New York tenant groups call for mass rent strike

April 17, 2020

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

A coalition of housing and tenant advocacy groups is calling for a statewide rent strike on May 1 with the goal of pressuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo to cancel rent for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic. Led by the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance, the coordinated protest is seeking cancellation of rents for at least four months, a freeze on rent for every tenant, and a plan to house homeless New Yorkers.

“The COVID-19 crisis is making clear what many tenants have known for a long time: we are all just one life event – the loss of a job, a medical emergency – away from losing our homes,” the “May Day” petition reads. “Today, millions of New Yorkers are out of work. That means millions of us will be unable to pay the rent on May 1st. So if we can’t pay, let’s not pay, together!”

More than 2,100 renters from buildings with about 1,100 apartments signed for the May 1 rent strike, Housing Justice for All told Patch. And additional 10,000 New Yorkers have asked for access to the group’s toolkit. In total, advocates hope one million New Yorkers will not pay May’s rent.

Since the start of New York’s state of emergency and Cuomo’s “pause” order, which was extended until May 15 this week, advocates have called for rent relief, particularly for those who lost their jobs because of  COVID-19. The city’s Independent Budget Office estimated that nearly 60,000 workers across the five boroughs could lose their job before July of this year, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

Renters in New York who are unable to make rent are temporarily protected by a three-month moratorium on evictions, ordered by Cuomo last month. But following the eviction freeze, any unpaid rent will still be due.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris introduced legislation last month that would cancel rent for three months for tenants who were laid off or had to shutter a business as a result of the current crisis. With still no action on the bill, Gianaris has asked Cuomo directly to issue an executive order to cancel rent in the state.

“It has been clear for weeks now that rents cannot be paid with money that doesn’t exist and therefore, rent will be cancelled whether or not we authorize it by law,” Gianaris said in a statement on the rent strike on Thursday. “I urge Governor Cuomo to implement an executive order to cancel rent obligations and bring stability to the housing market before it devolves into a full blown crisis.”

Asked about the planned strike during an interview with WNYC on Friday, de Blasio said he doesn’t “agree with a rent strike.”

“There are a lot of smaller landlords in particular who if they don’t have any income coming in, they’re not going to be able to keep their buildings going,” de Blasio, who rents out his two properties in Park Slope, said. “And then you have a very bad situation for everyone. So, we’ve got to strike a balance here.”

The mayor has voiced support for other rent relief proposals, including deferment of rents for tenants, the use of pre-paid security deposits in lieu of rent, and an extension of the current moratorium on evictions. The mayor has also called on the Rent Guidelines Board to enact a rent freeze. These actions require state approval, and Cuomo has yet to signal support for any plan.

Some members of Congress want to move even further for renters and homeowners. On Friday, Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents Minnesota, introduced the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act that would fully cancel rent and mortgage payments nationwide during the pandemic. The bill is co-sponsored by eight representatives, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Grace Meng, both of New York.


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