How A COVID-19 Rent Strike is Different Than a Typical Rent Strike

To get the full Rent Strike Toolkit go to bit.ly/RentStrikeNY

In a typical rent strike, tenants collectively withhold their rent money from the landlord as a means of using their economic power as leverage to force the landlord to meet a building wide demand (repairs, or some concession in services, lease terms, et cetera.)  Tenants often chose to pay rent into a building-wide escrow account, setting it aside with the intention of paying some or all of it eventually, as leverage to force the landlords to meet their demands. 

But today, because of COVID-19, most tenants are unable to pay the rent.  Millions of people have lost their jobs or income. The pressure, risk, and goals of a COVID-19 rent strike are therefore much different from in a typical rent strike. 

1) Thanks to the eviction moratorium, tenants who are unable to pay the rent have some breathing room, knowing that they’ll have a roof over their head for at least a few months.  Faced with other necessities, like food and medical care, the moratorium has bought us some time to worry about housing costs later. 

2) There is a national movement lifting up tenants’ inability to pay the rent. This is good for our campaign, and gives every renter some degree of protection. 

3) By putting economic pressure on the landlord, tenants can create a crisis for real estate, the most politically influential industry in the State, and win legislative or policy relief. 

4) We don’t know when housing court will reopen, but we know that unless tenants take collective action to #CancelRent now, Housing Court will reopen with a surge of evictions. Collective rent strikes may help us build the power we need to win our demands. 

Potential Risks and Consequences: 

In any rent strike, there exists the possibility–even the likelihood–that the landlord faced with sustained nonpayment of rent will sue tenants in court. This may lead to you being put on the tenant blacklist and potentially make it harder to find an apartment in the future. All tenants deciding to go on rent strike should know this is possible. In a normal rent strike, tenants are protected by saving their rent and/or putting their rents in escrow.  

In a COVID-19 rent strike, tenants don’t have the money to pay, now or later, and opening an escrow account is difficult if not impossible.  Your protection is linked to the collective nature of this fight and the political demands for a rent cancelation. Eviction is still a risk. But there is reason to be hopeful: 

  • First, millions of people who were not previously involved in the housing movement are standing up to demand the state take action to cancel rent. The more people who join in this fight, the more likely we are to win our campaign and the more widespread popular support your rent strike may have. 
  • Second, waves of rent strikes are powerful headlines. Landlord retaliation with waves of eviction cases against thousands of rent strikers, will be powerful headlines too.  This may not be a quick fight, but with popular support and persistence, we stand a real chance at winning unprecedented economic relief for New York tenants. If you chose to go on a rent strike, it’s important to document your fight, as outlined later on in this toolkit. 
  • Third, the eviction moratorium has closed down the courts. Unless something changes, there will be a crush of eviction cases when the courts reopen, leading all of these cases to move more slowly. This helps to buy time for anyone that needs it.

Finally, low and middle income tenants in New York City have more access to tenant  attorneys than ever before — thanks to Right to Counsel. To understand how RTC works and to find a list of RTC attorneys and tenant organizing groups, go to Eviction Free NYC.

To get the full Rent Strike Toolkit go to bit.ly/RentStrikeNY