What could be more terrifying than a deadly global pandemic spreading at such rapid pace that it becomes the single greatest cause of uncertainty and suffering? In what ways has the virus of fear infected our society to create even greater dangers than the health risks due to Coronavirus? Are you one of the millions of Americans for whom the greatest impact from the pandemic has been extreme financial strain? What if you were ordered by the government not to go to work? Would you have to choose between feeding your children or paying rent on time? If you couldn’t pay rent, what would you do? Would your landlord evict you? Would you leave if your landlord told you to vacate, or would you have to be dragged from your home by armed police and forced out into the cold?
Even before the outbreak of this generation-defining pandemic, economic hardship was already the greatest source of stress for most Americans. And as a broad swath of citizens are ordered not to go to work, millions are staring uncertainly down the barrel of eviction.
But there’s a very common and simply cured misconception about eviction. Most people think an “eviction” is when your landlord instructs you to leave your home. Say you can’t pay your rent on time, so your landlord tells you to vacate, then you pack up your shit, make like a tree, and leave.
But this is not an eviction. Not even close.
Eviction is a specific legal process by which a landlord wins a lawsuit against a tenant, followed by the Sheriff serving notice to vacate, after which evicted tenants must evacuate the premises or be removed by law enforcement; a process that can take months to materialize.
If, on the other hand, your landlord tells you to leave and you comply with their request, you have instead chosen to voluntarily vacate. This is not the same thing as an eviction.
During these troubling and unprecedented times, renting in the time of CoViD, everyone who faces pressure to make rent should be aware of this critical distinction. Thousands of people across Missoula and millions of people across the United States are unable to work due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Thus, they are unable to earn wages, and in-turn unable to pay their bills.
Since most of our city and most of our country live paycheck-to-paycheck, a few weeks of missed work means that our single largest expense – housing – is a highly strenuous burden; a burden that a great many of us won’t have the means to shoulder in the coming months should present trends continue.
So during this time of international turmoil, should your landlord “order” you to vacate your home, you have two choices. You can comply with their order, or you can refuse to leave your home.
By complying, you place yourself and others at risk, both for continued spread and escalation of the global Coronavirus pandemic as well as contributing to the larger and more dangerous pandemic of economic oppression.
But by refusing to leave when your landlord demands you vacate, you protect yourself, you set precedent for others to defend themselves, and you help bring about a positive change in the wake of a global catastrophe.
Suppose 1,000 Missoula residents become unable to pay their rent at the beginning of April due to loss of work caused by the statewide shutdown of businesses. If all 1,000 of those residents are told by their various landlords to vacate their homes, and they all do so, it may generate few headlines but doesn’t influence policy, and is generally unnoticed by governmental and economic entities.
And what happens to those 1,000 displaced residents? They will disperse across the city, state, and nation, moving in with friends, significant others and family members. Some will borrow money and rent new houses or apartments. But many will unfortunately join the growing ranks of America’s homeless.
If they leave their homes without a fight, their plight will go unnoticed. Additionally, their diaspora will potentially facilitate the spread of CoViD-19, crowding in with friends and family and trying to ride out the crisis until they can find work again; potentially moving to other parts of the country and potentially carrying the virus with them into new homes and communities as they scatter.
If, however, those same residents refuse to leave their homes, what happens then?
If landlords across the Garden City register 1,000 new eviction lawsuits at the beginning of April, in the midst of a global pandemic that has razed the economy to a smoldering standstill, then all the various legal apparatus of our society are brought in to engage with the issue.
First the landlords must win an eviction lawsuit against their tenants for non-payment. When these lawsuits are considered en-masse, a potentially viable legal defense presents itself; that the economic circumstances of the society at large are such that the tenants were rendered unable to pay their rent through no fault of their own. Should the courts decline to address this critical societal issue and rule on the side of the landlords, the next step involves the Missoula County Sheriff, who is directed to issue hundreds or even thousands of eviction notices.
Imagine the social and political backlash of law enforcement dragging thousands of uncooperative residents from their homes during this time of unprecedented social upheaval. Your sheriffs are elected officials who serve at the pleasure of the residents of their County. Forcibly removing a significant proportion of Missoula residents from their homes during a global pandemic would not only be morally and ethically bankrupt, it would be in direct contradiction to Governor Bullock’s statewide decree ordering residents to “shelter in place” and remain in our homes until the crisis subsides. In short, it seems particularly unlikely that Sheriff McDermott would comply with a directive to enforce such a large number of eviction orders.
Furthermore, if there are 1,000 potential evictions in April there could be 2,000 in May. How long could such an escalation possibly continue? Our court system is entirely unprepared to deal with such a volume of cases, and our law enforcement agencies already have much more on their plate dealing with a locked-down and stressed-out population.
While twenty-four percent of Missoula residents may belong to the economic 1% and are thus comfortably insulated from the economic backlash of this current upheaval, more than fifty percent of Missoula residents are renters. This means that while Rome burns, more than half of our local population could be forced to grapple with this issue sooner or later, their numbers swelling every single week that businesses remain shuttered and people remain quarantined in their homes.
During this troubled time, any landlord who orders a resident who is unable to pay rent to vacate only exacerbates the problem.
Conversely, any tenant who voluntarily vacates without engaging the full legal process of eviction enables a compounding of the catastrophe.
Many of you may have read about a recent bill passed by Congress that promises to send $1,200 to most Americans as part of a broad relief package aimed at combating the economic disaster surrounding the CoViD-19 outbreak. The total amount of the relief package is in the Trillions, but even if every US citizen were being paid $1,200 (which they aren’t), that would still only total around $400 Billion. So the vast majority of the bailout has nothing to do with helping ordinary Americans.
That paltry $1,200 check from Uncle Sam that may or may not be coming your way soon (depending on whether you qualify) adds further insult to injury because a month from now, many people will still be out of work. The small business sector of our economy won’t be recovering from this wave of cronyism any time soon, and the Coronavirus continues its viral spread, further ensuring the continuation of lockdown austerity nationwide for several more months, if not longer.
Beyond that, for the 80% of Americans living paycheck-to-paycheck, a measly one-time check for $1,200 doesn’t even come close to covering their total cost of living. Even if it pays the rent, housing isn’t the only expense bleeding Americans dry. We have to eat or we starve. We have to pay our utility bills or the lights go off and the taps go dry. We have to pay our phone and Internet bills or we can’t communicate with anyone. Then there’s transportation and its many associated costs, including your car payment, insurance, registration, maintenance and fuel. Millions of parents have to pay child support. 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt (a bubble valued at $1.5 Trillion). 189 million Americans have credit card debt (a bubble valued at $13.86 Trillion). 135 million Americans are taking some kind of medication. In our society health care is prohibitively expensive.
All of these expenses are becoming increasingly essential and all of them grow more expensive by the day. Which expense will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back?
Your landlords own what are referred to as “investment properties” which means they have taken on a risk by becoming a landlord. And returns on investment are not guaranteed, even with housing. So unless you, the tenant, have some kind of financial stake in the equity of the property, the sole responsibility of all the associated risk rests squarely on the shoulders of the landlord.
You are a human being who is entitled to a place to live. Your landlord, on the other hand, is not entitled to make you homeless just because their investment carried more risk than they anticipated.
Housing is not a luxury item. It is a necessity of life.
However, far too much attention is focused on landlords and property management companies, and far too little attention has been paid to the banks to which they are ultimately accountable.
Landlords are merely the middlemen between renters and bankers. And the too-big-to-fail banks just got bailed out by Washington in the single biggest wealth transfer in human history; a multi-trillion dollar hijacking of our country that puts mega-corporations in the pilot’s seat and leaves the rest of the country strapped in on a flight to a dystopic nation they never chose to visit.
While the federal government disperses Trillions of taxpayer dollars to multinational corporations who expertly avoid paying taxes like the gangsters they are, the taxpaying citizenry are left to toil in a situation where nobody has any work, struggling to survive within the closing walls of a rigged system. The rules of an this economic game were inherently invalid to begin with, and if they weren’t intolerable before, they certainly are now.
Landlords and tenants alike must unite against the big banks in solidarity of common sense, because both groups ultimately face catastrophe should the banks foreclose millions of properties and throw countless families out on their asses.
Landlords must stand up for their tenants and call on their government officials for a rent and mortgage amnesty. The bank is not a member of your community, and will sell us all down the river in the end if they think they can profit and get away with it.
Evil only triumphs when good people do nothing.
Tenants, keep your rent. Landlords, keep your distance. Neither group should allow the banks to punish people for being poor.
Landlords taking on the expense of an eviction lawsuit to appease the mortgage ransom demanded by their banks unnecessarily expose themselves to greater risk, because in all likelihood, finding new tenants in an economic climate where everyone but the wealthy are strapped for cash is a dubious proposition at best.
Not to mention the fact that landlords are probably feeling the effects of this global economic strain too. So maybe dropping money on an eviction lawsuit isn’t such a good investment right now. Because if banks think sheriffs are going to begin enforcing unprecedented numbers of evictions in a time of global emergency, exploding an already catastrophic homelessness crisis, they’re only putting themselves in danger.
People are often confounded by the myriad faults and pitfalls of modern society. Most see the problems every day but are overwhelmed by the scale of the issues and feel helpless to address what are clearly societal failings. During this global pandemic and nationwide lockdown, each and every one of us who face loss of income and economic hardship are presented with a direct opportunity. If you cannot afford your rent and your landlord mercilessly demands that you vacate, refuse and remain where you are.
It is only through collective action that the citizens of a society are empowered to create positive change. During prosperous times, the economic elite continually skim an increasingly large share of the wealth off the top of the economy to benefit themselves. When their greed and corruption inevitably brings about societal crises, common people now possess a rare opportunity to take back their fair share of the pie that has been stolen from them by the criminally wealthy.
Under no circumstances should anyone voluntarily vacate their homes during a statewide government order to shelter in place. To do so violates all health and safety protocols, exacerbates the nationwide catastrophe of income inequality, and enables the oligarchs who daily seek to take food out of your children’s mouths in order to finance their next yacht or condo tower.
Do not yield to the selfish and short-sighted demands of the moneyed class you pay to live lest you die in the gutter. Stand together with your community and demand a new and better deal. And that deal needs to prohibit banks from kicking residents from their homes in the coming months for their inability to pay in April.
“We must all hang together, or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” ~Ben Franklin
If you are currently facing combative landlords or lenders, resulting in threats of eviction or foreclosure over your inability to pay rent or mortgage during the CoViD-19 pandemic, please speak to them about rent and mortgage amnesty. Should your landlord or bank refuse to work with you and threaten to remove you from your property during this crisis, you can join the movement against economic exploitation by naming the bank or landlord/leasing company on social media along with the city and state using #RentStrike.
It’s painfully simple: Americans are being told to stay at home, but you can’t stay at home if you don’t have one.
Gabrielle Lafayette is the executive producer for the Outer Limits Radio Show. This cache of thought is presented free of charge as a service and gift to you. May our eternal vigilance help liberate all beings from the smoke-and-mirrors deceptions of the Samsaric Panopticon.