Form a Tenant Association

Why should we form a tenant association?

Sometimes tenants rights can be enforced through simple communication with a landlord or individually through legal action.  Other times it takes the action of an organized group of tenants to make their voices heard.  Knowing the law is not always enough to protect the tenant’s rights to decent housing at an affordable price.

Tenants often organize with each other and use collective political, economic, and social pressures to overcome recurring problems.  They organize because they agree there is an issue/problem and they believe that their collective actions can address that issue or solve that problem.

A group of tenants can collectively exert more pressure for their views than an individual tenant can on their own.  Tenants try to work together for a common goal, to make their lives and living situations better. While the landlord may find it easy to ignore individual tenant demands, a group of tenants speaking with one voice may be harder to ignore.

Chances are that if there is a problem that a single tenant thinks is serious, others will share that same concern.  Some common rental housing issues that we’ve worked with tenant groups are:

  • Shared repairs issues among neighbors.
  • Emergency repairs: loss of essential services such as running water, hot water, electricity, or sanitary facilities.
  • Loss of heat or inadequate heating.
  • Utility shutoffs due to landlord nonpayment.
  • Poor management; bad record-keeping, abusive & retaliatory behavior by management, privacy violations.
  • Threat of loss of affordable housing.

You can find more info about how to respond to some of these issues on our resource page.

Contact us if you need legal advice or organizing support.
(612-728-5767) or email our tenant hotline if you have a particular question.
To speak to a tenant organizer: 612-728-5770 (x119 for Eric, x108 for Tracey).

Five steps to organize with neighbors to improve your housing

Step 1: Learn what rights and responsibilities that YOU and your LANDLORD have.

You can do this by attending one of HOME Line’s trainings, reading about your rights online on our resource page, or calling (612-728-5767) or emailing our tenant hotline if you have a particular question.  You also might want to call the city hall of the city you reside in.  Over a hundred cities in Minnesota have their own rental housing ordinances, and many of them have city inspectors whose job is to enforce the ordinances.  City rental housing ordinances can vary in their effectiveness, but you should at least find out if your city has adopted them to see if they can help you and your neighbors.

If you live in subsidized, affordable housing (HUD or USDA; Section 8, Section 42 Tax Credit, Section 236, Public Housing, etc…), you might have more rights and responsibilities that someone from HOME Line’s tenant organizing department can explain: 612-728-5770 (x119 for Eric, x108 for Tracey).

Learning what your rights and responsibilities are is essential for finding a way to address your housing issue.  You’ll be able to determine if your landlord is doing something illegal, as well as if you are abiding by your responsibilities too.  Most importantly, you might find out that the issue you are facing is difficult to address by using legal action.  Organizing around the issue might be the only way to address it, or you might learn that the issue you are dealing with SHOULD be against the law but ISN’T.  HOME Line works to strengthen tenant rights, so we’d like to help you advocate for strong tenant/landlord laws too.  Check out our public policy blog for more info.

Step 2: Find out if your neighbors have the same problems.

You can do this by talking to your neighbors!  You might go door-to-door and ask, you might distribute flyers encouraging neighbors to write down their concerns, or you might try to host a meeting.  Whichever way you do it, make sure you’ve completed Step 1 so that you’ll be able to identify if you and your neighbors can use the law to protect yourselves.

Finding out what issues your neighbors are having is a simple way to create a network of connection and support within your apartment.  If neighbors are facing similar issues, you’ll be able to share information about how to deal with the problem.  Most importantly, you’ll be able to form a plan about how everyone affected by the landlords actions (or lack of action) can work together to address it.  It is important that you and your neighbors all agree on a shared goal, so you want to find out early if people share the same problems.

If you decide to have a meeting, please give HOME Line’s organizers a call.  We can provide some simple pointers about how to run a meeting and what goals to strive for.  We’ve assisted many tenant groups with issues ranging from preserving Section 8 housing, to addressing emergency repair issues, to fighting to get back security deposits and more.

Step 3: Organize everyone’s thoughts, comments, and problems.  Set a GOAL.

You and your neighbors need to come to a decision about what issues are most important to tackle.  You need to set a goal that is shared among the group.  If you’ve done Step 1, you know whether or not your landlord is breaking a law or if they are just scraping by.  You’ll also know what the landlord is legally required to do.

When you organize a list of the problems and requests to the landlord, you’ll want to find a way to communicate it.  Usually, a letter to the landlord is a good first step.  You should send a letter to the landlord as both a group or tenant association, as well as individual tenants.  If you send both letters, you can keep your right to go to court as an individual tenant if you have to, while also demonstrating that you and your neighbors are all facing the same problem and are prepared to act.  Writing a letter from a tenant association is also good way to show the landlord that you mean business, and is something you can use later if you exhaust your legal rights.

However, in order to do this, you and your neighbors need to compile a reasonable list all of the concerns and problems so that it will fit in a simple request letter to the landlord.  The letter needs to be brief, to the point, and specific about what you want the landlord to do.  If the letter is unorganized or not clear about what is wrong and what needs to be fixed, the landlord will be able to ignore it and it might not stand up in court.

Step 4: Make your request (or demand).

Put it all in writing, in a letter.  Make sure your letter is brief, to the point, and specific about what you want your landlord to do.  Sign the letter, put the date on it, and make a copy of it for yourself.  Mail the original to the landlord.

If you and many of your neighbors are all sending individual letters, following these steps will ensure you follow the law and can enforce your rights in court if you have to.  Also, when all of those individual letters show up demanding that the landlord follow the law, it will get the landlords attention.

Depending on what your housing issues are, you might have some specific legal rights if the landlord does not respond or fix the issues after you’ve given them some time.  If you’ve done Step 1, you know this.  Give HOME Line a call to find out what legal rights you have at this point.

If you’ve already exhausted your legal rights (the law only goes so far, and what might seem wrong isn’t always illegal), and still haven’t fixed the issue, you’ll need to start thinking creatively about how to get it done.  Tenants that HOME Line has worked with in the past have organized all sorts of ways to get attention and get their housing issues resolved.  Check out the list below in Step 5.

Step 5: Did it get solved?  If not: Find another way to do Step 4.

Making your request can be something you write in a letter to your landlord.  It can also be done in a much more public way.  You could go talk to everyone in your neighborhood about the problem.  You could talk to your city council member, or a leader of a local church, or maybe even a state legislator.  Tenants organized to address housing issues have made their request heard in many ways:

  • Ask your landlord to meet with your tenant association.
  • Write a letter to the editor of your local paper.
  • Talk to more people about the problem: other residents of your neighborhood, local church leaders, businesses, government officials, etc…
  • Send copies of your letters to your city council, your state legislators, your congresspeople, or any other elected official that represents you.  They are elected to serve you, so if you’re having a problem you should let them know.
  • Get a meeting with those elected officials to tell them your story and ask for their support.
  • Organize an event or rally at your apartment building that showcases the efforts you’ve made to address your housing issue.
  • Research about your landlord — maybe there are tenants in other buildings, besides you and your neighbors, who have similar problems.  You could find a way to speak to them and get them involved.
  • Call the news: TV, Radio, Newspaper, Blogs, etc…
  • Document and publicize it problem yourself by starting your own blog.
  • Think creatively!

Contact us if you need legal advice or organizing support.
(612-728-5767) or email our tenant hotline if you have a particular question.
To speak to a tenant organizer: 612-728-5770 (x119 for Eric, x108 for Tracey).