Rent strike targets landlords who can “take the hit”
Slew of major New York City property owners on list for May 1 action
Tenant groups in New York City say the rent strike they have been planning will target specific landlords.
Building owners to be targeted include Douglas Eisenberg’s A&E Real Estate Management, Stephen Ross’ Related Companies, Ken Subraj’s Zara Realty, Charles Kushner’s Kushner Companies, Efstathios Valiotis’ Alma Realty, Isaac Kassirer’s Emerald Equity Group, Mordechai Schwimmer’s Full Time Management and Daniel Benedict’s Benedict Realty Group, a real estate investment firm based in Great Neck.
None of the firms returned requests for comment, although one landlord group leader previously called the idea of a Covid rent strike “disgusting.”
With the exception of Emerald Equity Group’s 124 East 117th Street, a 72-unit building where striking tenants say cooking gas has been off for seven months, the rent strikes do not stem from bad conditions, as rent strikes customarily do. Alonzo Johnson, a tenant who is organizing the strike there, said that building staff has ripped down rent-strike notices that tenants have put on their doors.
The strategy, according to the organizers, was developed after an analysis of which real estate firms can afford the revenue loss and where rent-strike petition signers reside. The New York petition now has more than 12,000 signatures, and Maurice Weeks, co-executive director of advocacy group ACRE said a national rent strike petition has amassed more than 200,000.
“The landlords we are targeting are big enough to take the hit,” said Cea Weaver of tenant coalition Housing Justice for All. “It’s also strategic to go where the energy is. We are following the tenant leaders who want to organize their buildings.”
Earlier in April, Housing Justice for All announced its intention to launch mass rent strikes if Gov. Andrew Cuomo does not cancel rent and mortgage payments. Since the group announced its goal to stop rent payments en masse, it has gotten support from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said she had first asked Cuomo privately to cancel rent.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who represents Detroit, also expressed support for rent strikers during a video conference Thursday.
Cuomo initially said New York’s 90-day ban on evictions, enacted March 15, was sufficient to take care of the rent issue, but has since said he is considering options to address the issue of rent after evictions resume. Mayor Bill de Blasio said in mid-April that he does not support a rent strike, noting the harm it would cause small landlords.
It is unclear how widespread a rent strike might be. Rent collections in April varied, with some multifamily lenders suffering a marked decline in payments while others reported hardly any impact. But real estate industry leaders warn that landlords should not dismiss the threat of rent strikes.
John Woloshin, the lead real estate analyst at UBS Global Wealth Management, said multifamily property owners should work proactively with their tenants to make payment plans and reduce tensions. New York, which has seen a resurgence of progressive politics, is particularly vulnerable to the threat of rent strikes, Woloshin said.
“The reality is, the politics of New York have changed dramatically in the last few years,” said Woloshin. “And the tenant landlord-relationship has natural tension even on the best of days. But some tenants will be opportunistic.”