A brief guide to rent strikes, first published by the Quebec site grevedesloyers.info, and republished by Montreal Counter-Info and It's Going Down. This guide was created for people in Quebec, but much of the information will be applicable elsewhere.
Rent strikes are risky. To reduce the risks, the more of us the better. We have strength in numbers.
- Collective direct actions like rent strikes are a good way to change our power dynamic with the government so that it can intervene to cancel mortgages and rents for everyone.
- Gathering together as tenants of the same landlord makes organizing a rent strike simpler for us and makes it more complicated for your landlord to use legal remedies (such as eviction).
Steps to Follow:
1 Find out more: read the Legal Considerations and Resources section.
2 Discuss the strike with your roommates, neighbours, people who live in the same building, and also with people who have the same landlord if you know them or can get in touch with them.
3 Hang a white sheet in front of your house to show that you are demanding a rent and mortgage freeze, and that you will go on a rent strike if the government does not act.
4 Devise strategies that are appropriate for your different situations. Here are some examples:
- If you can afford to pay your rent, think about putting money aside so that you can pay all the unpaid rents when the crisis is over, if needed.
- If you live in a group, talk to the other residents to see how you can strike collectively.
- If your landlord has a lot of units, try to talk about the strike in as many of his or her units as possible. A situation where many tenants of the same landlord go on a rent strike gives you a better bargaining position. Your landlord must therefore consider several legal recourses with the Quebec Rental Board (Régie du logement) and risks losing all his tenants at once.
- Let your landlord know that you are unable to pay your rent. We have sample letters to send in the Resources section.
Answers to Your Questions
Will we be in trouble? What are the possible consequences?
Going on strike is never without risk, but it is also a way to make your needs and rights heard. By collectivizing the risks, we also collectivize the defence organization. The more people participate, the greater the chances of avoiding these risks. However, it is important to learn about these potential risks by referring to the Legal Considerations section.
Why encourage/participate in the strike at all?
In the context of a State of Health Emergency, with the closure of all non-essential businesses, if we do not organize collectively, thousands of people will not be able to pay their rent and bills anyway.
- The more people get involved, the less likely it is that the consequences will be serious for the strikers. The stakes are similar to a workplace strike or a student strike, but for tenants.
- The civil rights movement used rent strikes to protest discrimination and to ensure rent control. It is a form of non-violent civil disobedience and one of the only tactics we have left in times of pandemic.
- You cannot be legally evicted as long as there is a State of Health Emergency. It is only after the crisis, if the government has not responded to our demands, that the risk of eviction resturns. But we will continue to strike until rent cancellation is granted. We will keep up the pressure to make our demands heard and to ensure that landlords cannot take action against their tenants.
- The current situation is unprecedented and we must stand in solidarity among precarious and marginalized people.
Don’t landlords have bills and mortgages to pay too?
Yes, but it’s not up to the tenants to take responsibility for the landlords. It is up to the government to take action to ensure that landlords do not have to pay their bills either. Tenants must put their health and their immediate needs, such as food, first. Tenants have also been paying abusive fees for many years.
- Landlords with mortgages should require banks to suspend mortgage payments without interest.
- In times of health crisis, it is the duty of landlords to refuse to collect rent from their tenants. We must all put pressure on the government.
- Tenants are not responsible for the current health crisis. They are not responsible for the jobs lost, the hours cut, or for getting sick.
- Times are uncertain, we do not know how long this crisis will last or how it will evolve. It is the people in precarious situations – those who were already struggling to pay for groceries, rent, bills and debts – who will be hit hardest. It’s the wealthy in a society who should bear the brunt, not the tenants.
I can pay my bills and my rent, why should I participate?
- The more people participate, the harder it will be for landlords and the government to break the strike and the more likely we will get the government to respond to our demands.
- You may not be in financial trouble now, but in a month or two, you may not be able to pay your rent, as thousands of people are already now incapable of doing.
- These demands we are making on the government are about saving lives. We want the government to take emergency measures to prevent as many deaths as possible and for people to continue to take care of their health to better resist the spread of COVID-19. No one should have to choose between housing, food and health.
- Everyone must stand together in times of crisis and there must be a collective response to current problems. We already know that many of us will be unable to pay our rent in the coming months. Participating in a rent strike is a necessary gesture to ensure that the government recognizes the needs of the population and decrees the cancellation of rents and mortgages as long as there is a State of Health Emergency.
Does the government not offer financial assistance to people?
The measures that have been put in place by the federal and provincial governments are not for everyone: currently, those who are not eligible for Employment Insurance (self-employed or contract workers, students, precarious workers, etc.) and who are not sick no longer have any income and are not entitled to anything from the government.
Although Employment Insurance has been improved, the waiting time to obtain it has not disappeared, quite the contrary. The measures proposed by the provincial and federal governments will not allow those who need it to survive to pay their next rent.
Shouldn’t we focus our energy on fighting COVID-19?
That is precisely what we are doing. We are demanding that landlords, banks and governments take steps that will allow us to focus on fighting COVID-19. If we stop eating or taking care of ourselves so we can pay our rent, or if we have to find ways to make money (which often involve having to leave our homes) while all the jobs are gone, we will not be able to contribute most effectively to fighting the pandemic.
How many people are involved? I will only participate if there are many of us.
It’s hard to count the number of people who are on rent strike. Already, a large number of people are showing their solidarity and their intention not to pay their rent by hanging white sheets in front of their homes. Others are coordinating on social networks to publicize the use of rent strikes. Several autonomous citizen groups are currently organizing rent strikes in their communities. Consider joining in!