Tenants or Renters?

Since I started thinking and writing about this idea I generally been using the word tenant to describe the people we will aim to organise.

Tenant is the legally defined term and is used by existing organisations in other cities (the Tenants Protection Association in Auckland and Christchurch, the Manawatu Tenants Union in Palmerston North) and of course the Tenancy Tribunal, so naturally I fell into using it too.

A few days ago someone who has been thinking longer and deeper about renting in New Zealand suggested I consider renter instead. My initial thought was of the baggage that term carries with it thanks to the TV show Renters, but on further reflection I think there is a case for using renter over tenant.

First, many of the people we would like to recruit and organise are not the formal “tenant” of the property. Nevertheless they will be paying rent and even if they don’t immediately identify with renter they sure as hell know they are paying rent so there is an association there. If someone is not familiar with the term tenant (which is somewhat technical and legal in nature), or if their renting situation is not legally a tenancy – such as boarders and other “grey-market” renters – the term renter should offer a sense that this thing if for them to.

Second, I feel that the word renter is more active and feels like something that common cause could be built around. In my head it feel analogous to worker, whereas tenant feels like it reflects a passive contractual relationship, more akin to employee in a workplace setting. This will help us express the need to focus on campaigning for wider change, rather than focussing on advocacy services for individual members.

This may be a somewhat trivial matter but I do think that language matters as organising is fundamentally about communicating. We need to choose our words wisely.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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