One of the understandable results of massive business closures, layoffs, and tens of millions unemployed because of the coronavirus pandemic has been that a lot of people can’t pay rent. Hence the rent strike movement now gaining momentum in large cities nationwide.
The idea is that instead of just not paying your rent because you got laid off, you organize with other tenants in your building or neighborhood and collectively refuse to pay rent, forcing your landlord to negotiate a rent freeze or some other form of relief.
If that’s all there were to rent strikes, that’d be understandable. Millions of Americans suddenly stripped of their income through no fault of their own can’t all be expected to pay rent. That’s why many cities have approved measures like months-long grace periods and moratoriums on evictions and late fees.
But the rent strike movement goes a step further, calling on people who haven’t lost their jobs to join their fellow out-of-work tenants in solidarity by refusing to pay rent, even if they have the means to do so. That’s where it goes off the rails.
If you’re working right now, you should be paying rent. Many landlords are in the same position as their tenants, and if they don’t get rent payments, they can’t make mortgage payments. Withholding rent from your landlord when you have the means to pay is the height of irresponsibility and preening entitlement during this crisis. It’s the opposite of civic virtue and duty.
Yet that’s what the rent strike movement is calling for. One group of more than 150 tenants in Brooklyn calling themselves the Taaffe Tenants Association recently sent a letter to their landlord saying they would withhold rent“whether by inability or solidarity” for 90 days beginning May 1.
In Queens, an organizer coordinating a strike in 10 buildings with more than 5,000 tenants told Newsweek that rent payments shouldn’t just be delayed or suspended but dropped altogether—including for tenants who are still working and can afford to pay rent but have joined the strike in solidarity. Fliers and graffiti supporting the rent strike movement tend to reflect this ethos of solidarity, calling on all renters to stop paying their landlords, “even if you can afford it.”
No surprise, the movement has attracted support from progressive Democrats. Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, a self-described socialist, has been promoting a May 1 rent strike on Twitter as a way to pressure Washington’s Democratic establishment to suspend rent and mortgage payments.
Hundreds of thousands in WA, tens of thousands in Seattle, will not be able to pay May rent.
Our movement demands Governor & WA Democratic establishment suspend rent & mortgage payments.
But to win this, we'll need a Rent Strike May 1st. Join us 6PM Thu 4/16 to get organized! pic.twitter.com/o9PPObMXXe
— Kshama Sawant (@cmkshama) April 11, 2020
In Washington, D.C., Rep. Ilhan Omar has joined the cause, tweeting recently under the #rentstrike hashtag and calling for a federal bailout for renters. Her fellow squad member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also backed a rent striketo pressure New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to cancel rent payments during the pandemic.
Of course, along with rent strikes, AOC also wants to drop the Medicare age to zero and pass universal single-payer. In one recent livestream forum on the recently passed coronavirus relief bill, AOC called for rent suspension and railed against our “brutal, barbarian society” while making a margarita.
Rent Strikes Are About More than Just Rent
But like many leftist causes, the rent strike movement doesn’t really account for how the economy works. It might be easy to villainize landlords when so many people are out of work, but the truth is that in many cases landlords are out of work, too.
Often they’re just regular people who have a rental property or two as part of their income stream. If they stop getting rent payments, they won’t be able to pay their mortgages, the banks will foreclose on their properties, and the tenants will be forced out, rent strike or no.
Again, that’s why if you can pay your rent, pay it. Now more than ever, you have an obligation to do so. Figure out some other way to help your fellow tenants who are out of work, but don’t punish your landlord for a crisis he or she didn’t create.
Of course, if you get enough people to stop paying rent and trigger mass foreclosures, maybe it will trigger a housing crisis and an economic collapse. This is what hard-core socialists really want, they just don’t want to broadcast it.
Peruse #rentstrike on Twitter and you’ll see a pattern to the rhetoric. Like other big leftist causes—say, the Green New Deal—the rent strike movement is only nominally about helping out jobless tenants. The real goal is fundamental transformation of the U.S. economy according to leftist ideals.
So, maybe don’t help them out with that, and just pay your rent if you can. We’re all in this together, even the landlords.