Promoting Tenants’ Rights since 1927

Overcrowding, Sweden 1920

IUT starts up in the 1920’s       

In July 1924 a letter arrives from Mr Robert Hoffmaye at the Mietervereinigung Österreichs (MVÖ) in Vienna, addressed to Professor C.G Bergman, board member of the Swedish National Tentants Association. Mr Hoffmayr described the MVÖ who already had over 200 000 members and then he set out his intention to form an international organisation for tenant associations.

A German initiative

Meanwhile, Mr Ramdohr the vice chairman of the German tenant association, Reichsbund Deutscher Mieter, in Berlin, set out for a study trip to Oslo, Norway, for the purpose of studying the municipal institutions. When in Oslo, he iwas informed by the representative of the National Association of Norwegian Co-operatives, about the existence of the tenants association in Sweden.

From left: R.Hoffmayr, Dr Wirth and Mr Kolbe

In a letter addressed to the Swedish Union of Tenants in May 1925, Mr Ramdohr describes the very difficult housing situation in Germany after the war, due partly to the extorted peace agreement in Versailles in 1918. Also he put much of the blame on greedy landlords  and property owners, who profited from the hard times. Very little housing had been constructed in Germany since 1914, and the government did  not seem to pay much attention to housing and most members of the parliament (Reichstag) appeared to run the errands of the landlords.  Still, Mr Ramdohr continued, the Reichsbund Deutscher Mieter had succeeded in bringing in new laws that protects the tenants from ruthless evictions and unjustified rent increases. The purpose of this letter was also to find out whether there is an opportunity for an exchange of information, between the Swedish and German organisation – and also to explore any possible interest in forming an international organisation of tenants.

Later the same year Mr Ramdohr got in touch with friends at the Mietervereinigung MVÖ in Vienna. These contacts, and contacts with the Swiss tenants organisation, resulted  in  the dates and venue being set for the first international tenant congress on 21-24 May  1926, in Zürich , Switzerland.

1926, International League of Tenants

It is highly possible that the Austrian delegation informed the other delegates about the first International Urban Planning Conference in Vienna when the ten delegations met in Zürich on 21 May  to commence their international cooperation. Vienna was the model city when it came to new innovative housing planning for the “masses”. The already powerful Austrian organisation was elected as the office for the international secretariat. Dr Carl Wirth of Zürich was elected as chairman. A first set of statutes, two pages, was also agreed upon.

Delegates to the first known IUT assembly, in Zürich 1926

 On the eve of May 23, 1926

… the following resolution was adopted:
 The first international congress of tenant associations determines, as a conclusion of the conference, with satisfaction that the work to unite the tenants associations of all countries was successful, and thus a strong fighting organisation ( Kampforgansation) was created.
The assembled representatives of the European countries hereby promise to work for, within the Union of International Tenant Associations, the improvement of housing (Wohningskultur), and for the introduction of social rent, and housing legislation and for a prompt promotion of municipal and jointly owned housing.
The selfish and harmful speculative landlords must be stopped.
The Congress expects the political parties in the respective governments that they should support, in the interest of the good housing for all, the activities of the Union of International Tenants Associations. 

A message was sent to all European tenants, which ended with the Words:

Tenants of Europe! For the success of our work, the active support of every tenant is absolutely necessary. The solidarity requires that each tenant joins its national tenant association. Only the strong union of all tenants guarantees a successful fight against, even though small at number, powerful and influential speculative landlords.

Tenants in Europe – Unite!

Tentative efforts to get the League going

In July 1927, the newly formed organisation met again in Paris at the office of the Union Confédéral des Locataires de France et des Colonies, in rue St. Antoine 16.
The International League of Tenants then again met in Prague in 1929, with representation from the tenants associations in Germany (Dresden and Berlin), France, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. According to sparse correspondence after the conference in Prague, there does not seem to have been much activity in the League of Tenants from 1929 to 1934.

The Swedish, Austrian and German tenant associations managed to get together again in 1931, in connection with an International Housing Congress in Berlin.

Clouds build up in the 30´s

Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in March 1934 and in May the Swedish Union of Tenants received a letter from the Bund Deutscher Mietervereine in Dresden, saying that they no longer wished to receive the Swedish magazine The Tenant. The most recent issue had contained very strong anti Nazi sentiments, including an illustration of four crossed executioner’s axes, dripping with blood – all in shape of a swastika. In April 1939 there was correspondence between Paris and Stockholm regarding the possibility of organising an international conference of tenant associations…but it wastoo late. In September Hitler attacked Poland and World War II is a fact.

From 1926 to 1939 the International League of Tenants began the important work of international co-operation, solidarity and fact finding. Some rent comparing studies were made, and national housing policies were compared and discussed.

Penny (one penny/night) tenement house 1950´s , Birmingham England

IUT 1955-

It took some time after the War to refresh the memories of the International League of Tenants. Most of Europe’s urban centres were in ruins, particularly the cities and towns with a large percentage of municipal rental housing like in Austria and Germany.  

By 1955 the Austrian Tenants´ Union, MVÖ, had recovered well under the leadership of National Councillor Rudolf Marchner. The MVÖ was planning a congress in Vienna and invitations had been sent out to European tenant associations. Representatives from the tenant associations in Sweden, Denmark, West-Germany and Switzerland responded to the invitation.
After the official congress was over the five delegations met to discuss the revival of an international tenant association. At first, a temporary secretariat was established in Vienna. Sweden was asked to contact  the associations in Finland and Norway, and to try to arrange a Nordic tenant conference.
This Nordic conference was accomplished in Malmö on June 30 in 1956, attended also by the Austrian and German organisations. A decision was made to locate the Secretariat in Stockholm.

Lars Anderstig and Nic Nilsson at IUT congress in Helsinki 1981

First Secretariat

The International Tenants´ Union*, ITU, as the organisation was now mostly being referred to, commissioned the Swedish Union of Tenants, SUT, to appoint the first Secretariat. Mr Leonard Fredricsson, President of SUT, was elected as President of ITU. Mr Gösta Järtelius (†2008), legal representative of the SUT, was appointed chief of the ITU Secretariat. In October 1957 five countries had paid membership fees to the IUT: Austria, Switzerland, West Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

This was the start of the new IUT, with a permanent address, a secretariat and with a small income – the real work could begin.

We must not forget…

What took place in the 1920´s and 30´s is now mostly history in the US, Australia and in most countries in Europe. But it is today’s reality in all developing countries; unsafe and unhealthy dwellings, insecure tenure, sudden rent increases, evictions, one family in a room, and so on.  Also, people are not yet safe in many countries in the former Eastern Europe.  In many cases the necessary protective laws are there, but not implemented or too weak. Corruption is also extensive.

Tenants´ Unions will continue to play major roles in all countries. Together with its members, tenant organisations become powerful and influential. So again, the appeal from 1926 is still applicable today; Tenants Unite!

*sometimes also referred to as  International Tenants´ Alliance

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