As Election Day draws nigh, concerns about voter suppression and intimidation have reached a fever pitch as Americans report being purged from voter rolls, waiting 12-plus hours to early vote at limited locations, and placing their votes in unauthorized ballot boxes. Now, voters in New York and Colorado worry about veiled voter intimidation from their landlords.
As reported by The Daily Beast on Wednesday, voters in both states reported receiving letters from their landlords saying they’ll raise rents if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris win the November election. The landlords said Biden and Harris will raise taxes, meaning they’d have to raise rents to compensate for a higher tax bill.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Biden’s tax plan would slice the top 1 percent of household’s after-income by 16 percent in 2022, which works out to a $265,640 average tax increase. Meanwhile, the middle 20 percent would experience a 1 percent tax cut. Households making under $400,000 wouldn’t experience a tax increase, unless they failed to fulfill the Affordable Care Act health insurance mandate.
“I would equate receiving this letter from my landlord to my boss sending me a letter telling me who to vote for,” New York-based voter John Gordon told The Daily Beast. Gordon said his landlord sent a letter urging him and his fellow tenants to vote for a Republican mayoral candidate.
Meanwhile, in Fort Morgan, Colorado, the landlord of a local trailer park sent a more direct warning to his tenants, saying if Biden wins in November, he’ll double rent prices to cover an anticipated rise in taxes, utilities, gasoline, groceries, new permits, fees, and regulations.
“Everything will be increased,” read the letter forwarded to Fort Morgan NBC affiliate, 9News. “Like paying ALOT (sic) more in taxes, utilities, gasoline, groceries, new permits, fees, and regulations. Everything! This also means YOUR RENT will be increased to cover these expenses.”
“Most likely, rent would DOUBLE in price! IF the current President is re-elected, WE WILL NOT RAISE THE RENT FOR AT LEAST 2 YEARS!” the landlord, Bernie Pagel, continued. “Voting is your choice, and we are not telling you how to vote.”
Pagel concluded, “We are just informing our tenants what WE will do according to the election results. If Trump wins, we all win. If Biden wins, we all lose. VOTE on November 3, 2020.”
Tenants of Pagel’s trailer park told 9News they were shocked and frightened by the letter, saying many of them live on a limited income and couldn’t afford such a steep increase.
“I mean everybody was pretty shocked, honestly,” resident Cindy Marquez told the outlet. “It was mainly hurtful, you know? How could someone say something like that or basically threaten us according to something that we can’t control?”
The Washington Post published a follow-up to The Daily Beast’s report on Friday detailing more examples of landlords in Mississippi and Florida targeting their tenants for their political beliefs.
According to The Post, Mississippi landlord Wilma Hughes evicted tenant Whitney Wages after Wages made a Facebook post disparaging Trump’s handling of the pandemic, amongst other things. Thirty minutes later, Wages said she received a text from Hughes — she had 45 days to find another place to live since Hughes didn’t “want to live with a negative person.”
The director of the University of Mississippi School of Law Housing Clinic Desiree Henley said the Wages’ eviction is unfortunately legal since Mississippi housing policies favor landlords.
“It’s just not a type of discrimination that is unlawful if a private landlord does it,” Henley told Mississippi Today.
Meanwhile, in Florida, landlord Joseph Mazzara was arrested for pulling a Trump sign out of his tenant’s yard and injuring her in the process.
Although these landlord’s actions are frowned upon, political affiliation isn’t a protected class under the Civil Rights Act, meaning they can legally evict tenants of differing political beliefs in most areas without just cause. However, California, the District of Columbia, and Seattle have laws banning “arbitrary discrimination” and consider political ideology a protected class.
Multiple legal experts told The Daily Beast both landlords are not likely to face legal ramifications due to the wording of the letters.
“I do not believe that such laws would apply unless there was a threat as in: if you don’t vote for X, your rent will go up,” University of California-Irvine law professor Richard Hasen told The Daily Beast.
However, voter rights advocacy groups have been sending reminders that landlords cannot control their tenants’ votes nor intimidate them into sharing who they cast their ballot for.
“Friendly reminder to voters that their vote is always confidential,” Common Cause Colorado tweeted. “No one knows how you vote – including your landlord.”