Jeff McAdams' Tenant Protection Tips

How to Organize a Rent Strike:
A Superior Strategy for Hard Times – Part 1

The acts of an unscrupulous New York landlord sometimes reach a point of being so egregious that extraordinary measures are called for. Fortunately, tenants who are victimized by outrageous conditions or treatment have options that pack legal power. One of the most effective is a rent strike.

In this difficult economic climate, when many tenants are losing jobs or have their backs against the wall financially, pooling monetary resources with other building occupants will help you preserve your legal rights. It’s a strategy perfectly suited to the times.

The tenants, as a unified group, can protest substandard, building-wide conditions that undermine livability and safety for everyone. You can also band together to challenge individual complaints affecting several tenants, since the landlord’s treatment of these residents may pose a future threat to others if it’s allowed to continue. An example would be the landlord’s attempt to exploit selected tenants with attempts at unlawful eviction. You can certainly combine both types of claims, if that’s what you’re dealing with.

This is what to do if you want to organize a rent strike:

Step 1: Begin by discussing grievances with other tenants. It can be as simple as knocking on a few doors, introducing yourself as a neighbor, and saying, “Listen, I’m having some problems with our landlord. I was wondering if you’re having similar experiences. Could we talk for a minute?” Three or four conversations are a good start.

Step 2: Ask each tenant you speak to who else they know in the building, and if they’d be willing to contact them about this. Collect a list of names and contact information. Talk to others you meet (either just by knocking on doors, or by getting these referrals). See how they’re feeling about the landlord’s behavior. If people are dissatisfied and angry, call everyone back and propose a meeting to discuss forming a Tenants’ Association.

Step 3: Choose an apartment where you’ll meet, or ask tenants if they know somewhere large enough for a meeting without cost. Someone may be able to get a conference room for free. Otherwise, arrange to get together where you can rent a room inexpensively for a couple hours, like a school, church, synagogue, or YMCA. Plan to meet in the evening around 8:00 so it doesn’t conflict with work schedules. This will help to maximize attendance. Then, run off some inexpensive fliers at a Kinko’s or other photocopy shop, notifying all tenants in the building about the day and time. Put them under everyone’s door. Of course, you can expect that the landlord will see some fliers.

Step 4: Prior to this first meeting, contact attorneys whose main practice area is Landlord Tenant law. Describe your building’s situation, tell the lawyers you are organizing Tenants’ Association and considering a rent strike. Find out about their rates for representation. Focus on practitioners who represent tenants only, and ask each one if he or she has ever handled a tenant strike before. Needless to say, it’s best to retain someone with the exact experience you need.

Part 2 of this article, which will be posted on Thursday, 10/7/10, will cover how to conduct your first meeting, elect leadership, organize the Tenants’ Association, retain counsel and raise funds for your ongoing efforts.

(Blacklisting is explained in detail in How to Protect Yourself Against a Ruthless, Greedy Landlord , at Strategy # 20.)

Please Note: Every McAdams Law Tenant Protection Tip and article is for informational purposes only and cannot substitute for legal advice. Before taking action, consult an experienced New York Landlord Tenant attorney about your situation. Beware that being a party in a lawsuit in New York City’s Housing Court can subject you to blacklisting. Please see more details here.

McAdams Law
305 Broadway, Suite 610
New York, NY 10007
Fax: (212) 619-0714

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