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Property management accidentally helps its tenants organize rent strike

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The company’s blind-cc blooper is uniting tenants

One of the properties managed by Saturn Mangement.
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Saturn Management was trying to compel its residents to pay rent.

In an email Tuesday to all of its tenants, the company said that despite recent emergency tenant protections enacted by state and local government, they would still be required to pay up in April.

But the company made one small blunder—it forgot to put everyone on blind carbon copy, better known as BCC or blind-cc. Suddenly, at least 300 tenants had each other’s contact information. And it didn’t take long for them to start tossing around the idea of a rent strike.

“I’m just throwing out there—RENT STRIKE,” wrote Roberto Torres, who lives in a Saturn Management property in the Pico-Robertson area.

In a chain of replies to the email, which was sent to residents of the more than two dozen properties Saturn Management oversees on the Westside and Downtown, tenants expressed concerns about health and safety issues in the buildings, including recent break-ins.

They quickly created a communal Google document and a Slack channel, where they have continued to compile complaints about building management and have started to organize plans for a potential strike, which would likely happen in May. They’ve also reached out to organizers at the Los Angeles Tenants Union, which has launched a “food not rent” campaign that urges tenants affected by the outbreak to skip rent if they can’t afford it.

In recent weeks, local and state officials have scrambled to protect renters who have been impacted by COVID-19. Last month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered landlords not to issue evictions to tenants who have lost income because of the pandemic, and on Friday, the City Council expanded upon that order, giving tenants more time to pay back missed rent and waiving late fees.

But tenants are still required to pay rent and some can still be evicted. The city rules say that tenants must show documentation that they’ve been impacted by COVID-19.

Concerned that many will be displaced because of this, tenants’ rights advocates are asking officials to further expand protections. They’ve organized car protests demanding a blanket moratorium on evictions, as well as rent suspension or forgiveness measures. And across the state, tenants are threatening to go on rent strike.

Torres, who has been doing his software engineering job from home during the COVID-19 crisis, says that while he is still able to pay his rent right now, he says he does not believe landlords should be collecting rent when so many have been forced out of work. He plans to strike with his fellow Saturn Management tenants in solidarity.

Michael Mannheim, leasing associate at Saturn Management, says he is frustrated by the way some tenants have responded to Tuesday’s email. His intention in sending it, he says, was to “keep the line of communication open” with residents and to “make sure that they understood the resources that were available to them.”

“The fact is, now our tenants are banding together, using our error against us, vocalizing their grievances,” says Mannheim. “But we’ve also had tenants reach out to us to express their apologies for the pack mentality and the nasty correspondence this has caused. Even tenants involved in coordinating the possible rent strike, these are people that—in general—I always thought I had a good relationship with, and now I’m part of the fodder.”

Mannheim says he has offered tenants who have reached out the ability to delay payments on a case-by-case basis. He also sent tenants information about where they can seek further assistance, directing them towards unemployment resources, food banks, and more.

But at the end of the day, he says, landlords still need to collect rent to pay things like property taxes, maintenance, and utilities.

“We may be part owners in some of these properties, but we represent individuals and families who depend on us,” he says. “In many cases, the rent we collect is their only source of income, and part of our job is that balancing act.”

“I don’t think it’s right,” says Torres. “Whoever is at the top is basically just getting all of our income.”

But Alex Mercier, who lives in a Saturn Management-run building near Culver City, says he’s running out of options.

He says he was was laid off from his job as a marketing manager because of COVID-19. He says he and his roommate have both lost a significant amount of income in recent weeks, and will not be able to pay rent starting this month.

“There are a lot of people that have been affected by this, in various ways,” says Mercier. “For me, it’s both a personal thing and it’s about community—we’re all in it together.”

As for Torres, he says he looks forward to having a way to “stick it to [his] landlord” in the coming months. “I don’t think they realize that the tool they just provided us by giving us every single email,” he says. “They essentially did all of the hard work for us.”