Collective Action: Why Renter Organizing Matters

Why Renter Organizing Matters

Community organizing is one of the most important practices that renters can engage in when trying to affect change in a large apartment building. A group of organized and well-informed renters can often get a landlord to listen to them and have a better chance of getting management to respond to grievances.

Imagine if your basement constantly flooded due to poor drainage. Imagine if your heat went out regularly. Imagine being in a wheelchair and not being able to leave your home because no one has shoveled the snow. These are services that most expect their landlord to provide as part of regular building maintenance. Unfortunately, too many renters are living in buildings where requests are ignored or reasonable requests come with the risk of retaliation by the landlord, resulting in eviction. By stating demands as a group, tenants may find it easier to get management to look at problems and resolve them faster without being labeled as individual troublemakers.

Meetings provide opportunities for renters to become informed about their rights and responsibilities, and places where they can explore and ask questions about what organizing means for their housing. Successful tenant organizations meet regularly to identify and address important building issues that the renters collectively care about, such as a failure to maintain the building in a habitable manner.

Affecting change through a tenant organization is not always an easy road. Scheduling and attending meetings, making flyers, and seeking out resources on landlord/tenant relationships all take time. Sometimes, organizations need to go the extra distance – meeting with their alderman, contacting the media, picketing their managers, and filing lawsuits – to force their landlords to the table.

Organizing an apartment building can take a lot of work and planning and often involves the help of community and neighborhood organizations. Organizing can have very different outcomes, purposes and methods but in the end, if these efforts can stabilize housing and neighborhoods, then it’s time well spent.