Are rent strikes justified? | The Tylt

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Are rent strikes justified?

Unemployment claims have reached unprecedented levels in the United States. According to CNN's Anneken Tappe: 

A record number of Americans filed for their first week of unemployment benefits last week, as businesses shut down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Initial jobless claims soared to a seasonally adjusted 3.28 million in the week ended March 21, according to the Department of Labor.

In response, President Donald Trump says he will suspend evictions until the end of April, and Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus package. Nevertheless, some experts say it's not enough to keep a roof over the heads of millions of people struggling to make ends meet. For some, a collective rent strike is the proper response. Others believe a rent strike will only make matters worse. 


According to NBC's Tim Fitzsimons, Trump's move to temporarily suspend evictions will fall "woefully short."

"Far more is needed to protect the people who are at greatest risk of eviction and homelessness, which are America's lowest-income renters, who were already struggling to pay the rent and make ends meet — even before coronavirus came to our country," said Diane Yentel, the president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Although many Americans will receive a "rebate" payment of $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for couples, according to, the national monthly rent payment for a one bedroom apartment is $963. With this in mind, these checks from the government will hardly suffice—and that's even if an individual facing hardship can even count on receiving it. Per Politico's Caitlin Emma and Jennifer Scholtes:

People who don’t pay taxes, such as those with very low incomes, may be hard to reach the way the program is designed.

In response, Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old truck driver and Washington state Congressional candidate, began a petition demanding each state suspend housing costs. If they don't? Collins says Rent Strike 2020 should take place. Teen Vogue caught up with Collins, who commented:

So the difference is whether or not we are going to stand up against them and say, ‘No, we're not going to go into thousands of dollars in debt per person, and we’re going to stand in solidarity with each other.’ Even if you are someone who can just barely make rent, you stand in solidarity with those who just flat-out can’t. We demand that no one goes into debt, no one goes bankrupt.

If Rent Strike 2020 does take off, it will not be the first time Americans join forces to refuse rent to landlords in the midst of a pandemic. Mel Magazine's Eddie Kim reports:

Rent strikes sparked up in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, and a wave of strikes spread across the nation in the 1960s and 1970s as renters rallied against unsafe conditions and housing shortages. 

Although the country's current crisis is certainly a new one in our lifetimes, rent strikes do have a storied past. According to Vice's Rick Paulas, they were pretty common around the turn of the 20th century. Whether or not they are successful, albeit under different circumstances, remains to be seen:

Rent strikes, which have typically been a last ditch effort by tenants when negotiations with landlords break down, have had mixed results.
...when you lose, you get evicted; in 2016, tenants in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park lost a court battle following a rent strike that ended with them being kicked out and redevelopment commencing. In many cases a settlement agreement is reached, with both sides making concessions.

Furthermore, landlords have been known to fight back when tenants go on strike: 

When faced with rent strikes, landlords can get petty. Tenants have reported having their hot water and power turned off or being threatened with the impossibility of finding future housing with an eviction on their record.

There are certain cases where rent strikes are not only justified, they are legal. NPR's Eliza Berkon explains how this works in Washington D.C., specifically

D.C. tenants are allowed to withhold rent if housing-code violations have not been sufficiently addressed. 
There's also the "implied warranty of habitability," a legal precedent that permits tenants to withhold rent when landlords are non-compliant with the housing code. This interpretation of landlord-tenant law is incorporated into the D.C. Tenant Bill of Rights.

However, going on rent strike in response to coronavirus pandemic would not fall under these guidelines. The issue many tenants currently face is economic hardship due to nationwide social distancing rules; landlords are not responsible for the ongoing crisis.

Are rent strikes justified?
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