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What is a Rent Strike?

A rent strike is a collective bargaining tool to bring about demands, usually to be met by a landlord. Historically, rent strikes have been used in response to problems such as high rents, poor conditions in the property, or unreasonable tenancy demands; however, in these novel conditions, we will use rent strike to support our immunity, protect our families, and remain in our homes.

We are striking for 5 Demands, not one less, for collective immunity from COVID-19 and its sweeping effects. Rent striking is a way to address the mounting debt and expenses that millions of working families will face as a result of reduced hours or unemployment during the COVID-19 outbreak. The rent strikers demand Homes for All and No Paying–No Debt to survive.

What do I tell my landlord if I can’t pay rent?

We have included useful form letters in the toolkit to personalize and send to your landlord. You can also ask to speak with them on the phone or email about your current situation and the situation of countless others who are facing financial precarity. Tell them that you are afraid, uncertain, or without income. Whatever your conditions, tell them that they are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and you require shelter to remain healthy and protected during this time. Inform them of government assistance programs for mortgage forebearance, and that while they too must be concerned, relief is likely already on the way for them, but you should not have to choose between food and rent. Do not state your intention to strike until you have spoken with other tenants and formed a collective agreement.

What are the legal implications of non-payment of rent?

This answer varies by city and state. We suggest using city and county website and using web searches to learn about the specific tenant law in your area (“tenant law” + city, “eviction procedure” + city). Generally, non-payment of rent may give your landlord reason to file a court order for eviction. You risk eviction by not paying rent, but you are less likely to be evicted when you have numbers on your side. Get in touch with us if you are concerned about the eviction process in your city or town. Timelines for eviction will vary based on what measures have already been put in place in your state or county surrounding suspension of eviction proceedings, as well as the volume of evictions that will potentially be processed during a massive rent strike. Having this information before you act will give you the peace of mind you need to proceed.

It is illegal for a landlord to lock you out, remove doors or windows, change locks, cut off utility services, or use other forms of harassment to make you move out. You can file a complaint in civil court if the landlord locks you out or cuts off your utilities. Document every action of theirs and also your recourse.

You have the right to complain to a government agency about your landlord. You also have the right to organize and participate in a tenants organization, like the one you will form to start a rent strike.

How do the current moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs protect me?

Current moratoriums on evictions and utility shut offs protect you from immediate threat of losing your home or having your utilities shut off, as long as those moratoriums are in place. Your landlord can’t file for eviction for non-payment during the moratorium and the utility companies can’t turn off your water or electricity, especially if courts are closed. You can use the money you’ve kept on the immediate things you need, like medicine and food. The moratoriums alone don’t prevent you from owing back-payment once lifted, however. That’s why we are pushing for a rent and debt cancellation, so millions of people are not facing insurmountable debt on the other end of this crisis. We also know that millions of people organized and united in refusing to pay will overwhelm court and eviction symptoms, which have a finite capacity.

What happens if my landlord threatens to evict me?

We must be prepared for this. Building defense tactics within your strike group is essential to keep everyone safely in their homes. Your landlord is scared, too, but intimidation and illegal evictions cannot be tolerated. If everyone in your building or on your block agrees to strike together, it will be near impossible for landlords to evict us all. Check state and city wide eviction moratoriums in your area. The CARES Act protects all federally backed HUD homes, including Section 8, 202, 811, 236, 221 and others from eviction until July 31, 2020. The CARES Act also protects tenants from eviction living in homes serviced by federally backed mortgages. This information can help you decide to move forward with your rent strike. If they don’t have a mortgage, or can afford to let rent go unpaid, find out! Research your landlord and their real estate holdings, see if your landlord is a corporation or a management company with a federally backed mortgage. Consult a housing lawyer and study your local eviction law. Contact your state attorney general and file an official complaint if your landlord violates local, state, or federal protections.

What will happen to my landlord if I don’t pay rent?

Circumstances vary, but landlords always have more resources than tenants; after all, they own the property. Landlords are unlikely to face hunger, homelessness, and other threats to their everyday survival. By keeping our rent, we will have more money for groceries, medicine, and the basic necessities we need to survive this pandemic. Landlords are fond of saying that their tenants should have enough savings to keep paying rent in the event of a crisis (despite the fact that the majority of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck) – if they can’t survive without a few months of your money, maybe they should follow their own advice! If your landlord relies on your rent check to live, they could consider getting a job or applying for state benefits.

If your landlord uses your rent to pay a mortgage on the property, they also have the option of refusing to pay and encouraging their landlord (the bank) to halt collection of payment. No one should have to pay for housing during a global pandemic. If a critical mass of home-owners also stop paying their mortgages, we can force the banks to adjust to human needs.

Your landlord is no more deserving of security and safety than you are. Workers should not have to shoulder this burden alone.

How can I protect myself and my family from houselessness?

For this, we have to fight. We have to band together and organize community defense for immunity from landlords, creditors, and the police. If enough of us commit to rent striking, we will have strength in numbers. They can’t evict us all, and the bureaucratic systems of enforcement will be too overwhelmed to process hundreds, thousands, or even millions of eviction proceedings. We stand to build true collective power in this action, weaving tight knit communities of care who can weather the effects of COVID-19 together.

Why should I participate if I can afford to pay rent?

Even if you can afford to pay rent, your participation in the strike shows solidarity with your neighbors who can’t. This prevents landlords from singling out the most vulnerable among us who simply can’t pay. There is strength in numbers. Those of us who have savings or are able to work from home can effectively leverage our resources by refusing to pay alongside those who can’t. If landlords would rather throw millions into street during a pandemic than do the right thing and voluntarily suspend rent it is up to us to keep everyone housed. You can use the rent money you keep to aid your neighbors, pooling resources for the health and well-being of your family and also your community. If you can afford rent now, you may not be able to in the future. COVID-19 will likely be a long-term public health crisis. The number of people who have lost their jobs continues to grow. The pandemic is already making life harder for the majority of us, and we can’t afford to assume it’s going away anytime soon.

What do I tell my landlord if I can pay rent, but want to help those who can’t by withholding?

Some people are choosing to contact their landlords and tell them that they are prepared to pay rent, but waiting to see what the government response will be when many thousands of jobless people will have no choice but to forego rent payment. Waiting for intervention is not an ideal action, as your landlord will surely want to collect, but if enough people are clearly in need of rent assistance it is possible that sweeping rent suspensions will happen across the continent. This means you’ll have extra resources to share with your community, to put toward solidarity funds and aid those in more need than yourself.

What do I do if other tenants in my building won’t go on strike?

Keep trying. Get to know them. Send them bleach wipes and rolls of toilet paper with a letter about why rent strike is important for more than just you and your building, but for all those millions of people trying to stay in their homes who don’t have a paycheck to depend on anymore. Share the resources that convinced you with them. Have them give us a call.

What if I have a mortgage?

The federal government has already guaranteed some amount of relief for mortgage holders. All loans backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have implemented mortgage suspension programs or pauses for the next 12 months, and many private lenders are following suit. Especially right now, banks don’t want to deal with a wave of defaults and foreclosures, and are willing to work with homeowners to find solutions. More importantly, if a critical mass of home-owners also stop paying their mortgages, we can force the banks to adjust to human needs.