Rent Strike Guide: A Complete Crash Course for Organizing During a Pandemic

Submitted by phoenixsinger on April 29, 2020

Why is there a rent strike?
Circumstances being what they are during the COVID-19 Pandemic circa March 2020, time does not necessarily permit for traditional, long-term strategies that are almost usually associated with a rent strike or a labor strike. HOWEVER, there are three major points creating the need for these things right now:
mass layoffs and a spike in unemployment
eviction moratoriums in place in many states and cities (and sometimes court closures to complete the situation) — though not all
A supernatural level of of MUTUAL AID and community support and attention to the health of many instead of the financial interest of a few highlighted by the pandemic

These all have lead to an abundance of free time in the hands of the people. Workers, willingly or unwillingly, have overwhelmingly been laid off or sent home. With no jobs, most of these workers have ceased or deeply lost the majority of their wages. With a severe reduction in wages, the renter class as a whole simply cannot pay rent, which was already high to begin with. Whether people are willingly or unwillingly halting their rent payments, it is simply true that you cannot squeeze blood from a lemon. There is nothing left for the poor to give.
People have asked and begged local and national governments to spare them the inevitable debt and loss of housing that will devastate communities to no avail. We cannot afford the rent, there is no money to pay the rent, so very likely the rent will not be paid. No jobs, no wages, no rent.

What do I do? Rent is due soon!
Organize, but, of course, organize how? We are all now housebound. Well, figure out where information is being shared (the landlords are sharing information to get you to pay them, so that’s a good place to start). Let your neighbors and community members know there is a rent strike going on with a sheet, an email, a phone call, a text message, or a voicemail.

If you are afraid of bothering others, printing the information and cleanly putting in envelopes and sharing it on doors or under doors is not as invasive as a phone call. While normally many people may not like notes on their door or find them a bitter reminder of previous notes and notes to come from landlords, the message is more important than the danger of having to encounter people and risk breaking quarantine. A simple note can be ignored or opened.
You will want to include two things in your note:
Letter of outreach to neighbors/other renters (Rent Strike Now!)
a template letter to the landlord

Additionally, you can add something to the note, call, or information you give your community: an email or phone number to organize, or a facebook page or some other forum to bring information and resources together. Making an email is free and easy on most websites. It can be something as simple as FriendlyApartmentsTenants @ (whateverurl) .com, and new numbers can usually be generated by google voice should you feel pressured to have a phone line as well. If you feel uncomfortable with this level of technology, ask your friends and fellow supporters for help. There are also two city wide emails available to share with your contacts: [email protected] and [email protected]. There are also public facebook pages like the PDX Rent Strike and safer, closed networking groups like PDX Rent Strike 2020. All of these pages include various posters and shareable media you can print, email, text, and otherwise share with community members, even with people in other cities and countries. You can also share this petition with them.We are in this together and will walk you through the process need be. There might also be people who are able to help safely and cleanly bring the information to the doorsteps of community members that aren’t you if you are unable to or it would be unsafe for whatever reason. All you have to do is ask.

1) Don’t sign any contracts from your landlord trying to trick or coerce you into a payment plan. City councils will be continuing to put pressure on the State Governor to offer rent forgiveness, although that might look some kind of way. If you’re trapped in a contract, your landlords might try and supersede any rent forgiveness by the city or state because you signed it willingly. You cannot be forced to sign a repayment contract.

2) If your landlord asks for proof you can’t pay, do a good faith effort of showing them you have no work, no income, or have recently lost work. If you were looking for work and couldn’t find it because of the crisis, share that too. Don’t feel obligated to disclose exact dollar amounts of the little pittance you might be getting from unemployment. You can fully admit you need the little you are getting for food and medical care. You can also admit you are not able to continue searching for work because you are immunocompromised or otherwise quarantined. You are not required to risk your life to find funds to pay rent.

3) Keep the conversation going, don’t ignore it. Ask questions. Say things like, “I’m not comfortable signing a contract to pay right now,” and “I don’t know if I will be able to repay on a certain schedule because it is unclear how long the pandemic will last.” Don’t give away more information than minimally required.

4) Keep talking to your neighbors and offering each other mutual aid. Share toilet paper. Sew each other masks. Find a way for people to get their medicine to their door. Build mutual support in preparation for many neighbors including yourself not being able to pay whether they want to or not. Many people will stop being able to pay rent at different times as the pandemic goes on.

5) Keep it in writing. Don’t answer calls from your landlord. Don’t let your landlord in your home especially while social distancing. You have the right to require all communication in writing via email or print letter stapled to your door or mailed. If you have questions, ask each other. Ask me. Don’t get pressured into making a difficult decision alone. Look for the helpers. If nothing else, email me for housing advocacy questions — again I am not a lawyer.

Okay my community knows. Now what?
Stay in contact with your neighbors and community members however is best for you (phone, email, text, letters). Figure out who cannot pay rent this month. Figure out who can support them and what they might need. If you are involved and you don’t know who else is going to, come back to your virtual community and let us know you are struggling to build real world traction. There are multiple ways of building mutual aid from a distance. If you cannot afford rent, you simply cannot pay rent. Our community resources and community building must work for you in this time. This will not begin or end at a strike, so the support we build must and will continue whether or not you somehow manage to pay rent or get your landlord to wait for his long-awaited rent.

That’s it? Just be poor and don’t pay rent?
Well, sort of! If you can’t figure out what else to do, and you’ve notified everyone you know, you’ve done what you can do. Continue to build community online and through the pandemic however you feel safest. Ask people how you can serve them when you can, and find a way your community will need support. If you have questions, or struggle with the process, that’s what community is here for. We won’t let you fall through the cracks now. We are empowered and happen to have a lot of free time and numbers on our side. The courts are slowed if not fully halted in most places, and mutual aid is stronger than it has ever been before. Anyone who tries to take you out of your home right now is in for a hell of a time.

Researching Your Landlord
Landlords are notoriously good at screening their tenants. They’ve got money and background checks at their disposal. Renters? Not so much. But the good news is you can research your landlord, and you should.

Who owns the property?
Sometimes it’s not entirely clear who the landlord is. Sometimes the person picking up the check or coming over to fix things will claim to not be the landlord, only to avoid unfavorable personal interactions. Landlords will sometimes claim to be assistants, managers, or repairmen. Other times, landlords will refuse to reveal their identities, hiding behind LLCs. You have the power to find out. We’ve got some places for you to hone in on those investigative skills.

County Tax Assessors Office
Everyone’s got to pay taxes, right? Use this as a starting point. Try looking up the property address at the County Tax Assessor’s office.

State and County Court Records
Make use of your local and regional court record systems.

Other tenants
If you live in a building, talk to your neighbors. Figure out what they know. Make use of the information you can gather collectively. There are a number of private Facebook groups that allow for people to discuss or share landlord information. Message our page to get more information on who might be organizing near you.

There are so many other things going on like mortgage strikes and workers strikes. And what about the houseless?
This guide is limited in scope but not limited in solidarity. There can and will be comrades with mortgages out there who will stand in solidarity with us. However, not all property owners and landlords will take this path. The working class that owes mortgages can and should go on a mortgage strike to put pressure on the banks instead of futilely trying to squeeze money that doesn’t exist from the tenant class. We couldn’t pay you if we wanted to.

Landlords should be going to the banks with their concerns, the banks who have just been bailed out yet again. They have money. Tenants don’t. Mortgage strikers must organize themselves in a parallel struggle to renters, but renters cannot organize this movement for them. The banks must be the target of their struggle should they wish to be successful.

Our friends who are houseless are also in the similar struggle with renters, because all renters can and will become houseless should the landlord class and the banks continue their endless extortion of the poor. All hotels and empty homes should be opened for relief to the houseless community, and this will obviously take a different path than a rent strike. If renters can be empowered to stay in their homes, the cost of rent and barriers to housing should go down as a result. If the people are strong, homes that are sitting idle in foreclosure can be repurposed by families in need. For the good of all people, these homes must be made available in a parallel struggle that is urgent. But also because this task is larger and not limited to a “due date,” it will require a continued long-term effort that cannot be kept as an aside in a larger conversation about a rent strike.
Labor organizing is also happening at break-neck speeds because essential workers like grocery clerks, gasoline attendants, health care workers, construction workers, food service workers, and others are being paid very little to essentially put themselves and their families in the first line of fire for COVID-19. A parallel struggle is here, and could easily lead to several strikes if not a general strike in the near future.

Again, a rent strike is part of an extended process in responding to an urgent crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people might even unwittingly participate because they simply can’t pay rent, not because they want to or not. Everything we can do at this time is to reach everyone we know who might need this information as quickly as possible. The disease will outpace us if we do not stay vigilant. They must know. Everyone must know. They are not alone.