Tenant organizing and rent strikes

Before America was staring down the barrel of 30% unemployment in the worst health and economic crisis in a century, most workers in this country already lived paycheck to paycheck. More than half of Americans did not have enough economic flexibility to be able to absorb a $400 emergency. This is not because more than half the country is lazy and irresponsible – wages have not kept pace with cost of living expenses for decades now. Rents were too high and the pay was too low. Now, rents remain too high, and for many, the pay is zero.

Although the Federal Government has implemented some measures, it will take months for workers in North Dakota to see those benefits. In the meantime, North Dakota’s government has failed workers around the state. Unemployment checks are far too low to cover rent. Governor Burgum’s solution is to wait three weeks for a one-time federal payment that won’t pay rent tomorrow, won’t stop exorbitant late fees from piling up, and won’t stop negative impacts to workers’ credit history, affecting them long after this crisis is over.

The Supreme Court moratorium on evictions still allows evictions if the landlord has good cause, without defining what constitutes a good cause, and allows no recovery time once the crisis is over. Even if working families are not evicted tomorrow or in the weeks to come, once this is over they will be facing several months’ worth of rent payments with paychecks that are barely enough to cover one month.

Meanwhile, landlords in the state, including Governor Burgum, remain largely untouched. They’re social distancing in ostentatious McMansions, writing tone-deaf Letters to the Editor, and blatantly informing their tenants that they still intend to collect rent and late fees, by hook or by crook. In the middle of a crisis, they have threatened tenants with eviction, blacklisting, and homelessness. In contrast, landlords have flexibility with their mortgage lenders, and in many cases banks have already offered to waive late fees and work with their customers on payment plans. These niceties are not extended to the renting class.

When the government fails its people, it’s up to communities to stick together. That’s why Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America support tenants organizing councils and planning rent strikes. In addition, we make the following demands of Governor Burgum and the state of North Dakota:

Immediate release of an executive order that

    • Institutes a moratorium on evictions with clearer language to protect those harmed by this crisis, to last for 90 days after the crisis has ended
    • Bans any late fees related to inability to pay rent during this emergency and for 90 days after it has ended
    • Prevents landlords from submitting negative credit reports related to unpaid rent during this emergency and for 90 days after it has ended

Before the end of April, release of an executive order forgiving back rent payments accrued by anyone impacted by the crisis

Convene a special session of the North Dakota legislature before the end of Summer 2020 to hear a bill, endorsed by Governor Burgum, protecting tenants' rights, including:

    • Statewide rent control
    • Protection of the right to form Tenants Unions, and protection from landlord retaliation
    • Mandate tenants be offered the right of first refusal before a building is sold, including loans offered by the Bank of North Dakota for this purpose