Every seventh year you shall practice release of debts. This shall be the nature of the release: every creditor shall release his authority over what he claims from his neighbor. He shall not force it from his neighbor or his brother, for God’s Shmita has been proclaimed…
– Deuteronomy 15:1-2
What is Shmita: Shmita means “release.” It is first referred to in Exodus and again in Leviticus in reference to the agricultural practice of leaving the land to lie fallow in the seventh year as a sabbath year. Unlike many mitzvot which are based on individual actions, shmita relies on both personal and communal participation.
During the shmita year, privately-owned property returns to public ownership and debts are nullified. In the lead up to a shmita year, we are all encouraged to lend sufficiently so that everyone’s needs are met. During this time of crisis, we must make sure everyone’s housing needs are met, and we must release people from unpayable debts that could leave them without a home.
Rent Court was originally set up to protect tenants by enforcing health and sanitation standards in housing and assist landlords in collecting unpaid rent. But the reality is that a handful of overworked, overwhelmed judges work swiftly to move cases (as many as 1,000 per day) along, rather than hear the tenants’ concerns.
Many low-income renters cannot access a lawyer, and so most cases are heard in their landlord’s favor. This leads to nearly 7,000 evictions a year, most of them preventable, and makes it easy for landlords to avoid adhering to housing standards. Black women are overwhelmingly impacted by this broken system.
Jews United for Justice is part of two renters’ rights coalitions. For more information about our work with these coalitions, contact Rianna.
Baltimore Renters United (BRU) is a coalition of advocacy and membership groups fighting for the rights of renters in Baltimore City. BRU members include JUFJ, The Public Justice Center, Communities United, Right To Housing Alliance, Baltimore DSA, and the Homeless Persons Representation Project.
BRU hosts the Baltimore City Housing Court Watch blog, bmorerentersunited.org, which shines a light on the conditions and challenges renters face in Baltimore City’s Circuit Court. We train members to observe and write about housing court for the blog, and have been active in legislative efforts to have all rental units inspected and licensed.
Renters United Maryland (RUM) is a coalition of renters’ rights groups working primarily at the state level. Members include JUFJ, The Public Justice Center, Homeless Persons Representation Project, Montgomery County Renters Alliance, Maryland Legal Aid, Public Policy Partners, Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the Maryland Chapter of the NAACP.
RUM has been working on statewide legislation to ensure safe housing and support renters rights.
#CancelRent: Campaign Demands
- Enforcement of Eviction Moratorium: Set forth a criminal penalty to deter illegal evictions conducted during the State of Emergency.
- Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention: Increase emergency financial assistance funds and deploy funds to renters and homeowners under broader eligibility criteria and before owners/lenders resort to filing eviction or foreclosure actions.
- Extension of Eviction Moratorium: Propose an Executive Order that provides eviction protections for every tenant for at least 12 months after the State of Emergency is rescinded and require in all eviction actions for non-payment of rent both loss mitigation and mediation procedures as prerequisites to filing suit.
- Foreclosure Prevention: Prohibit rental property owners from foreclosing the tenant’s right of redemption for at least 12 months following the end of the State of Emergency.
- Rent Freeze: Prohibit rent increases and lease terminations without just cause during the duration of the State of Emergency and 12 months thereafter and exclude non-payment of rent and other fees as a basis for lease termination if the renter’s inability to pay is related to the pandemic or the State of Emergency.
- Rent Cancellation: Suspend all transactions of rent for 180 days and provide financial relief to rental property owners who demonstrate financial hardship as a result of waived rent payments in the 180-day period.
- Fee Cancellation: Prohibit late fees and debt collection activities on rental and mortgage payments for one year following the conclusion of the ongoing crisis.
- Long Term Payment Plans: Require rental property owners and banks to offer interest-free payment plans with repayment options spanning up to three years for tenants to pay down any and all overdue rent and for homeowners to pay down any and all outstanding mortgage payments.
- Utility Repayment Plans: Direct all utility companies (including but not limited to water, gas, electric, internet, and cable) to broaden eligibility criteria for affordability programs and repayment plans to accommodate both short- and long-term impacts on income.
Want to get more involved in this campaign? Contact an organizer.
Resources on rent and shmita
- Shmitat Ha’Rent, Iyar 5780- April 2020, Jewish Community Action
- The Hazon Shmita Sourcebook, August 31, 2014
- Rabbi Fred Sherlinder Dobb, Covid-19 and Torah: Advice from the Sabbatical Year, ejewishphilanthropy.com, March 6, 2020
- Yedidia Stern, Shmita: Rest, Share, Release; The Israel Democracy Institute, Sept., 22, 2014
- Sabrina Sojourner, Care for have nots is written into God’s Holiness Code, d’var torah to Washington Jewish Week, May 13, 2020
October 5 | 7:00 pm – 8:30 pm
How does Sukkot inform our understanding of housing justice? Join JUFJ, Council President Brandon Scott and Baltimore Renters’ United coalition partners for a discussion on Right to Counsel legislation and housing justice.
October 28 | 7:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Join JUFJers from across Maryland for a call at 8:00 PM to discuss our ongoing issue campaign work. If you’re new to JUFJ work or want to schmooze and catch up with fellow members, join at 7:30 PM.