Fargo tenants urged to join 'Rent Strike' as pandemic takes economic toll
FARGO — Armed with a roll of tape and 200 flyers calling for a "Rent Strike," Austin Albrecht placed his first notice on the front glass doors of 220 West Apartments along 10th Street North in Fargo.
Albrecht doesn’t consider himself political, but he knows he can’t afford rent while he’s out of work and stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic. “I realized if I want anything to change, I got to go out and do it myself,” the 24-year-old said.
Albrecht recently had the option to continue working for a cleaning company, or be let go. He chose to stay home and practice social distancing in line with public health recommendations.
Organizers behind the “Rent Strike” movement, including the Red River Valley Democratic Socialists of America, say they have rallied hundreds of tenants to take part in the strike when rent comes due Wednesday, April 1. Organizers say some of them have been threatened by landlords that they would be responsible for any rent loss.
Albrecht, who's not affiliated with the Red River Valley DSA, is among the Fargo area residents who have received letters from landlords reminding tenants that rent is still due and late fees still apply.
He said he wants to keep paying rent once the pandemic is over, but he faces an uncertain future of how long the pandemic or promised federal funds will last, and he believes renters should band together. Many renters around the country have done so, forming landlord watch groups online.
At 220 West Apartments, Albrecht must pay his rent by 5 p.m. on the fifth of the month. He said he tried negotiating, but has not received any message other than he must pay.
Craig Properties owns the building, and Jesse Craig is listed in state records as the company's registered agent. In a letter to The Forum, Craig said apartment buildings are a business, no different than restaurants or grocery stores.
“I do not think that anyone would expect to get credit from any of these establishments,” Craig wrote. “Why, because they are not lending institutions, and neither is the apartment project.”
Craig added: “Apartment projects did not eliminate people’s jobs. So why are they being looked at to provide relief? People can and should look to the state and federal government to assist and provide relief for the issues that they caused."
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on March 23 signed an executive order barring landlords from filing for evictions in court during the pandemic emergency. The Red River Valley DSA is demanding North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum declare a moratorium on evictions, late fees and landlord reprisals, such as submitting negative credit reports, for 90 days after the pandemic has ended.
“More than half of Americans did not have enough economic flexibility to be able to absorb a $400 emergency. This is not because more than half the country is lazy and irresponsible, wages have not kept pace with cost of living expenses for decades now,” the Red River Valley DSA said in a statement.
Although the North Dakota Supreme Court suspended all residential eviction hearings on Thursday, March 26, some local leaders and other organizations have said the court's order did not go far enough.
"Although the federal government has implemented some measures, it will take months for workers in North Dakota to see those benefits. In the meantime, North Dakota's government has failed workers around the state," the Red River Valley DSA said.
During a news conference Monday, March 30, Burgum said he’s received more input and emails on the topic of a moratorium on evictions than any other issue. “They’re well organized, and we hear you,” Burgum said.
Burgum said he plans to target areas of relief, adding that the issue is in his “closely watched bucket.” Declaring a moratorium, Burgum said, would create “bigger problems than we’re fixing."
“Good health starts with stable housing. Let’s not be throwing people out at a time they lose their housing during a health crisis," Burgum said.
Minutes after Albrecht finished taping up his 200th flier, a person came in and took all his fliers down, he said.
“I have paper, and I have time," Albrecht said. "I’m just going to keep putting them up."