LA tenants engaging in rent strikes
A few dozen tenants from a working-class neighbourhood here hopped into their vehicles, creating a caravan that would head to affluent Orange County.
After the hour-long drive in late May, the group converged on the pavement in front of a two-story house with Spanish-tile roofing. Chung Suk Kim had purchased the seven-building apartment complex in Los Angeles for US$8.5 million in September. Eviction notices for all 80 residents almost all of them black or Latino went up a few weeks later, indicating that the owner wanted to convert the units, located near the University of Southern California, into student housing.
In Los Angeles, one of the most expensive rental markets in the country, the housing crisis is getting so severe that tenants are increasingly engaging in rent strikes, a practice from the early 1900s.
Led by the fledgling LA Tenants Union, inhabitants of multiunit buildings are joining forces and refusing to pay rent until their landlords negotiate what they view to be as fairer rent hikes. Some, such as the tenants in Mr Kim’s buildings, also are striking to prevent mass evictions.
In the mostly Hispanic neighbourhood of Boyle Heights, some tenants were hit with rent increases of up to 80 per cent last year. The building’s 25-plus residents, including about a dozen mariachi musicians, went on rent strike for nine months before settling with the landlord early this year. The agreement: the landlord would get an immediate 14 per cent rent increase but would increase rents no more than 5 per cent each year going forward.
In Los Angeles, 57 per cent of renters fall into this category, second only to Miami (61.5 per cent). Blacks and Latinos in Los Angeles are particularly hard hit: a recent report by Zillow found that these renters are spending, on average, 63 per cent of their incomes on housing. And LA rents keep rising still.