Shani Robin on the porch of her building in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She has been organizing a rent strike with fellow tenants. Photo: Michelle Gustafson

Meet the Tenants Who Refuse to Pay Rent

The rent was due on April 1 and these tenants have no intention of paying it — not now, not ever

Bryce Covert
Published in
10 min readApr 20, 2020

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Terra Thomas, a 35-year-old florist in Oakland, knew things were going to get ugly. On March 11, California Gov. Gavin Newsom banned gatherings of 250 people, and a wedding she was doing floral arrangements for downsized to 50 guests, which meant half her team had to be taken off the project and she had to toss most of the flowers at her own expense. The following week, counties in her area issued shelter-in-place orders, and a few days later, Newsom issued a statewide order. “As soon as that happened, we lost everything for months,” Thomas said.

It couldn’t have come at a worse time. Thomas was beginning to emerge from the slow season; she saves up during the rest of the year to make it through January and February. The week of the shelter-in-place order would have been her first full week of work this year, and she had been booked solid through the summer. “I had work almost seven days a week,” she said. Now all of her events are canceled until at least July. “I feel like I planned ahead, I’d gotten through everything,” she said. “And then it’s all gone.”

With no money coming in, Thomas was afraid to spend what she did have on her $833 rent for her studio apartment. And she only has enough for April. “When I look at my budget for the next three months, I absolutely don’t have enough money for rent,” she said.

Her landlord, California real estate firm Mosser Companies, didn’t seem interested in helping her out. On March 24, the company posted a letter in her building: While it is “happy to work with our tenants who voice to us they are under financial hardship due to the current pandemic,” tenants would have to provide a “supporting document” that they weren’t able to work in order to qualify for a payment plan or deferral. But, it added, “we are unable to waive rent.” The company followed up by emailing her a letter saying, “If you are not currently facing a COVID-19 related hardship, please continue to pay rent as usual.” (Mosser didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

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