Italian Tenants Withstand Landlord Pushback with Court Victory

ACORN Italy's David Tozzo with the Organizers/ Forum in Warsaw (in the middle in green shirt)
ACORN Italy’s David Tozzo with the Organizers/ Forum in Warsaw (in the middle in green shirt and glasses)

Grenoble    Ever since 2011 when ACORN Italy launched our campaign to take advantage of a unique handle passed by the national legislature allowing tenants to reduce their rent if their landlords were renting to them on the black market without paying taxes, we have been fighting back against the landlord counterattack. The victories for tenants exploiting the law were huge since by triggering registration of the landlord’s property their bounty was a reduction of their rent by 85 to 90% for the four-year term of a standard lease with a four-year option of renewal. The math is clear. If a tenant were paying 1000 euros in rent, they would then only be paying 150 euros saving more than 10000 euros a year, 40000 for four years, 80000 for eight years. Needless to say, the landlords had been happy to avoid paying taxes to the government, and were wild with rage about now having to both pay taxes and receive less revenue from their tenants.

Lawyers were a cheaper alternative for the landlords and they have yo-yoed back and forth to court with us since 2012. We took a hit from the Supreme Court in late 2013 ruling that there was a technical problem with the law. We managed to get legislation through the Senate that prevented the tenants who had seized the law’s opportunity with us from having to pay back the landlords for their lost revenues. We have introduced other legislation to correct the technical flaw and restore the original intent of the law.

Meanwhile another suit had ended up in the second high court of Italy which interprets laws and is called the La Corte Surprema di Cassazione or Supreme Court of Cassation. The decision of the Court which is final at the highest level has reopened provision – and the opportunity – for tens of thousands of tenants throughout Italy.

The Court ruled that if the landlord and the tenant had a verbal, oral contract rather than a written lease contract as required, then they had the ability to push the property to be registered and register the rent at the lower level as allowed by the original legislation. Part of the tenant’s claim and defense would be allowable based on the “moral” or “psychological” pain suffered by the tenant from not having a written lease and having been forced to find housing in the informal, black market so prevalent throughout Italy. The Court’s decision does not reopen the door for tenants with a written, but unregistered lease, but settles the matter for those who were forced to agree to an okey-dokey lease involving tax evasion.

The tide hasn’t completely turned for ACORN Italy’s work. We still have much to be done with our allies in the Senate to both nail down tenant protections and restore the comprehensive opportunity to all tenants, but in the meantime we’re gearing up to get the word out throughout Italy to tenants with wink-and-nod verbal leases that their opportunity is knocking and the door is wide open again. Needless to say, head organizer David Tozzo is drawing up major national recruitment plans to scale up ACORN Italy’s work to take advantage of the opportunity and the membership is soaring.

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Welcome to My World on Thanksgiving!

photo from ACORN in Buenos Aires

New Orleans   On the eve of the USA Thanksgiving there is a long list of chores and cleanups, some long postponed, that have to be sorted out as family and friends assemble.  Normally, these times signals a momentary lull, a chance for a breath, but believe it, working in the world is not like that at all, and the pace quickens.   While so many are getting ready to put their feet up and feedbag on, I thought I would share:

  • Canada has Thanksgiving, but almost a month ago, so it’s just another workday and the emails keep rolling, especially on their release of a new remittance report.
  • Pictures in this morning finally from Buenos Aires on a recent human rights workshop in La Matanza, which the organizer had time to send since a general strike yesterday shutdown the city and most of the transportation.
  • Skype conference call today to prepare for our setting up the field program next week in Ecuador for the national elections in five provinces.
  • The election may be over in the USA, but ACORN International members are examining slates, programs, and plans for elections this coming year not only in Ecuador, but also in Honduras, Kenya, and Indonesia.
  • Work slowed in Mumbai as our operations in Dharavi with many Muslim members battened down the hatches as the shock troops of the right parties hit the streets to mourn the death of communalist instigator Bal Thackery.  Newspaper reports indicate that police have picked up two young women who questioned the respect being given this man on Facebook.
  • Social Policy went to printer yesterday for the fall issue, so proofs have to be checked out today, so issue hits mails internationally and domestically next week.
  • Interesting hour long conversation yesterday with David Moberg, labor reporter at In These Times, about organizing strategy and the work being done by UFCW at Walmart these days in USA.
  • Interesting reports from ACORN Italy on new legal services support being rolled out for our members there with more details to follow.
  • Early morning email from Belgrade where a former ACORN organizer in Ottawa is starting the process of seeing if an ACORN Serbia can be built there in coming months.
  • As I write this, I’m bouncing back and forth on Skype notes, about how to integrate community organizing into an on-line medical training course being offered globally and recently accepted as a pilot for 500 med students in Sudan.  They asked that I block dates in November 2013 to speak with them at their conference in Thailand potentially.
  • Double checking the schedule at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse so we can fit in the meeting after the holiday on how well we are doing on our environmental footprint and sustainability measure, making sure we are staffed fully on Thanksgiving because our community needs us, approving another group to play soon and another yoga and dance time slot, and getting ready to host the Tides Foundation JBL Awards presentation next week.

There’s always a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving and this small sample reminds me how lucky I am many decades ago to have found work that teaches me daily and resists boredom no matter the tedium of tasks, and where so many of us have developed small skills that can make contributions to the work being done every day around the world to bring justice, equity, and security to so many people.

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