New article: Tenant activism and eviction resistance during the Depression in New Zealand

Eviction resistance – refusing to leave the home when the landlord ends the tenancy – is a strategy used by tenants worldwide both to enable them to keep their housing in the short or long term and to send a message to policymakers about the importance of improving rental conditions.

I’ve recently published an article in the New Zealand Journal of History that looks at the early history of tenant activism in New Zealand, with a focus on eviction resistance.

I start by looking at the Rentpayers’ Associations that developed during World War I and the early 1920s. These were supported by trade unions and the Labour Party and aimed to protect tenants in rental housing that was insecure, expensive, and poor quality. Labour MPs and activists advocated for eviction resistance. Tenants, in the words of Tom Brindle, ‘must gather round and put the fear of the people in the landlords’ hearts’. The actions of these organisations were important to implementing and retaining rent controls, and to establishing a precedent that governments should intervene in the rental market.

Tenant activism developed again during the Depression, when conditions for tenants worsened as they could not afford to pay rent and as construction and repair work ground to a halt. I find 17 instances of eviction resistance in the archival records. Sometimes, eviction resistance was a spontaneous gathering of people wanting to help their neighbour. Sometimes, eviction resistance was supported by the Unemployed Workers’ Movement, which also advocated for and supported individual tenants, and lobbied government for action on issues important to unemployed tenants. Meanwhile, the Labour Party, closer to power and reluctant to alienate potential voters, opposed eviction resistance and tried to assist tenants by other means.

Eviction resistance in New Zealand echoed similar radical action overseas and was an important chapter in the history of the struggle for tenants’ rights in New Zealand. In the article, I argue that eviction resistance should be seen as an episode in the history of how
urban communities operated in New Zealand, as well as a political strategy employed by the radical left.

More information: Chisholm, E. (2021). ‘Come quickly! The bailiffs are in!’ Resistance to eviction during the depression in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of History55(2), 32-50. Download PDF:

Note for Wellingtonians: This article, along with many wonderful books, articles, and podcasts, is on the shortlist for the 2022 Bert Roth Award. Tomorrow at the National Library in Wellington at 6pm you can attend the Labour History Project AGM, which includes the Rona Bailey lecture, the announcement of the winner of the Bert Roth Award, and the launch of the book Women Will Rise: Recalling the Working Women’s Charter.

Acknowledgements: To write the article this blog post refers to I was supported by the Royal Society (Marsden Fund) and by a University of Otago PhD scholarship.

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