Why a Rent Strike?
Vancouver’s housing crisis is well known. As tenants we have been struggling to make ends meet for a long time. For many of us, our pay cheques go straight into our landlord’s pocket and leave little room for other necessities, much less for long-term savings. The crisis is not limited to Vancouver either; according to the Canadian Rental Housing Index database, one in five rental households in BC spend over 50% of their gross income on rent an utilities – the highest rate compared to all other provinces and territories. An additional crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic only highlights and compounds our struggle.
COVID-19 has left many of us unable to work due to illness, imposed isolation, and/or workplace closures. When we rely upon each pay cheque to make next month’s rent, and the pay cheques stop coming due to reasons beyond our control, we are put in an impossible position.
Low-income tenants should be able spend what funds they have left on food, medicine, and other essential needs instead of rent. Forcing us to choose between necessities and rent makes it harder for us to stay healthy, stay home to protect others, and take care of our loved ones.
Ending rent payments during this time is the only option for the safety of tenants and the wider community. Simply postponing our rent payments until after the crisis will only postpone the problem – we can’t work right now, and can’t make these pay cheques back later. We must refuse to pay rent altogether for the duration of the crisis.
Landlords have additional wealth and resources that make the COVID-19 situation easier to manage than low-income renters. This is especially true for the numerous landlords who own multiple homes. The government has promised landlords deferrals for their mortgage payments, while renters have been offered meager assistance with our monthly payments – monthly payments that many struggling people, like gig workers, workers in informal or criminalized economies and the unemployed, won’t qualify for. As tenants it appears we need to look out for ourselves, and a rent strike is an effective way to ensure that we are able to meet our own needs collectively throughout the pandemic.
A rent strike is successful when many people stop paying their rent in solidarity with one another. Whether you don’t have the money for this month’s rent, foresee struggling to pay rent a few months down the line, or wish to have solidarity with those who are in precarious positions, a rent strike gives a united and powerful voice to the thousands of us in these situations.
The goal of a city-wide rent strike is to ensure that no one is expected to make rent payments they can’t afford, and that no one faces consequences as a result of non-payment.
By rent striking, we can make it impossible for the city to force us all to pay. Our landlords can try to evict us for non-payment, but the province has stated that they will not be evicting tenants who can’t pay due to the COVID-19 pandemic – though it’s still unclear whether we could face consequences like eviction after the pandemic ends.
Political pressure can cause the government to better protect tenants by legislating that we won’t face consequences for non-payment during COVID-19, now or ever. On our Take Action page, we have included links to petitions from tenant organizations and sample letters to government officials outlining these demands.
For more information on possible consequences for individual tenants who strike now, see our Legal Info section.
We also recognize that unhoused community members are at the greatest risk during this time and the government has provided no viable housing options for them, despite the numbers of vacant buildings and empty hotels in Vancouver each day. The province has also stated that they will continue ongoing evictions and put those tenants at great risk during this time. We stand in solidarity with houseless folks and demand that the government provide adequate support for us all, and not punish those who meet their own needs however they can.