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Largest Rent Strike in Nearly a Century in New York

More than 12,000 New Yorkers signed a pledge not to pay their rent as of May 1, 2020. This is the largest rent strike in New York since the “Spanish” Influenza epidemic of 1918. Read on to learn more.

New York City is experiencing its largest rent strike in about 100 years. More than 12,000 New Yorkers signed a pledge not to pay their rent as of May 1, 2020, even if they can afford to do so. While these protestors are small in number, compared to the millions of people across the United States who stopped being able to pay their rent on time beginning in early April because they lost their jobs, the “Cancel Rent” movement is vocal and persistent.

The largest rent strike in nearly a century in New York involves protests, signs and banners that say, “Cancel Rent,” and politicians across the nation stating their opinions. Some people want rent canceled for the duration of the pandemic, and others want to do any with rent permanently.


The Response of Some Landlords/ Property Management Corporations

Some New York tenants banded together and contacted their landlords, wanting to negotiate some financial concessions for tenants who have a hardship because of the pandemic. The management company that handles the property responded that the corporation has “the right to sue and ruin tenants credit for non payment once the eviction/sue moratorium is lifted.” The company said that they will talk with tenants as individuals, but they refuse to communicate with the group of tenants who reached out to them for help.

New York had an executive order that put a stay on evictions until after June 20. The relief from the government in New York protects homeowners who cannot afford their mortgage payments and tenants already behind on their rent payments at the time of the short-term relief measures, but offered little assistance to people who became delinquent later.


The Motivation Behind the New York City Rent Strike


The COVID-19 pandemic has cost millions of Americans their jobs, with no return to pre-COVID normal anywhere in sight. New York has astronomically high rent, with many people having to pay more than half of their paychecks to their landlords.

It can take two or more wage-earners in some households just to make ends meet in ordinary times. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, price-gouging and scarcity have led to sharply increased costs of living for all of us. For people who struggled before the public health crisis, living from paycheck to paycheck, there is no extra money to pay these higher daily expenses.

When one or more workers in a household become unemployed, the family can experience food insecurity. Quite a few Americans spend their days seeking help at food pantries and other charitable organizations, even though they might have to risk their health and safety to do so. With no income and little if any savings, many people scramble to keep from going hungry on a daily basis. There is no money to pay their rent, utilities, and other bills.


What the “Cancel Rent” Organizers Want


The underlying premise of this social movement is that housing should be a human right, and that people should not have to pay for where they live. Many people call for the federal government to provide assistance to renters. Some rent strike organizers have these five demands:

  1. The state of New York should cancel rent statewide for four months or until the public health crisis ends, whichever is longer,

  2. A freeze on the amount of rent a landlord can charge,

  3. Tenants should have the right to renew their current leases at the same rental amount,

  4. All homeless New Yorkers should get permanent housing,

  5. The state should invest in statewide public and social housing.

Small landlords and large real estate corporations say that such measures would bankrupt them. The rent strike spokespeople respond that government intervention could help the landlords.

Whether you are a tenant or landlord, the law on these issues is changing rapidly. You can call David S. Harris, New York landlord-tenant attorney, today at (718) 291-5544.

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