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How To Organize A Rent Strike

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 5 minute read

Sectors as diverse as the hospitality, events, and travel markets have all felt the effects of the COVID-19 epidemic. Many companies have gone down, others have had to lay off employees, and tens of millions of people have lost their jobs because of the government’s inability to provide necessary aid.

Since then, a #CancelRent campaign has spread across the country and rent strikes have occurred in a number of locations. An alliance of renters who either can’t or won’t pay called for these strikes to pressure lawmakers into extending eviction moratoria and passing additional epidemic relief.

Tenant strikes, however, may be a contentious issue. We polled Americans on their opinions on tenant strikes by inquiring about their participation in a hypothetical nationwide walkout. Now, we may share our findings.

One in every three people would participate in a rent strike (Under the Right Circumstances)

There were two groups of 1,500 people in the United States, and we asked each of them the same survey question. Both concluded that between a quarter and a third of Americans would participate in a rent strike.

In our first poll, we probed respondents on whether or not they would withhold rent payments in a show of protest. Just under a quarter (22%) of people who responded stated they would join a rent strike, either by organizing their own or participating in a strike organized by others, either locally or nationally.

Another 8% stated they would participate in a rent strike if they were in a position where they could not afford to pay their rent. Seventy percent of people polled stated they would never take part in a rent strike if they had the option.

Fear of eviction divides supporters and participants.

Our second inquiry took a somewhat different tack, inquiring as to whether or not respondents would participate in a rent strike in their local area.

About the same percentage of responders (70%) in Question 1 and 65% in Question 2 said they were not strikers. However, in our second poll, over half of respondents who did not participate in the strike stated they were against it in principle. The other half of tenants who didn’t participate in the strike said they were too afraid of being evicted to stop paying rent.

In light of the fact that respondents could have said categorically that they are anti-strike, it is safe to believe that those who answered “fear of eviction” were not in fact anti-strike. 

Although the results of the two surveys combined suggest that between 65 and 70 percent of Americans would not participate in a strike, the percentage of Americans who are truly opposed to tenant strikes is far lower, hovering around 35 percent.

The age demographics of respondents may surprise you.

Predictably, support for tenant strikes was strongest among young people and declined with age. Strike backers weren’t as few as one might expect across all age groups, including the eldest.

With only a 2% difference between the 18-34 and the 35-54 age groups, 29% of those aged 55 and over say they would participate in a strike they believed in.

Only 44% of those 55 and older, however, identified as being very anti-strike. There may be as many as 56% of potential strike sympathizers among those aged 55 and older, as just 25% of respondents responded that fear of eviction would prevent them from joining a strike (more than half).

Among those aged 18 to 34, 74% said they would participate in a strike, but just 64% said the same about those aged 35 to 54.

How to Organize, Participate in, or Support a Rent Strike

There’s reason for optimism among tenant strikers, according to these numbers. Strong 30% of Americans are possibly prepared to support a tenant movement in other ways, and 13% are willing to join a strike. If you are a tenant striker, thinking about organizing a tenant strike, or just want to show your support for tenant strikers, this is the information you need.

How to Organize or Participate in a Rent Strike

Tenants withholding rent to coerce a landlord into changing how they run a property is not the same as the rent strikes that have recently been in the headlines. Tenants might go on strike to make their landlord fulfill their responsibilities under the lease if, for instance, the landlord fails to properly maintain the building or remove any risks.

Strikes by Local Tenants

If you’re engaging in a local rent strike, first investigate landlord-tenant regulations in your town. While failure to pay rent would generally be deemed a breach of your lease contract (leaving you liable to eviction), many courts evaluate rent strikes differently from a conventional failure to pay rent.

Many countries have devised processes that allow the tenant to pay rent directly to the court, which withholds it until the landlord produces adequate evidence that they have fixed the issue, such as by completing essential repairs.

National and Pandemic-Related Tenant Strikes

When renters go on strike for a lack of pandemic relief, it’s different from a typical strike because the landlord or property owner has little control over the situation.
If you rent from an individual or family rather than a corporation, it’s in everyone’s best interest to communicate openly and work together to find a solution that works for everyone. For instance, many landlords were able to temporarily forbear mortgage payments because of the CARES Act, giving them additional leeway to delay or lower rent as necessary during the epidemic.

Supporting a Rent Strike

Even if you don’t want to go on strike, there are still many ways you may help renters. The best thing to do is get in touch with a tenant’s union in your area and find out what kind of support they may use, be it for a political campaign, a charity drive, or a demonstration.

What follows are suggestions for becoming involved with national groups fighting for renters’ rights:

  • We Strike Together is a national network of rent strikes that shares resources and coordinates tenant rights actions in cities across the country.
  • Plan for National Housing Law. To promote housing justice for marginalized communities, this legal group collaborates with lawyers, community organizers, and activists.
  • All tenants in the Metropolitan Area should be able to find safe, decent, and reasonably priced housing that is also accessible to them through the efforts of the Metropolitan Tenants Organization (MTO), a membership organization that includes tenants, tenant organizations, and non-tenant community members.

Bottom Line

During the COVID-19 epidemic, housing inequality was a subject of national importance that everyone should know at least a little bit about, regardless of whether or not they are personally planning a rent strike. All Americans should be aware of housing justice concerns just as they should be aware of racial injustice, wealth disparity, education access, and public health issues.

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