A rent strike is a type of protest where tenants as a group refuse to pay rent until specific demands are met. You organizing your building to not pay rent together is a rent strike. Historically, it’s been used against larger landlords to stop rent increases and fight for better living conditions. In this moment, a national rent strike could be used as pressure to push for bigger changes. Pulling this off will take a lot of hard work as well as risk. If you’re thinking about trying to organize your apartment complex, get in touch with us, join the Facebook group and start following these steps:
1. Flyer your apartment complex
This step is to help you get in contact with tenants in your apartment complex that are already considering a rent strike, are interested in the idea, or who simply can’t afford to pay their rent right now. Click here for information about getting flyers.
Be careful not to let landlords or management see you flyering. Landlords are known for retaliating against tenants they suspect of organizing. They may also tear down flyers you put up. If this is the case, best to move on to next steps and the flyers will likely continue to be torn down faster than you can replace them.
If you don’t live in an apartment complex, use the Thurston County Parcel Search to find other properties owned by your landlord. Many landlords now place each property into separate LLC entities as a form of legal protection. If you find a property as having this sort of ownership you can search the LLC on this database to glean that info. No need to make an account.
2. Continue to recruit more people to the organizing committee
Be wary of the social media shortcut. While social media is one tool to look for fellow tenants of your landlord, keep in mind that the people who respond to a post in a community Facebook group will be a small fraction of the fellow tenants you will need on board for successful collective action.
Door knocking and face to face conversations are the most effective. Right now as people are avoiding contact, it might be better to leave a leaflet under the door or in the door handle, and information to contact you. You and your neighbors can make a game plan together about how best to reach out to more tenants and get them on board with a rent strike. Here are a list of resources that might help:
3. Establish communications
As you enlist your neighbors, make sure you have a way to communicate with each other. Find whatever communications platforms people are comfortable. Here are a few options:
- Signal is an encrypted messaging app. It requires a smart phone with a phone number.
- Group.Me is a text messaging group platform that works with smart phone and regular SMS messaging
- Facebook messenger or a Facebook group
- Google Groups works well if people prefer email over texting or social media
- Any other group platform tenants are comfortable using
Let us know if you create a public facing email address for more tenants to get in contact with, and we’ll forward any communications we get from your apartment complex there.
4. Host a (virtual) meeting with interested tenants
Having a meeting where everyone involved can take the time to get on the same page and make a plan to move forward is crucial. During the meeting, make sure everyone has a chance to ask questions and talk about their needs and concerns. Here is a sample agenda that you can use if you are new to organizing meetings. This is your organizing committee.
Reach out to literally everyone multiple times to remind them about the meeting! Organizing is 80% follow up. It can be tempting to take shortcuts through mass texts or emails, but many people will not attend if not individually invited and reminded to. Organizing happens through relationships, and you are building a relationship of trust between you and this tenant.
Here are a few options for digital meeting platforms:
5. Form a Tenants Council
You might know right from the start you want a strike. And that’s awesome — but if your agenda isn’t the same as others, you may fail to get the numbers you need for support. Democratic organizing isn’t just about voting on actions, it’s about letting tenant’s voices be heard. Voting can sometimes hide people’s real concerns because of peer pressure or shyness. People’s concerns and feelings must be brought to the table when decisions are made and, ideally, found out and worked through with one-on-ones.
People whose input was included during the planning stages of an action are more likely to participate in or even take leadership in the action. Don’t expect to plan an action and then have everyone “just show up.”
Escalating actions help. Many tenants who are hesitant about an action that is “too radical” may be radicalized when the group decides to settle on a less scary step first, and find it doesn’t meet their needs. It happens when someone thought their landlord was “just doing his job and would probably understand” but when confronted with a phone call, the landlord yells at them and claims not to care and ignores their issues.
Sometimes it can be frustrating settling for a step you don’t feel like will do anything, but it serves important needs. It helps train the group in doing collective action together, empowers them, and agitates them against their landlord when the landlord responds poorly. They may then be ready for more dramatic steps. Tenants who don’t yet feel ready to withhold rent can be encouraged through “baby step” collective action to get there — such as everyone simultaneously paying rent late on the same day. It’s a show of power of the union and tells the landlord — we can strike at any time. Remember, going into an action with the most amount of people on board is the best way to success.
6. Identify Demands and target
What exactly do you want? A winnable demand might be a repayment plan with no evictions or reduced rent for two months. Maybe the biggest complaint is something other than rent altogether — maybe people are upset that essential maintenance is frozen.
Good demands are:
- Given with a timeline
- Widely shared among the group
A demand does not need to “go for the gold” right off the bat. In fact, when demands fail it is usually because there is not enough collective power built in the beginning to achieve the highest demand. Smaller demands that can initially be won more easily, such as simply getting a video chat with your landlord when they wouldn’t previously, can build up the collective confidence in order to eventually lead to calling for the highest demand.
It deserves special mention that a demand on your landlord for rent suspension with no back pay owed would be extraordinarily difficult to achieve. The actions tenants can possibly take against a landlord can’t match up to the financial losses the landlord would take by agreeing to this demand. Consider a different demand — winning something is better than winning nothing.
Who has the power to fix the problem? For smaller companies, this might be easy: the landlord whose name is on all your rent checks. For larger developers, it may be less clear. Identify a person in management who has the ability to either fix the problem or make the call, and whose pockets would be hurt by collective action.
7. Delivering Demands
A mass rent strike creates more safety for all of us. If 100% of a landlord’s tenants agree to rent strike, they’re not going to be able to afford to replace everyone, but usually it doesn’t even take that many. The necessary threshold of strikers is going to be different in every situation but could be as low as 50%. This will depend on how wealthy the landlord is, how much they care about their public image, how comfortable tenants are with striking, and other factors. This will be up to the tenants to determine through discussion and research.
If your apartment complex is not ready to declare a rent strike, there are some intermediary steps you can take while building towards one.
- Attempt collective negotiation with your landlord
- Formulate collective demands to your landlord such as reduced rent
- Organize a collective backup plan if the rent strike fails
Before deciding to go on strike, it is a good idea to check in with your landlord to see what their plan already is for responding to the current crisis. You can use or modify this letter to do so.
If you reach an agreed to “critical capacity”, it is time to announce your rent strike. Here is a sample letter you can modify with your specific demands and grievances. Have all the committed rent strikers sign the letter and deliver it to the identified target.
This is just the beginning of the fight, and there’s a lot more organizing that needs to happen. Continue meeting with the organizing committee, recruiting more of your neighbors, and be prepared to respond to retaliatory actions by the landlord by sticking together.
8. Follow up
When figuring out what tactic to employ to continue to pressure your landlord to meet demands, it is important to figure out what specifics considerations you have in pressuring them by doing research. Tactics can leverage social, political, and/or financial pressure on a landlord.
- Social pressure means impacting a landlord’s personal relationships in their community, or impacting their sense of power over tenants.
- Political pressure means leveraging media, city officials, and legislative means to influence a landlord.
- Financial pressure means hurting a landlord’s profits.
Focus on being able to sustain a constant escalation of tactics. Start with something fairly benign and be able to continue to ramp up the pressure until demands are met.
When choosing a tactic, ask:
- Will this increase the pressure and push the landlord to cave in to demands?
- Is it visible — to your landlord, or to people who your landlord cares about?
- Are enough people ready to do it?
- How will others react? Will it unify people?
- How will management react? How can we prepare people for retaliation?
- Does it look like a bunch of fun?
9. Looking Ahead
The city and its people are in crisis as our entire economy is spiraling towards a deep recession. By many estimates, the COVID-19 crisis is going to last for months. That means, of course, we need to organize. Given the urgency of the situation, it’s tempting to take shortcuts — only reaching out to your immediate circle, or individually trying to communicate with your landlord, or trying to gather as many petition signatures as possible without thorough conversations, or trying to organize everything on your own, or pushing ahead with drastic actions and demands without commitment from others.
But there are no shortcuts. Building strong, durable organization among tenants where there is an abundance of leaders and widespread trust yields the most successful and lasting results. It takes time using the strategies we describe here. Looking ahead we face mass evictions and continued unemployment when the immediate danger of COVID-19 passes. The state will intervene, as it already has, but it will most likely intervene in favor of bailing out landlords and the housing market rather than tenants. To have a fighting chance with the state, tenants will need to be organized on a mass scale that is not there currently.
We’ll continue to update this page with more resources and further steps as this campaign develops. Please do not hesitate to reach out for advice or to keep us updated on your efforts. Solidarity forever!