FAQ & CAMPAIGN FACT SHEET

  • What are the key values or principles that inform the Rent Strike Bargain campaign?
    As a campaign that seeks to organize on unceded and stolen Indigenous land with existing systems of local governance, this knowledge, and the belief in a meaningful and material process of reconciliation, informs all of our tenant organizing. We also believe that land is a basic natural resource to be preserved, not a commodity to be bought and sold. Through this conviction, we want to help end all forms of rental housing discrimination; secure safe and affordable rental housing as a human right; support land use and development that is based on social need and not capitalist profit; support public investment in housing alternatives to market rental housing; support whole/deep organizing between working people, unions, and renters whether in the home or the workplace; support tenant collective bargaining; support tenant union organizing both locally and provincially; build organic (and ordinary) leadership, and finally to build direct-action initiatives and systemic organizing.

  • How can I get involved with the campaign?
    You can join one of our several RSB working groups that meet weekly for one (1) hour. Each working group is responsible for different parts of our organizing work, including outreach, communications, coordination, building coalitions, and conducting research. We have many different ways to get involved, use your strengths, or learn new skills through our campaign. If you are interested in joining the campaign, please let us know through our website and someone will contact you for more information!

  • Why is this campaign important for tenants and tenant unions throughout BC?
    At this point in time, when most landlords are corporate entities, tenants are incredibly vulnerable and under-resourced in securing housing rights and negotiating (as individuals) with their landlords. As tenant organizers, the Rent Strike Bargain campaign hopes to facilitate significant changes to the Residential Tenancy Act (RTA) to recognize renters’ freedom of association and to collectively respond to landlord/tenancy issues. As well, the campaign hopes to support the formation of many more local and regional tenant unions throughout the region known as BC, to create a broadly based provincial union for renters.

     

  • What is your relationship to existing tenant unions in Vancouver and on other territories?
    The RSB campaign works very closely with different tenant unions in the province, including, the Vancouver Tenants Union (on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Territories), the Victoria Tenant Action Group (on the Territories of the Lekwungen- and Wsanec-speaking peoples including the Esquimalt and Songhees First Nations), the New Westminster Tenants Union (on the Territories of Hul'qumi'num -speaking peoples including the Qayqayt First Nation), the Fraser Valley Tenant Union (on Hul’qumi’num-speaking, Sto:lo, Squamish, and Nlaka'pamux Territories) and the Kelowna Housing Advocates (on Sylix Territory of the Okanagan Nation Alliance). It is vital that renters come together in self-organizing groups, locally or regionally. Our campaign volunteers are renters and many of us organize locally in our neighbourhood, city, or regionally. Tenant organizing, whether in the home or at work, with organized labour, is one of the foundations of this campaign.

     

  • Has anyone tried this here before?
    Yes! In BC we have some historical examples of tenant organizing for collective bargaining. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Vancouver Tenants Council and the BC Tenants Organization called for tenant collective bargaining, along with other critical demands like just cause eviction. The BC NDP at the time supported these demands and included the need for collective bargaining for tenants in an early 1970s election campaign pamphlet. This NDP publication, through a party newspaper called The Democrat, was frequently used to share the party’s platform and policy positions. For example, the September 1972 issue of the newspaper Vol 12 (3), pg.18, publicly recognized the rights of tenant organizations to be certified as bargaining agents. Leading up to this remarkable support by the NDP for tenant collective bargaining were a number of tenant actions. For example, in 1971 Vancouver tenants went on a rent strike, called the Wall-Redekop rent strike, and withheld rent from 190 rental units throughout the city. The Vancouver Tenant Council (VTO) supported this strike and used this initiative to demand collective bargaining rights for these tenants. The strike resulted in real material gains for these tenants, although not collective bargaining power going forward. The VTO asked that the Landlord-Tenant Act require a landlord to negotiate all rental conditions in dispute, provided that: a) there are at least two (2) apartments for rent in the building; b) over 50% of tenants pay dues to any tenant organization; c) over 50% of tenants authorize the organization to act as their spokesperson. Unfortunately, this effort was not successful, but we are continuing the fight supported by this incredible organizing precedent. 

     

  • Has this been done anywhere else?
    Yes! In Ottawa (Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation Territory) in 1971 the Ottawa Union of Tenants requested that the Ontario government legislate collective bargaining rights on behalf of all tenants in Ontario. In their brief, this tenant union stated that collective bargaining has worked to improve conditions for working people, so it can justly be used by tenants to improve their housing conditions. Currently in Toronto (Territories of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishnabeg, the Chippewa, the Haudenosaunee and the Wendat), Parkdale Organize, a tenant activist group, for example, is helping tenants organize building by building. Globally, the Swedish Union of Tenants has a history of strong and coordinated tenant organizing and has had the right to collectively bargain since 1942. Inspired by these victories radical tenant movements have emerged globally over the last decades. For more history of tenant organizing and wins globally, we recommend this article by Hannes Rolf in the Radical Housing Journal.

     

  • Why do we need tenant-labour solidarity?
    Whole or deep worker organizing is key to working-class rights and solidarity. Like workers and labour unions, we organize to alter the power relations between landlords and tenants. We understand that tenant movements play a critical role in the politicizing of the working class historically, and if wages and the exploitation of workers is a political matter then clearly and definitively rent and housing conditions are too. In the early 1970s, the Vancouver Tenants Council (VTC) brought a resolution before the 18th BC Federation of Labour convention to demand that renters in BC have the right to collectively bargain with landlords. Now, more than ever, individual tenants are being left to negotiate safe housing on their own while landlords often have multi-million-dollar corporations behind them. In understanding that exploitation does not end at the door of the workplace, we are asking provincial district labour councils, unions, and the BC Federation of Labour to step up for workers who are renters. We ask for unions in the home and in the workplace! 

     

  • Does this campaign advocate for tenants to withhold their rent?
    We are trying to create a legal framework for striking, which currently does not exist, and we are trying to create local organizations that may advocate for rent strikes. However, we are not advocating for it directly. To appreciate the difference between a local and general rent strike, a local rent strike might be run by a majority of tenants in a building rather than a centralized union body calling for mass social disobedience. We want the right to withhold rent or strike if necessary to achieve housing justice. Collectively, tenants could decide to form a rent fund to bank their rent payments as a collective until an agreement is met. Striking is therefore a key mechanism for tenant bargaining units to create leverage in negotiations. Strikes also act as an enforcement tool if a landlord decides to disregard a provision that had been negotiated into a collective bargaining agreement.

     

  • Why do tenants need collective bargaining?
    Collective bargaining rights would mean that tenants are able to form tenant unions under a legislative framework in order to legitimize the fears of tenants and to protect tenants from landlord retaliation. Tenants already engage in forms of collective action today. Petitions, for example, are a form of bargaining, without the need for a formal negotiating process. A supermajority of tenants signing a petition in solidarity with one another can create major changes in their buildings. We know of examples where cable TV was reconnected, pest control was requested and received, and laundry facilities were installed. Tenants have also worked together through petitioning to regain access to common areas where tenants' building associations were able to meet. Our campaign seeks to support and expand these efforts.

     

  • How would tenant collective bargaining work?
    We want the right to fairly and collectively negotiate with landlords with the right to grieve if rental terms are violated. Our campaign envisions several different structures for the bargaining units that are not only limited to apartment buildings. We also expect that our collective bargaining model will need to be applied to buildings where different relationships exist between tenants, the building, and the landlord. For example, we are working to develop a model that is useful for tenants living in the same building with the same landlord, tenants living in the same building but with different landlords, tenants living in different buildings owned by the same landlord, and finally tenants who live in different buildings with entirely different landlords.

     

  • Are you planning to replicate the labour union bureaucracy that has caused problems in the modern labour movement?
    We recognize that labour unions can be bureaucratic and often mimic corporate structures. This does not align with our vision & goal for tenant unions in BC. So we’ve created our campaign to make sure we’re not advocating for bureaucratic structures, as tenants create and build a tenant movement for housing justice. When we work to support the creation of new tenant unions throughout BC, we seek to help ensure that their governance structures are as democratic as possible. Our campaign does not coordinate new tenant unions, rather, we help to establish them. Ultimately, we believe tenants themselves will decide how they would like their local associations to be governed, and the same is true for our movement at the provincial level. When we advocate for tenant power, we mean it!

     

  • Are you trying to lower land value?
    We are trying to bring the benefits of unionism and collective bargaining to tenants across BC, and rationalizing land values might be a positive effect of this process. Strong tenant unions and legally recognized tenant bargaining rights can lower rents, which disincentivizes property speculation and can subsequently cool the overvaluation of land.

     

  • What about small landlords?
    Small landlords represent a tiny segment of the total number of people and companies who are currently leasing properties across the country. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, only 4% of landlords rent out one (1) suite. Our campaign aims to correct the imbalance of power between tenants and landlords by giving tenants more legally actionable rights. Right now, in nearly all scenarios, the legal system favours even relatively small landlords with multiple buildings over large or small associations of tenants. Regardless of how many properties landlords own, tenants must have more rights in order for this imbalance to be corrected and to establish more fairness.

     

  • What about tenants in rural areas?
    In smaller communities, tenants can benefit by joining the Rent Strike Bargain campaign to better understand and assert their rights, while contributing to the movement for fairer relationships with landlords. Changes to legislation, built through collective bargaining, direct action and legal challenges, benefit all renters, regardless of whether someone rents in an urban or rural community. On the many territories known as BC rural tenants can often live in trailer parks where they may rent a pad space or a mobile home. These tenancies are governed by the Manufactured Home Park Act which allows for individual park committees, composed of landlord and tenant representatives, to uphold park-specific rules. In some cases, these park committees may choose to become tenant unions to negotiate with their landlord. Focused on rural tenants, the Rent Strike Bargain campaign encourages tenant unions to be as participatory and direct in their tenant representation as possible. As members of tenant unions, trailer park tenants can more effectively demand repairs and services, assert their rights to enjoy their homes and defend their tenancies. Small communities and trailer parks may already share many resources but unfortunately may also share marginalization if a landlord takes advantage of their power over renters.

     

  • What about when your landlord is also your employer?
    There are some situations where a landlord may also be an employer, service provider or retailer to renters. For example, in situations where a tenant is hired as a live-in property manager, they may receive a rent reduction as part of their employment. In these situations, landlords who are also employers are allowed by law to end tenancies with less notice than other renters. This is just one specific example of how the overlapping identities of workers and renters intersect. Otherwise, rent and employment are considered separate transactions through traditional disputes.

     

  • Can I join a tenant union and the Rent Strike Bargain campaign if I live in supported or student housing?
    Current tenancy law serves large landlords by exempting “transitional” and on-campus housing that allows for broad landlord power over low-income and marginalized renters. Sometimes landlords will try to claim that they are exempt when they are actually providing long-term, permanent housing, without any real programming. The Rent Strike Bargain campaign offers resources and solidarity to traditionally excluded renters in an effort to seek more transparent, predictable and equitable relationships with landlords.