations — I’ll tell you that. It’s by ensuring they reserve the right to step outside on a cool Thursday night and fire off a few bullets,” Way said.

Way believes his tenants should never have to forfeit this right, so he strongly encourages them to arm themselves and vote against gun control. He tells them that for renters, a conservative vote is really the most progressive. 

After our conversation, Way walked me back outside. He had to cut the interview short to say hi to his other tenants and then perform surprise inspections. Before I left, I asked the students waiting outside their house about their experiences with Robert Way.

“There’s never a dull moment with Rob,” Justin Beck, a Pitt senior, said. “That is, we really don’t like him — though he seems to like us. I started calling him Dad, and he lowered our late rent fee.”

While it appears operating his business “the Robert way” has yet to win over his tenants, Way won’t stop trying to support them. Many consider it difficult to find a good landlord in college, but Way wants everyone to know he’s one of the good ones.

Thomas Riley primarily writes social satire and stories about politics and philosophy. Write to them at [email protected]