Rent strike

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Rent Strike, New York Times, 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 obvious risk of eviction and bad credit history 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]


Glasgow 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 B. Laird, Helen Crawfurd, Agnes Dollan, and other women who were dubbed 'Mrs. Barbour's Army'. 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. The strikes soon spread and became an overwhelming success, moving out from Glasgow and on to other cities throughout the UK, that the government, on 27 November 1915, introduced legislation to restrict rents to the pre-war level.

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.[1]

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.[2][3] 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 [4]

Highland Land League Scotland 1880s

Barcelona mass rent strike 1931 between 5,000 and 100,000 people were out on rent strike [5]

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.[6]

University College London Originally starting in 2015 with just 60 students[7], 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[8]. 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[9] and 2018[10] at UCL, continuing to demand cheaper rents and better conditions, which have also gone on to win over £1.5 million.


South Africa massive rent strikes 1980s to end Apartheid and gain ownership of housing by the tenants.[11][12] The government sent in troops in Soweto in 1987.[13] "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." [14][15]

North America[edit]

Anti-Rent Movement New York 1839-1850s

New York City has a long history of tenants using rent strikes to address housing conditions. Below are 2 examples of the ways rent strikes have been used:

New York City Rent Strike in 1907 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 16-year-old Pauline Newman, 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.[16]

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.[17][18]

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. 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 underfunding and racist federal policies. [19][20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ "Behind Rent Strike 1970's – Full". YouTube. April 16, 2011.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ "Kirkby Rent Strike 1972".
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Sinn Féin - History of the Conflict
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Temko, Ned (September 4, 1986). "Rent strike gives blacks in S. Africa a powerful weapon". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Claiborne, William (Nov 18, 1987). "Troops Move into Black Township". Anchorage Daily News -. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  14. ^ HOLMES, STEVEN A. (June 5, 1994). "Rent Strikes Still Hamper South Africa". New York Times. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  15. ^ "South Africa Seeks To End Rent Strike". Pillidelphia Inquirer. June 10, 1987. Retrieved 11 October 2012.
  16. ^ Pauline Newman organizes influential New York rent strike
  17. ^ Tenant Movement in New York City, 1904-1984, Ronald Lawson
  18. ^ Mandi Issacs Jackson, "Harlem's Rent Strike and Rat War: Representation, Housing Access and Tenant Resistance in New York, 1958-1964," American Studies, University of Kansas, v. 47, no. 1, (2006) pp. 53-79.
  19. ^ Tenants and the Urban Housing Crisis, Edited by Stephen Burghardt 1972
  20. ^ The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: An Urban History (2011 documentary)