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Why You Should Be Rent Striking

And why everyone else you know should be rent striking, too.

An 1894 political cartoon where an employer is being crushed between a vise of low wages and high rent

May is almost here, and you know what that means: it’s time to not pay your rent.

There’s all sorts of reasons why you might’ve still paid your rent in part or in full in April — honestly, early April was a different world and a lot of us weren’t sure how much longer this crisis was going to last.

It’s easier to stick your head in the sand when the writing’s on the wall instead of staring you directly in your (mask-covered) face. But hey, hindsight is 20/20!

Now it’s clear we’re in it for the long haul. So it’s time to put on your big boy pants and STRIKE.

However, saying you’re gonna strike and actually doing it are two different things. You probably have questions. I’m not a mind-reader, but a lot of people have similar things running through their minds right now.

Here’s a rundown of (some of) the most common questions and concerns about rent striking:

“But I still have a job!”

Maybe you’re an essential worker, maybe you’re working from home. You still have a job, so why should you bother yourself with something like a rent strike? It can be intimidating to go up against the ranks of landlords, banks, and money lenders.

But here’s the thing: you still don’t need to pay rent right now.

Legally speaking, the only thing you’re obligated to do right now under LA’s emergency ordinance is send your landlord a letter in writing that states you’ve been financially impacted and are unable to pay rent.

That could mean you’ve lost your job, had your hours cut, or even that you’re forced to spend money on ordering takeout more often in order to avoid the grocery store. In fact, you’re more of an outlier if COVID-19 hasn’t affected your income in one way or another, whether you realize it or not.

Striking isn’t only for the people most affected by injustice. A one-man strike says absolutely nothing! But a hundred people, a THOUSAND people, all standing together in solidarity? That sends a message not easily ignored. And it hits the establishment where it hurts — right in the wallet.

“I can afford to pay rent, so I’m going to.”

Well, it’s great that you have enough from either your savings or from working during the crisis to keep you afloat. Or maybe you were just reeeeeeally able to stretch that $1,200. You should still be striking, though.

If you’re paying rent, you’re also stifling the voices of people in desperate need right now: those who were laid off, those whose hours have been cut back, those who were barely scraping by before the crisis and have no savings to fall back on now.

You are making it easier for landlords to ignore the people they’re hurting by charging rent during a global pandemic where income is far from a given. We need to be standing by in solidarity with our brothers and sisters. They can’t strike alone.

This is a strike like any other. And if you’re paying your rent right now, you’re crossing the picket line. Do you really wanna be a scab?

If you have the money to spend on rent right now, let me propose an alternative: donate the cost of your rent into a charity or mutual aid fund that’s working to combat the crisis. If you need some help brainstorming, here’s some useful links:

But hell, even blowing your whole paycheck on that fancy weighted blanket you’ve had sitting in your online cart for ages is better than putting that money directly into your landlord’s pocket right now.

At least in that case, you’ll be getting some tangible goods produced by labor rather than a smug sense of superiority over the have-nots and the vague approval of your landlord. But you do you.

“But what about the landlords?”

…What about them?

“Landlords provide an essential service!”

DO they, though? You’re right in saying that housing is more important than ever in a crisis where the best chance of staying safe is to shelter in place.

But are landlords really providing that service? They didn’t build the houses — construction workers did that. They don’t repair them (usually) — maintenance workers do that. They didn’t create the land the houses sit on — the Earth did that. So what, then, do landlords actually provide?

If we’re being as generous as possible here, all they did was take on the risk of buying a property. They run a business. And, like with any business, sometimes that risk doesn’t pay off. It’s not the job of the consumer to foot the bill for a business risk that falls through.

“My auntie is a landlord and SHE isn’t evil incarnate! She cares about her tenants and just needs the rent to pay her mortgage!”

It’s nice that auntie landlord isn’t a giant faceless megacorporation (that would probably make Thanksgiving dinners significantly more awkward). But if the cost of rent is being sunk right back into her mortgage, then auntie’s getting screwed here too. And it isn’t her tenants doing the screwing.

When we fight for #RentZero, we’re also fighting for the cancellations of mortgage payments during this crisis. And not just for Mom & Pop landlords — for homeowners as well.

The banks are going to survive this crisis. Your average homeowner might not. You do the math.

“Won’t landlords fight back?”

Probably! There are plenty of landlords out there who will latch on to the money they think they’re owed and fight dirty to try and rip it from your hands. But you have a better bargaining position here than you might think.

First, lockouts are illegal in California. That doesn’t mean that some greaseballs won’t try it, but if they do, they’ve given you a huge piece of evidence to fight back with. Document. EVERYTHING. If you suspect your landlord might try to retaliate, make sure you have the records to back it up — emails, voice recordings, you name it.

If your landlord corners you and tells you something on the phone or in person, send a follow up email. “As we discussed in the hallway…” or “Per our earlier phone call…,” etc. Document, document, document! You’re entirely in the right here.

Second, you’re not going to get evicted. While your landlord could post an eviction notice on your door, there’s nothing they can do right now to back it up. The courts are closed right now, and won’t reopen until 90 days after the emergency ends. When they DO reopen, they’re going to be flooded. There will be months of backlog to go through, and more likely than not most cases will be thrown out entirely.

Even if your case DOES go through, it won’t be tried for several months — even years down the line. Even in the worst-case scenario, where you’re asked to pay back your rent in full, you’ll have 12 months to do so.

Also, even if your legal status is in jeopardy and you’re worried about being deported, you should be aware that you have rights here too. It is illegal to bring up someone’s legal status in eviction court. Don’t give them rope to hang you with.

If you need help, here are some related links to resources for undocumented people in LA:

“So what can I do?”

Speak up! First off, speak up to your neighbors. If you live in an apartment building, start a group chat or a phone tree and form a support network. If you live in a house, check in on the people on your street. Make sure everyone has access to groceries or other needed supplies.

And beyond that, make sure to check in on how everyone’s feeling. Not everyone has friends or family they can reach right now, and quarantine is nothing if not an isolating experience (pun, unfortunately, intended).

Also, reach out to your local tenants’ union. Join LATU if you haven’t already, and start building working class power. They also have plenty of resources for renters, so you can read up on your rights. Fight back smarter!

You have more power than you think. And in times like these, striking is all of our responsibility.

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