Renters and their Rights

Or, rather, their lack of them.

After working a full day and tending to her three children, the last thing Latasha Jones felt like doing was making the rounds in her apartment complex to collect contributions for the building's water bill. But she had no choice -- the landlord, in foreclosure, had abandoned the building and stopped paying it.

More than once over the past year, tenants of the 11-unit Liberty City complex had come home to find the water shut off. Eventually, they stopped paying rent and took the matter into their own hands, forming a kind of rudimentary condo association to manage the property at 1575 NW 69th St.
In a situation like this, where the people in the building have formed a group in order to keep things going, and where the owner has bailed on the property, the residents ought to be allowed to take it over, and should be given assistance to make it happen.

I've been interested in the idea of expropriation since I saw the film The Take, a documentary done by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein (of The Shock Doctrine) that dealt with the meltdown of the Argentinian economy and the way some local groups got together and decided to reopen the businesses they'd worked at for decades in some cases, but which foreign investors and wealthy locals had abandoned. The idea is that a business can be more than just an engine for making money--in some places, it's the glue that holds a community together.

And it seems to me there's a congruence with the renters in this article. They've been abandoned by the authority who was supposed to be taking care of certain matters. Their contract has been broken, and they're left, in most ways, powerless to do anything about it. So when they band together to retake some of that power, they ought to be rewarded for that effort.

Realize that these are not squatters--these are people who have lived in these apartments in some cases for over a decade. They're as married to their homes as any homeowner, and that might be difficult for non-renters (or even some renters) to grasp. I'm not saying that this is a solution for every case in which an owner has abandoned his or her property, but there ought to be some sort of program that can help those who fall into this category. As it is, renters get no kind of assistance in cases like this.

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