No Home for the Holidays

Tenants protest spike in lease non-renewals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Fox29 coverage of our December 19th No Home for the Holiday action.

Philadelphia, PA –At a socially distant protest in Frankford on Saturday morning, tenants stood up for stable housing during COVID-19.

As we continue to battle COVID-19, the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health has issued “Safer at Home” restrictions, and City Council has passed emergency housing protections to keep Philadelphians in their homes. Despite this, MCM Management Solution, the landlord of 34 apartment buildings across the City, has issued a notable increase in arbitrary lease non-renewals this winter. Tenants who are current on their rent, or even months ahead, have been told that they have to leave their apartments within months, with no explanation given.

Outside MCM’s Carver Hall offices, tenants, who have formed a chapter of Renters United Philadelphia / Inquilinxs en la Lucha (RUP), and their supporters, staged a speak-out protest, demanding that MCM rescind these non-renewal notices and speaking out against their landlord’s conduct during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One renter facing a non-renewal notice is Nerva Nicolas, a RUP leader who has lived in his apartment for five years. After he lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic, MCM Management accepted rental assistance payments from the City covering his rent through the month of March. Despite this, three weeks ago, Mr. Nicolas received a nonrenewal notice that would force him to leave by the end of January.

“Everyone is living under the pressure of COVID-19, but the landlord doesn’t care,” said Mr. Nicolas. “That’s why we created this organization, because together we can fight back. Together we can do something.”

Following testimony from tenants who have faced arbitrary fees, pest infestations, and more, the renters flipped the script to deliver a larger-than-life non-renewal notice to their landlord.

The notice demanded that their landlord Renew all leases during the COVID-19 crisis; Exterminate the buildings to eliminate bedbugs, mice, and roaches; issue No new rent increases during the pandemic; End unjust displacement, and ensure that We have safe and secure buildings, fixing front doors that often fail to lock.

Millions of Americans are months behind on rent, and advocates have sounded the alarm about a coming wave of evictions if local, state, and federal governments fail to extend robust aid and protections to renters. Like evictions, lease non-renewals displace tenants at a time when housing stability is crucial for public health. If, like MCM Management Solution, other large landlords increase their rate of lease non-renewals, it could deepen this looming crisis–even if programs like Philadelphia’s eviction diversion remain in place.

“Landlords may continue to force tenants out through quicker, easier means—like non-renewals or illegal lockouts,” said Mary Beth Schluckebier, a community lawyer with Renters United Philadelphia. “Every single tenant in the city faces the possibility that their landlord will not renew their lease. If we’re serious about housing stability, we cannot give landlords a backdoor to flout tenant protections by arbitrarily denying lease renewals. We need robust Good Cause protections.”

Kate McKeon from the Philadelphia Tenants Union joined the MCM renters in solidarity and gave testimony to share her story of receiving a non-renewal after eight years of on-time payments to her landlord, Charles Reuter Real Estate. Good Cause laws in Philadelphia, which prevent landlords from failing to renew a lease without giving a valid reason, such as damage to the property, currently only apply to a minority of renters with leases that are shorter than one year. PTU and other housing advocates are pushing for City Council to strengthen these protections and extend them to all renters.

The snow is falling, and the holiday season is in full swing. MCM Management Solution tenants are refusing to accept arbitrary displacement and a lack of respect from their landlord, because this winter, and all year round, everyone deserves a safe and stable home.

“The Holidays are a time when we all celebrate traditions in our homes,” said Mr. Morales. “Non-renewals mean no home and no Holidays. That’s why we’re fighting back today.”