Housing activists call for rent strike in B.C. during COVID-19 pandemic


BURNABY (NEWS 1130) – As the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly accompanied by an economic crisis, housing advocates are encouraging some renters to withhold payments to their landlords – even if they can still afford their rent.

Dave Diewert, an organizer with Stop Demovictions Burnaby, said renters in multi-unit buildings should speak with their neighbours and find out if some of them can’t make their next rent payment.

If only one or two people in a building can’t pay, everyone should refuse to give the landlord money, he said.

“It shields people who aren’t able to pay rent for all kinds of reasons from being particularly targeted by landlords for harassment or aggression,” Diewert said.

‘We have to think strategically and we have to think collectively’

He said a rent strike will still be a necessary tactic for many renters, despite a $500 provincial subsidy for renters (paid to landlords), a B.C.-wide moratorium on evictions and various federal benefits for people losing income during the pandemic.

“I think we have to think strategically and we have to think collectively for the long haul,” Diewert said.

Diewert has spent the last five years fighting for the rights of tenants in Burnaby’s Metrotown neighbourhood with Stop Demovictions Burnaby, an offshoot of the Red Braid Alliance for Decolonial Socialism (formerly known as the Alliance Against Displacement).

After years of seeing developers buy older apartment buildings with the sole intention of demolishing them to make way for new developments, he has little sympathy for landlords who may cry foul over a rent strike.

“They don’t care about their tenants,” he said.

Landlords ‘work on a basis of appropriate sensitivity and compassion’

But the CEO of Landlord BC, which represents more than 3,300 property owners, said that’s simply not true.

David Hutniak said he has encouraged landlords to speak with tenants and “work on a basis of appropriate sensitivity and compassion” to find solutions for those unable to pay rent April 1.

Many landlords are allowing for partial payments or deferrals for renters who have lost some or all of their income due to the coronavirus, he said.

But he said the call for a rent strike is “really misguided … really convoluted thinking and very destructive.”

“This talk about not paying rent or rent strike, it’s just hugely disappointing,” Hutniak said.

Renters who can afford to pay rent should do so to lessen the impact on landlords whose other renters are unable to pay, he said. Most of the Landlord BC members are “mom and pop” operations, according to Hutniak, and many are concerned about their ability to remain financially viable in the coming months.

“We’re pretty concerned about tomorrow,” he said on March 31.

‘We need extraordinary measures’

Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, said the tough situation facing many renters and landlords shows why more action is needed from the federal government. New Democrats have called for a federal moratorium on rent, mortgage payments and utility bills.

“We need extraordinary measures, I think, to deal with an extraordinary situation,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the various provisions in his government’s multi-billion-dollar financial aid package will help renters, but Davies said too many people are left falling through the cracks of those new policies.

“I think it’s better to have strong national policies that apply to everybody because that’s the best way to deliver help to people fast and fairly,” he said.

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