Making rent in New York has always been difficult, but under COVID-19, it has become impossible. We are residential and commercial tenants in Brooklyn and Queens, and we are coming together to fight for our right to stay in our homes and businesses—even under New York State shutdown. On April 1, we didn’t pay our rent. And on April 2, we were distraught to learn that the State Legislature did nothing to address the issues of renters under COVID-19. 

While commercial and residential tenants are not always united, it is clear that in this moment we need to stick together. 

One of us, Vincia, is a renter in Brooklyn who rents from one of the worst private landlords in New York, Jason Korn. Landlords like Korn refuse to make repairs, and force renters to live with mold, vermin, and garbage. Living conditions like this make us ill in the best of times; but in the worst of times, like now, it makes it impossible to feel healthy AND stay at home. 

Millions of renters, like us, have lost income. As a childcare provider, Vincia lives paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford the rent. 

The other of us, Faysal, is a commercial renter in Queens who runs a banquet hall for people to celebrate birthday parties, weddings, and other life important events. Small business owners like Faysal are often forced to renovate the interior of the spaces they rent at their own cost—while paying rent, and before the business even opens. That means that today, while we are unable to do business, we are still paying for the cost of renovations and the cost of rent. With significant debt and no source of income, where are we to turn?

Our stories are just two of many across New York as our city and state are wracked by coronavirus. Residential and commercial tenants across New York are in crisis, and unscrupulous landlords like ours are continuing to take advantage of us when we have no options. We know we aren’t the only people in this situation. More than a third of households in New York City have lost their jobs, and thousands of businesses have been shut down.

Right now, our primary responsibility should be keeping our families and communities safe. Since the governor has refused to step in and issue a rent moratorium, we have no choice but to stop paying. We are not the only ones who are unable to pay, and we know that we are stronger when we come together. We need to continue to organize and build a statewide tenant movement before May 1st, when even more tenants will be put in the same impossible situation. 

If you’re a tenant and you’re wondering what you’re supposed to do right now, you’re not alone. Sign our petition and share it with your neighbors. Enough is enough! We need to cancel rent now.  

Vincia Barber is a tenant in Brooklyn and Faysal Qurashi owns a business in Queens.