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The Rent Is Due. Now What?

Rent strikes being organized around the nation, but 'mom and pop' landlords struggling, too
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted May 1, 2020 11:56 AM CDT

(Newser) – The new month has arrived, which means the rent is due for millions of Americans. Combine that with off-the-charts unemployment and it adds up to misery not just for tenants but for many landlords, too. While many states and the federal government have put protections into place to stop evictions during the shutdown, advocates for strapped renters say more help is needed. Coverage:

  • Rent strikes: Some people aren't paying May's rent because the money simply isn't there. Others are withholding the rent check in solidarity. The Wall Street Journal reports that housing activists have organized rent strikes in more than a dozen cities, including New York and Chicago. The idea is to pressure lawmakers at all levels to give renters more financial support. See this online petition ("Can't Pay? Won't Pay") as an example. We won't know for about a week how widespread the movement is.

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  • Stats: Nearly 50 million Americans rent their homes, and about half rent from individual investor landlords—think "mom and pop" landlords—who generally need the rental income to make mortgage payments or cover property taxes, maintenance, etc., per NPR. About half of US renters use at least 30% of their income for rent and utilities.
  • The confusion: Yes, a patchwork of state, city, and federal protections are in place amid the pandemic, barring evictions and utility shut-offs in places. But "we're faced with millions of families who are behind in rent," says sociologist Matt Desmond, whose group Eviction Lab tracks evictions around the country. "Do renters have to pay back rent or start paying rent once the moratoria lifts?" No clear answers are out there, and a movement is afoot to push for federal relief to help cover back rent.
  • The crunch: "I can't pay rent and it is not my fault," says Tiana Caldwell of Kansas City, Mo., who lost her job as a computer skills teacher at a community college five weeks ago. "I need my governor and my federal government to use their extended power in this crisis to do their job and protect tenants and cancel rent," she said on a call hosted by the advocacy group Action Center on Race and the Economy, per Courthouse News.
  • The crunch, II: "I am concerned," John Ragsdale, who owns four rental houses in Newton, NJ, tells the Journal. "Nobody's said they're not going to be ready, but I won't know really until I show up" to pick up the rent on May 1.
(Read more renters stories.)

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