The London Renter’s Union is calling on tenants to stop paying their rent if they are struggling financially due to Covid-19. Their campaign follows hot on the heels of action taken by renters in other parts of the UK and abroad.
Tenants are Facing Financial Hardship
Activists are advising tenants to withhold enough rent to cover their basic needs. Their campaign has support, with a YouGov poll indicating 45% of respondents believe food and bills should take priority over rent. A Guardian poll found that 25% of people who responded had been forced to move out and many more were having to cut back on food and other household essentials.
Tenant pressure groups have written to the government asking them to suspend rent payments, cancel rent arrears already accrued, and prevent landlords from evicting tenants once the Covid-19 crisis ends.
They say payment holidays are not enough because landlords will expect renters to repay any money owed when the holiday period ends, which they won’t be able to do if they are out of work and in debt. There is also concern that there will be mass evictions once the restrictions end, which will leave many vulnerable tenants homeless.
Activists are advising worried tenants to join a renters’ union, so they have access to help and advice.
The Rent Strike Model
The rent strike model is nothing new. In the 1880s, women living in Glasgow tenements initiated a rent strike when landlords sought to hike rents by up to 25%. The movement was a huge success and was later repeated during WW1.
More recently, around 12k renters in California have signed up to a rent strike in a bid to force the government to cancel rent and mortgage payments in the face of economic hardship, but the movement is even bigger in New York. There, a huge co-ordinated rent strike began on 1 May when families living in 1,500 rental units committed to stopping paying their rent.
In the UK, rent strikes have begun in universities, where students began protesting at having to pay rent for accommodations that they had no use for. 300 people at Surrey University signed a petition demanding a rent freeze. Further action followed at Lancaster Uni and other rent strikes are in motion at several UK universities.
Landlords are Hurting Too
Of course, there are two sides to every story. For every tenant who can’t pay, there is a landlord facing the loss of their income. If rent is your main source of income, having a tenant that refuses to pay is likely to cause you financial hardship. Whilst mortgage lenders are offering payment holidays, this is only a temporary band-aid and if tenants continue to withhold rent, it will cause huge problems in the buy to let sector.
If your tenants have stopped paying their rent and if this is causing you financial difficulties make sure you deal with this as soon as possible. If you have a mortgage or other finance on your properties get in touch with your lenders to ensure they’re aware of the situation. Seek help from Landlord Associations and debt help charities.
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