Organized refusal to rent campaigns are a form of economic non-cooperation often used in conjunction with a similar protest action called “rent-withholding”. Both tactics are sometimes referred to as “rent strikes”, and work by denying unethical landlords rent money, but rent withholding is a choice made by existing tenants to refuse to pay their rent, while refusal to rent is a choice made by prospective tenants to refuse to rent the property in the first place. Refusal to rent can be used on its own to exert economic and public pressure on unethical landlords, but it is also a necessary component to broader rent strike campaigns.
A successful rent strike almost always involves cooperation between rent-refusers and rent-withholders, as landlords find themselves unable to replace their rent-withholding tenants. During the Irish rent-strikes of the late 19th century, strikers and non-strikers alike pledged not to rent land from which the previous tenants had been evicted. The refusal to rent method can, however, be used on its own, as it was by Russian peasants after the abolition of serfdom. Though free, the peasants’ land remained in the hands of their former masters, who now offered to rent it back to them at “ruinous prices”, which they collectively refused.
Refusal to rent is in many ways the more difficult tactic, as rent-withholders already occupy their properties at the start of the protest action. Those who wish to participate in a refusal to rent action but are in need of indispensable properties like homes, fields, or store-fronts must find some solution, such as renting from a less odious landlord or in another area. As a tactic of economic non-cooperation, refusal to rent then becomes simply a matter of conscience; individual renters refusing to do business with landlords they find unethical.
A more successful refusal-to-rent action might take the form of a “rental boycott”, with prospective renters banding together to publicly announce the reason for their refusal. This tactic would also involve a campaign to educate existing tenants and those who might having been planning to rent, as well as setting out a clear agenda. Ideally, anyone hearing the name of the landlord being targeted would immediately think of the strikers grievances and demands. Refusal to rent is ultimately an action intended to improve the lives of tenants, so clarity of purpose and willingness to communicate with landlords are necessary for a non-violent resolution.
Continue reading the 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action.