Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 2. 7th March 1973
The Story of the Rent Strike, — Tenants Winning fight against Rack—renting
The Story of the Rent Strike,
Tenants Winning fight against Rack—renting
Industrial strikes are common. It is accepted that workers have the right to strike. Not so tenants. Tenants have few rights, but tenants of the infamous landlord Madhav Rama decided to strike five months ago, regardless of the law. Members of Wellington's Tenants Protection Association had been receiving so many complaints from Rama's tenants that a public meeting was called to discuss tenants' problems and to see if any solution could be found.
Most of the tenants are Maoris and Islanders, some are Indians like himself and all of them had stories to tell of midnight visits for rent demands, huge increases in rents and refusal to carry out much needed maintenance. Before a tenant moved into one of his 50 odd flats, Rama always demanded two weeks rent in advance, a large bond and an "administration fee". An initial payment of over $150 was usual
TPA were told by one Newtown tenant how Rama would call late at night for his $45 per week He would start by banging on the door and if it wasn't answered immediately he moved to the side of the house and shone a torch through the window. The search light treatment was combined with a tattoo on the window and rasping demands for money. That the family had nine children, many of them young and one an invalid did not temper the weekly performance.
The plight of the tenants was clear. The meeting drew up a list of demands which included negotiation on rents, tenancy agreements fair to both tenant and landlord, assurance that bonds would be returned and an end to administration fees. Rama refused to discuss the matter. It was clear that money was the only thing he understood. All but five flats agreed to withhold half their rent until negotiations began. That was in October last year.
Tenants said they were intimidated and threatened by Rama's tactics. He hired a well known criminal lawyer who sent long letters to tenants explaining the dire consequences they could expect if the money wasn't paid up. The tenants stood firm. Each block of flats elected a block chairman to channel latest developments to the TPA who in turn were always on hand when and wherever Rama showed his face. Pamphlets and newsletters were produced to keep all tenants informed of their rights and what action should be taken in various situations. Tenants organised a huge demonstration outside his house at Coromandel Street and had to hire a bus to get them there.
Rama was too frightened to issue any eviction notices as he knew that all the tenants would fight any attempt to throw one of the striking flats out. By December the squeeze was beginning to tell. One of Rama's properties was sold up by the mortgagees. Rama was desperate for money but still stubbornly refused to meet tenants and to talk to them. So the tenants decided to pay him nothing. Shortly after this Rama and his lawyer parted company and another firm was hired.
Cars towed away
The Royal Rack Renter is beginning to lose his cool. Last week he had several cars towed away from a block of flats in Lower Hutt. The tenant owners were told that they could have them back when the money was paid. The police are investigating the disappearance. He has taken a piano and deep freeze from another tenant.
The tenants have successfully picketed their own blocks of flats so that Rama finds it very difficult to re-let empty flats. Many tenants have vacated their flats to go to cheaper ones and have left no forwarding addresses, so it is almost impossible for Rama to find them. Any new ten-ants are informed of the strike by the other flats and usually join the strike.
Rama and his new lawyers have issued over 100 summonses in an attempt to get the courts to order back payment of rent and eviction notices. The first three cases appear in the Upper Hutt Magistrates court this week. Even if Rama wins his case and the tenants are ordered to leave their homes and pay Rama the money he claims they owe him they will continue fighting. The law will be broken because the tenants are no longer prepared to suffer injustice. Rama has lost. Whatever happens in court, he can never recover thousands of dollars that the strike has cost him.
The tenants have won. A bond has been established between the tenants themselves and the Tenants Protection Association which has cut across class and race differences. The TPA is no longer a small group of privileged middle-class pakehas. Hutt Valley TPA has been formed by the Rama tenants, and they have a reputation amongst land agents and landlords for being un compromising and tough in any action they undertake for or with other tenants in the area.
Tenants Protection has learnt from Rama's tenants that deputations to MPs, submissions to Government ministers and all the other attempts to make the bureau crats do something about the injustices our society is riddled with, are an utter waste of time. The most effective way to destroy the landlord system is to take direct action. Contact other tenants and TPA if the rent is too high. Organise a rent strike. If there are good houses lying empty, squat in them. If landlords and their thugs try and evict tenants, get in there and fight with them. "Time for a change" the Labour politicians told us. They were right. It is time for people to change the laws that protect the business men and capitalists by breaking the law and demanding their rights.