Greedy landlords are a dime a dozen in New York. And they often break the law with impunity. But some of them are starting to reap the consequences: militant new tenant unions that want to bring the class war to their doorsteps.
Since March, Brooklyn Eviction Defense (BED) has helped form 24 tenant associations and three tenant councils (with one having reached over 20 buildings), all of which are expanding, reports the group. Describing itself as an “autonomous union of organized tenants and tenants associations fighting landlord harassment, disrepair, rising rent and threats of eviction,” BED began in July 2020 around an eviction defense at 1214 Dean St. in Crown Heights.
BED’s rapid growth comes with context. Market-rate rents in New York City skyrocketed to above pre-pandemic levels in March and tenants in rent-stabilized apartments are seeing their largest rent increases since 2013. At 8.6%, the U.S. inflation rate is at its highest in 40 years, and in New York City pandemic job losses linger more than in any other major U.S. city. In this “post-COVID” reality, tenants are banding together.
“Tenants come together to defend their living conditions but also to transform the politics of their everyday life.”
BED defines a tenant’s association as an organized collective of tenants living in the same building or building complex working to improve their living conditions. A tenant council encompasses multiple buildings run by the same landlord.
On Aug. 1, tenants living in buildings operated by Greenrock Management formed a tenant council after multiple renters had their rents increased by $1,000 per month — a predicament that many New Yorkers experienced this spring-summer. At 219 13th St. in Park Slope, a tenant association formed because the 25-unit building hadn’t had gas since May. After 311 and HPD provided no recourse, the renters decided to organize. They commenced a rent strike on Oct. 1. At a 192-unit building in Flatbush, tenants started organizing when BED helped to do doorknocking that revealed conditions of disrepair span across the building. At their second tenant association meeting, 65 people showed up, ready to take action.
A tenant association can be helpful in many ways. For example, a tenant reached out to BED last month because their landlord was threatening them with an illegal eviction, says the group, which responded by setting up a safety network for the tenant. When the landlord eventually broke into the tenant’s apartment, members of a BED tenant association located just a few blocks away were able to intervene. They walked over and successfully ejected the landlord and his goons from the building.
“Tenants come together to defend their living conditions but also to transform the politics of their everyday life,” says BED Tenant Union, which openly operates within a revolutionary, abolitionist and communist framework and whose members comprise a range of Brooklyn tenants.
To connect with BED, go to brooklynevictiondefense.org or call (917) 982 2265.
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