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In a building in Brooklyn, residents stopped paying rent. Thank the pandemic for their activism.

todayOctober 6, 2021

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Across New York City, many tenants who lost their jobs after the city went into lockdown are facing millions of dollars in unpaid rent. They’ve been kept in their homes by government aid programs and a state eviction moratorium that expires in January.

But the pandemic has also mobilized some tenants to take on landlords who have done little to improve their living conditions and pushed them into a new kind of activism.

At 1616 President St. in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Patricia Edwards is one of a dozen residents — about half of the building’s tenants — who are withholding rent until the landlord forgives the debt owed by residents affected by the pandemic and makes repairs to a building that they say has long been neglected.

It has been years since Ms. Edwards’s top-floor apartment has felt like an acceptable home. When it rains, water leaks into the kitchen and living room. It also pours through a crack in the bathroom ceiling so big that Ms. Edwards needs an umbrella just to use the toilet.

But when the pandemic hit last year, leaving many of her neighbors struggling financially, Ms. Edwards, a retired bank employee, decided to do something she had never done: She refused to pay.

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