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Rent strike

Collective Rent Depositing in Ohio can bring favorable results if you know the rules.

Rent Strike, Ohio Style

The Plain Dealer story "Rent strike ends in settlement at the Vue apartments in Beachwood" reported on a rent strike in upscale Beachwood, Ohio.The PD reporter concluded: "...the settlement agreement...seems largely favorable to Strategic Properties of North America, the New Jersey-based apartment investor that owns the 348-unit building." Tenants at the Vue Apartments alleged damages from broken pipes in January 2018 resulted in flooding in apartments and common areas of the 3 year old property. Tenants complained about a "lackluster" response by the property management company. About 3 dozen tenants deposited their rent with the Shaker Heights municipal court. In April, most of the rent strikers entered into a settlement agreement. It is not clear whether the tenants had legal representation or a professional organizer, but the story of the dispute is typical of many rent strikes in Ohio.
  • About 10% of the tenants followed through with legal action. There was some kind of loose affiliation among the rent strikers, but no formal organization. Some rent strikers bailed out along the way and voluntarily released the rent that was in escrow with the court.
  • An "informal" mediation, suggested by the court, turned out to be binding even though some rentstrikers sought to withdraw from the mediation process.
  • The final settlement agreement was confidential. No guilt, no blame.
  • The tenant leader announced his plans to move in June. Most likely "no change the balance of power" between landlord and tenant.
Recently, rent strikes have been in the national news. Most of the nationally reported rent strikes are efforts to resist high rents connected with gentrification. Most were organized with the support of a larger local campaign for tenants rights.

In contrast, recent rent strikes in Ohio have been collective rent deposit cases, often by middle class renters. "Collective rent deposit" is when a group of individual tenants agree to put their rent money into escrow with the local municipal court under the terms laid out by Ohio Revised Code 5321.07.

Here are some key points to remember before organizing a rent strike.
  1. 10% active participation is a "rule of thumb" minimum number of tenants needed for a rent strike. While Ohio Law permits an individual to use the rent deposit process, the benefits of a collective rent deposit campaign kick in when there is at least 10% active participation.
  2. Learn the rules before starting a rent strike. Consulting an attorney and the Clerk of Courts is important because the Landlord Tenant Law is full of technicalities. Court rules about rent depositing may vary from one jurisdiction to another. 
  3. Communication is vital. 
  • Rentstrikers need regular updates and discussion to make sure everyone is continuing to put their rent in escrow and committed to the collective effort. Landlords may use threats or enticements to break down the unity of the group. 
  • Consensus decision making among the rentstrikers can prevent an individual member from making decisions without the group's permission. In the story about The Vue, a "verbal agreement" during mediation turned out to be binding on the whole group.
  • Rent strikes are boring. Organizers need to be conscious of the need to keep up interest and enthusiasm. One downside of Ohio's rent deposit process is the prolonged court processes.
  • Non-striking neighbors need to be kept informed about the rent strike. Often owners will try to sway opinions of the 90% of tenants against the tenants who are taking action. Confidential settlements undermine collective action.
Rent strikes can pave the way for an ongoing organization that can continue to represent tenant interests. Rent strikes can also mobilize tenants to take on additional advocacy efforts when there's a local tenants network. Without an organizational framework, a rent strike may be a dead end.

Retaliation and Termination
Do we need a lawyer?
What about media?

 Rent Strikes in the News

June 18, 2018 Nonprofit Quarterly, Rent Strike: An Old Tactic for a New Generation

 Notes & Links

ORC 5321.02

ORC 5321.07