Rent strike

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A rent strike in Harlem, New York City, September 1919.

A rent strike is a method of protest commonly employed against large landlords. In a rent strike, a group of tenants come together and agree to refuse to pay their rent en masse until a specific list of demands is met by the landlord. This can be a useful tactic of final resort for use against intransigent landlords, but carries the risk of eviction and lowered credit scores in some cases.

Historically, rent strikes have often been used in response to problems such as high rents, poor conditions in the property, or unreasonable tenancy demands; however, there have been situations where wider issues have led to such action.

Notable rent strikes[edit]



During the Irish Land War of the 1880s and during World War I when the landlords of tenement buildings in Glasgow sought to take advantage of the influx of shipbuilders coming into the city and the absence of many local men to raise rents on the tenements' remaining residents. These women left behind were seen as an easy target and were faced with a rent increase of up to 25% and would be forcibly evicted by bailiffs if they failed to pay. As a result of this rent increase, there was a popular backlash against the landlords and a rent strike was initiated. This was led by Mary Barbour, Mary Burns Laird, Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dollan, and other women who were dubbed 'Mrs. Barbour's Army', who lived in the housing that were experiencing rent increases.[1] The Glasgow Women's Housing Association was led by these women and during rent strikes, women would forcibly prevent the bailiffs from entering the tenements to deliver eviction notices by pelting them with flour bombs, pulling down their trousers, or throwing them into the 'midden' (trash) in the back court of tenement buildings.[2] The strikes soon spread, not only across the tenants of Glasgow, but across Glasgow workplaces.[3] This became an overwhelming success, as Glasgow was a main producer of munitions for the war effort of WWI.[3] These strikes moved out from Glasgow and on to other cities throughout the UK, and influenced the government, on 27 November 1915, to introduce legislation to restrict rents to the pre-war level.[4] The Rent Restriction Act, 1915, was implemented after a protest held in Glasgow, by workers and tenants in support of five women who were taken to court for refusing to pay their rent.[5][6][7]

The Leeds rent strike in 1914

In early January 1914, around 300 tenants living in the Burley area of Leeds went on rent strike against a 6d increase in rents imposed by the landlords. The rent increase had been called for by the Leeds branch of the Property Owners Association. At a mass meeting of the tenants on Sunday January 10, the rent strike organisers called for a citywide protest against the increase. A week later, the Leeds Trades Council hosted a Labour conference intended to organise mass rent resistance. A Tenants Defence League was formed with a central committee of nine and a mission to spread the rent campaign across the city through a series of public meetings and neighbourhood canvassing. The strike lasted eight weeks. In the end, committee members had been evicted and blacklisted from renting any other home in the area.[8]

Kirkby Rent Strike

A 14-month-long rent strike initiated by 3,000 tenants on October 9, 1972 in the town of Kirkby, outside Liverpool, against the Housing Finances Act,[9][10] caused a £1 rent rise. A group of women on the Tower Hill estate formed a discussion and support group to help themselves and their families through the factory closure crisis when the Housing Finances Act was passed these women formed an Unfair Rents Action Group and responded by organizing the rent strike.[11]

Highland Land League

Scotland 1880s

Barcelona mass rent strike 1931

Between 5,000 and 100,000 people were out on rent strike.[12]

The Gothenburg Rent Strikes 1930s

During the 1930s the Gothenburg Tenants´ Movement launched a rent-reduction campaign, using calls to boycott, cancellation of contracts and rent strikes to further their goals. Almost two thousand properties were affected and thousands of tenants got rent reductions as a result. The organized landlords retaliated and during the Olskroken Conflict 1936-1937 hundreds of tenants were evicted. The Olskroken conflict ended in a loss for the landlords, signalling the beginning of the end for tenant militancy in Gothenburg.[13]

Northern Ireland

During "The Troubles" (1960s-1980s) in Northern Ireland, participants in the civil rights movement withheld rent and council rates from local councils in protest at internment.[14]

University College London

Originally starting in 2015 with just 60 students,[15] by 2016 a rent strike movement involving over one thousand students at University College London withholding their rent had formed, eventually winning hundreds of thousands of pounds in concessions.[16] This rent strike spread to other UK universities, with many setting up "Cut The Rent" campaigns. Since this 2016 rent strike there have been rent strikes also in 2017[17] and 2018[18] at UCL, continuing to demand cheaper rents and better conditions, which have also gone on to win over £1.5 million.


South Africa

Rent strikes occurred in the 1980s to end Apartheid and gain ownership of housing by the tenants.[19][20] The government sent in troops to Soweto in 1987.[21] "Residents of some public housing have not paid their rents in several years, and in many cases officials have stopped trying to collect and have turned ownership over to tenants. In Soweto, for instance, Government officials say at least 50,000 rental units have been given to tenants."[22][23]

North America[edit]

Anti-Rent Movement of New York 1839–1845

The Anti-Rent Movement (also known as the Anti-Rent War and Helderberg War) was a tenants' revolt in upstate New York in the period 1839–1845. The Anti-Renters declared their independence from the manor system run by patroons, resisting tax collectors and successfully demanding land reform.

1904 New York City Rent Strike

In 1904, the first mass rent strike in New York City occurred. In response to rising rents, 2,000 families went on strike for over a month. By its end the tenants had successfully won rent reductions.[24][25]

1907 New York City Rent Strike

In 1907, in response to rising rents due to housing shortages 10,000 families in lower Manhattan went on rent strike. One of the primary organizers was 20-year-old Pauline Newman, along with housewives and women working in the garment industry. It lasted from December 26 until January 9 and led to about 2,000 families having their rents reduced.[26]

1918-20 New York City rent strikes

“Right in the Nose!” Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Sept 27, 1920
The 1918-20 New York City Rent strikes were some of the most significant tenant mobilizations against landlords in NYC history. As a result of a World War 1 housing shortage, a coal shortage during a brutal winter, frequent raising of rents and landlord property speculation; Waves of rent strikes occurred across the entire city among poor and middle-class tenants alike. First over dangerously freezing flats, when many landlords stopped providing heating during the coal shortage, and later over rent.[27][28][29] Somewhere between at least several 10,000's and 100,000's of tenants struck across the city over the two year period.[30]: 82  It led to the passage of the Emergency Rent Laws by the state of New York, the first rent control in the nations history, which remained in place until 1929. Individually many of the strikes also won their demands for the reduction of rent and in many cases yearly written instead of oral leases.[27][28][29]

1920-1921 Chicago rent strikes

Chicago Tribune; February 29, 1920
Chicago Tribune; February 29, 1920
From 1920 to 1921, Chicago had a series of tenant strikes over rent increases. The strikes lead to the formation of the Chicago Tenants Protective association, passage of the Kessenger tenant laws, and of a heat ordinance that legally required flats to be kept above 68° F during winter months by landlords.[31][32][33][34][35][36]

Communist Party and American Labor Party efforts in the 1930s and 40s

During the Great Depression and through the end of World War II, labor unions played a major role in the mass-mobilization of the working class. These labor unions combined forces with leftist political organizations like the Communist Party and American Labor Party to rally for three major policy changes: rent control, public housing, and building-code enforcements.[37]

New York City rent strike over repairs

In the winter of 1963-1964, a rent strike erupted in Harlem. It was led by Jesse Gray, a tenant organizer there since 1953. The focus of the strike was not rent levels but poor maintenance.[38][39]

National wave of rent strikes throughout the US in 1960s and early 70s

Rent strikes spread through the US in response to the chronic neglect of repairs in both urban private and public housing stock. The 1960s were characterized by two distinct fronts within the tenant movement: (1) the tenant-student alliance led by Marie Runyon starting in 1961 that, though largely symbolic, generated media traction and political clout for the movement, and (2) a movement of radical Black movement participants led by the Black Panther Party and the Young Lords party who used a direct action approach to bring attention to the failings of the state and encouraged poor New York City neighborhoods to take charge of abandoned properties.[37] After the Harlem rent strikes in 1963-4, it became a popular tactic both among students in university towns and public housing tenants who were living in squalid conditions due to lack of funding and racist federal policies.[40][41]

South America[edit]

Tenants' strike of 1907

In 1907, a popular movement against the rise in rents in tenant houses in the city of Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities, popularly called conventillos, escalated into a rent strike.[42] The strike began in August 1907, it lasted approximately 3 months and more than one hundred tenants[43] participated in the movement, with thirty-two thousand workers on strike.[44] It had a significant presence of anarchist and socialist activists.[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bell, H. B. (2018). John Maclean : hero of Red Clydeside. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 978-1-78680-354-2. OCLC 1055913598.
  2. ^ King, Elspeth (1993). The hidden history of Glasgow's women : the Thenew factor. Edinburgh: Mainstream Pub. ISBN 1-85158-404-8. OCLC 30477923.
  3. ^ a b Craig, Maggie (2018). When the Clyde ran red : a social history of Red Clydeside. Edinburgh: Birlinn. ISBN 978-0-85790-996-1. OCLC 1028736262.
  4. ^ Castells, Manuel (1983). The city and the grassroots : a cross-cultural theory of urban social movements. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-04756-7. OCLC 8929555.
  5. ^ Kenefick, William; McIvor, Arthur; Glasgow Labour History Workshop (1996). Roots of Red Clydeside, 1910-1914? : labour unrest and industrial relations in West Scotland. Edinburgh: J. Donald. ISBN 0-85976-434-6. OCLC 35801378.
  6. ^ Gallacher, William (2017). Revolt on the Clyde : an autobiography. Gary Smith, John, Ph. D. Callow (Fifth ed.). Baltimore, Maryland: Project Muse. ISBN 978-1-912064-56-4. OCLC 1000469666.
  7. ^ Milton, Nan Maclean (1973). John Maclean. London: Pluto Press. ISBN 0-902818-39-2. OCLC 1011273.
  8. ^ The Leeds rent strike in 1914; A reappraisal of the radical history of the tenants movement, Quintin Bradley Archived 2015-01-24 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Behind Rent Strike 1970's – Full". YouTube. April 16, 2011. Archived from the original on 2013-08-18.
  10. ^ Murden, Jon (2006). "The 1972 Kirkby Rent Strike: Dockland Solidarity in a New Setting?". London: Economic History Society. Archived from the original (DOC) on 2006-09-25.
  11. ^ "Kirkby rent strike, 1972".
  12. ^ "1931: Barcelona mass rent strike".
  13. ^ Rolf, Hannes (2018). Tenant by the sea: Tenants´ associations in the industrialized port city of Gothenburg 1900-1950 (PDF).{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ "History".
  15. ^ "On Britain's left, there's growing talk of a national rent strike | CityMetric".
  16. ^ blogger, Anonymous (October 19, 2016). "Why I refuse to pay my university rent". The Guardian – via
  17. ^ Packham, Alfie (July 6, 2017). "Students win £1.5m pledge from UCL after five-month rent strike". The Guardian – via
  18. ^ "Students strike on rent pay after mice and flooding complaints". Left Foot Forward. May 8, 2018.
  19. ^ Temko, Ned (September 4, 1986). "Rent strike gives blacks in S. Africa a powerful weapon". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  20. ^ Parks, Michael (March 31, 1986). "South Africa Blacks Plan Mass Action : Store Boycotts, Rent Strikes Are Part of Strategy". LA Times. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  21. ^ Claiborne, William (Nov 18, 1987). "Troops Move into Black Township". Anchorage Daily News -. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  22. ^ HOLMES, STEVEN A. (June 5, 1994). "Rent Strikes Still Hamper South Africa". New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  23. ^ "South Africa Seeks To End Rent Strike". Pillidelphia Inquirer. June 10, 1987. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  24. ^ Lawson, Ronald (May 1984). "The Rent Strike in New York City, 1904–1980: The Evolution of a Social Movement Strategy". Journal of Urban History. 10 (3): 235–258. doi:10.1177/009614428401000301. ISSN 0096-1442. S2CID 145008168.
  25. ^ Joselit, Jenna Weissman (1986). "1: The Landlord as Czar - Pre-World War I Tenant Activity". In Lawson, Ronald (ed.). The tenant movement in New York City, 1904 – 1984. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press. pp. 39–50. ISBN 978-0-8135-1158-0.
  26. ^ "Pauline Newman organizes influential New York rent strike | Jewish Women's Archive".
  27. ^ a b Lawson, Ronald (January 1, 1986). "Ch. 2: New York City Tenant Organizations and the Post-World War I Housing Crisis". The Tenant movement in New York City, 1904-1984. Internet Archive. New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press. pp. 51–89. ISBN 978-0-8135-1203-7.
  28. ^ a b Fogelson, Robert Michael (2013). The great rent wars: New York, 1917-1929. New Haven (Conn.): Yale University press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300191721.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-19172-1.
  29. ^ a b Day, Jared N. (1999). Urban castles: tenement housing and landlord activism in New York City, 1890 - 1943. The Columbia history of urban life. New York, NY: Columbia Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0-231-11402-8.
  30. ^ Fogelson, Robert Michael (2013). The great rent wars: New York, 1917-1929. New Haven (Conn.): Yale University press. doi:10.12987/yale/9780300191721.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-300-19172-1.
  31. ^ Robbins, Mark W. (2017). "5. Rent War! Middle-Class Tenant Organizing". Middle Class Union: Organizing the 'Consuming Public' in Post-World War I America. University of Michigan Press. doi:10.3998/mpub.9343785. ISBN 978-0-472-13033-7. JSTOR 10.3998/mpub.9343785. Archived from the original on April 4, 2024. Retrieved April 4, 2024.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  32. ^ "U.S. Lists Rent War Flats; Tax Dodgers Hunted: Some Landlords Admit "Error" in Income". Chicago Daily Tribune. March 24, 1921. Retrieved 2024-04-05.
  33. ^ "Rent Hog Gets Wallop in Bills Passed in Senate: One Measure Gives Tenants 60 Days In Which to Vacate Property". Belleville Daily Advocate. March 30, 1921. Retrieved 2024-04-05.
  34. ^ "Love Flees Cold Flats, Tenants' Leader Argues: Heated Charges Fly in Heat Ordinance Fight". Chicago Tribune. December 28, 1921. Retrieved 2024-04-11.
  35. ^ "Fine Landlord $25 In Test Case on New Heat Law". Chicago Tribune. December 7, 1922. Retrieved 2024-04-11.
  36. ^ "Progress by Degrees: A History of the Chicago Heat Ordinance - The RentConfident Blog - RentConfident, Chicago IL". 2021-04-30. Retrieved 2024-04-11.
  37. ^ a b Hewitt, Nancy A., ed. (2010). No Permanent Waves: Recasting Histories of U.S. Feminism. Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-4724-4. JSTOR j.ctt1bmzp2r.
  38. ^ The Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904-1984, Ronald Lawson
  39. ^ Issacs Jackson, Mandi (2006). "Harlem's Rent Strike and Rat War: Representation, Housing Access and Tenant Resistance in New York, 1958-1964". American Studies. 47 (1). University of Kansas: 53–79.
  40. ^ Tenants and the Urban Housing Crisis, Edited by Stephen Burghardt 1972
  41. ^ The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History (2011 documentary)
  42. ^ Pignatelli, Adrián (14 August 2019). "La huelga de las escobas: cuando las mujeres de los conventillos salieron a la calle para "barrer la injusticia" por el aumento en los alquileres". Infobae (in Spanish). Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  43. ^ Spalding, Hobart (October 1970). La clase trabajadora argentina. Documentos para su historia 1890/1912 (in Spanish). Galerna. pp. 451–453.
  44. ^ Guevara, Cecilia; Vega, Sergio; Atlas, Gabriel (June 1997). "La huelga de los Inquilinos en Boca" (PDF). Jornadas de la Carrera de Sociologia: Veinte Años Despues. Noviembre 1996. Taller Historia Urbana (in Spanish). p. 6. Retrieved 25 November 2019.
  45. ^ "El último conventillo". Clarín (in Spanish). 2 October 1997. Retrieved 16 July 2016.
  46. ^ Jill Jonnes (June 21, 1981). "Courts Are Naming Administrators Now to Better Buildings". The New York Times. After a year and a half of a rent strike ... Article 7A of the city housing code