Rent Strikes

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The guide can be downloaded here.

Introduction

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Organised rent strikes are a powerful tactic, but given the scale of the housing crisis, it is one that is under-used as a form of resistance against unaffordable rent rises. Landlords have always exploited the need for a home, and use the threat of eviction to profiteer during periods of housing shortage. 

 

Caution! Withholding rent can be considered a breach of your tenancy and could have considerable legal and personal consequences. We do not advise ever taking this step without getting legal advice from a fully qualified practitioner with expertise in this area of the law.

Power to the Tenants

The use of rent strikes in 1891 helped win the Dockers’ Strike in London’s East End as part of a wider civil unrest. However, probably the most famous use of rent strikes was initiated by women in the Clyde area of Glasgow during a housing shortage at the start of IWW. Landlords lost no time in racking up rents, but women who had been brought together in large numbers to work in munitions factories, organised strike committees and coordinated action involving around 20,000 tenants.

The strike was powerful enough to force then Prime Minister Lloyd-George to introduce legislation which returned rents to pre-war levels, as well changing the law on eviction. It has been used periodically across the country since this time and almost always with success.

Students Make a Stand

Most recently, in 2016 and 2017 students at University College London (UCL). took rent strike action in high profile campaigns involving over 1,000 students. UCL’s management was eventually forced to back down and the students won a range of concessions including rent freezes, and accommodation bursaries for the disadvantaged. The NUS has subsequently attempted to build on this tactic organising rent strike workshops in 25 UK universities at freshers fairs in 2016. They are seeking resist rises in campus rents of around 18% in two years.

One Housing Group

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In 2016 we also saw the first use of this threat within a housing association, when One Housing Group threatened to raise keyworker rents in Newham by up to 40%. The Tenants Association quickly organised a campaign and threatened OHG with a rent strike. This forced a massive retreat by the association, with rents even being reduced in some cases.

 

Organising a Campaign

Demands can’t be won without a wider campaign. Publicity and media coverage is often a valuable companion, striking at the reputation of the landlord, and is a particular sensitivity for housing associations which trade on their philanthropic image. The lists below provide some of the basic building blocks, but the HAWR Network is able to offer more specific advice and support.

  • Organisation
  • A rent strike committee to lead the campaign.
  • Agree your set of demands and how much rent will be withheld – all or part?
  • A rent account for the withheld rent money
  • A separate account for the campaign budget
  • A database for participants and also a wider supporters’ network

 

  • Develop materials
  • A logo and slogan
  • A banner, flags, T Shirts, wristbands, etc
  • A general flyer setting out the background and aim of the strike
  • A Facebook and Twitter account – essential to allow all to contribute

 

  • For the local community
  • Local canvassing in person
  • Putting flyers through doors
  • Window posters for participants to put up
  • Meetings around local estates
  • Stalls and leafletting at community events
  • Local demonstrations and marches

 

  • For housing and other campaign bodies
  • Sending speakers to meetings and giving out publicity materials
  • Model motions to trade unions and trades councils
  • Asking labour movement bodies such as trade unions, left-wing groups, and the TUC to post material on their website and circulate through their networks

 

  • For the wider public
  • Regular communication through the press
  • Regular social media updates
  • Stunts that will gain media attention

 

  • For decision-makers
  • Online petitions
  • Lobbies of the local council or your HA
  • Letter writing campaigns to councillors or HA board members
  • Find out where HA board members work and lobby there

 

Remember! Withholding rent can be considered a breach of your tenancy and could have considerable legal and personal consequences. We do not advise ever taking this step without getting legal advice from a fully qualified practitioner with expertise in this area of the law.