Tens of Thousands of Tenants Are Planning the Largest Rent Strike in Decades

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By Emiene Wright

April 30, 2020

About a third of renters didn’t pay rent in April, and with the number of unemployed at over 26 million and counting, even more are expected to have trouble paying in May.

Nationwide, housing advocates are warning that many renters and homeowners will be unable to make rent or mortgage payments on May 1. Tenants in New York, Philadelphia, and California are on the forefront of a rising movement to withhold rents on that day.  

The Wall Street Journal found that about a third of renters didn’t pay rent in April, and with the number of unemployed at over 26 million and counting, even more are expected to have trouble paying in May. Although cities and states have enacted temporary eviction moratoriums, as states begin to reopen there is concern suspensions on evictions will phase out early. And at a time when Americans are being urged to stay at home, shelter is a public health issue. 

Eviction equals death,” said Julian Smith-Newman, a member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.

In New York, activists are organizing tenants to participate in a rent strike for May 1. The Philadelphia Tenants Union has been calling for renters under the same landlord to organize ahead of May 1. And thousands of Californians have demanded that rent and mortgage payments be canceled, threatening to withhold May payments as well. Eviction moratoriums are only temporary aid, as tenants are expected to pay the full amount owed when the moratoriums are lifted.  

“This is by no means a radical demand,” Philadelphia Tenants Union member Mat Wranovics said. “We’re in a radical situation.”  

Earlier this month, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act, calling for “emergency rent and mortgage cancellation” during the pandemic. The bill would institute payment forgiveness for rents and mortgages for the duration of the coronavirus crisis and pay landlords with federal relief funds. There also would be no debt accumulation and no negative impact on credit ratings or rental histories. The bill is cosponsored by other Democratic representatives including Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal, Mark Pocan, Veronica Escobar, Jesús “Chuy” García, and Grace Meng.

“The coronavirus crisis is more than just a public health crisis—it’s an economic crisis,” Omar said in a statement. “Congress has a responsibility to step in to stabilize both local communities and the housing market during this time of uncertainty and crisis. In 2008, we bailed out Wall Street. This time, it’s time to bail out the American people who are suffering,” she added.

Meanwhile, renters and homeowners who can’t meet payments are advised to do the following:

Know the tenant protections where you live, as they vary by state, county and city. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes a 120-day moratorium on evictions and late fees for properties that are secured by a government-backed mortgage. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides coronavirus-related updates on housing relief from each state, and Nolo, a legal services website, keeps track of coronavirus-related tenant protections.

RELATED: Most Renters Won’t Be Protected Under Trump’s Proposal to Help Americans Keep Their Homes

If you are eligible for an eviction moratorium, follow its requirements to the letter. Document  coronavirus-related hardships, such as lay-offs, and keep a copy of the notification you provided your landlord stipulating that you couldn’t pay. Also, beware of signing payment agreements.

Hazel Remesch, a supervising attorney at Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Ohio, told CNN she recommends tenants in subsidized housing experiencing hardship because of coronavirus talk to the agency administering the program and notifying them of the change in income.

“If you report it, the agency can adjust your rent,” she said.



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