The “Right to Organize” and Freedom of Association

by | Aug 13, 2022

Tenants have the right to organize if they so choose. And landlords have the right to recognize those unions or not.

In April, San Francisco’s “Right to Organize” ordinance went into effect. As is common, the law’s name is misleading. Tenants have always had the right to organize, and the ordinance does nothing to change that. What the ordinance does do is force landlords to negotiate with tenant “unions.”

The law requires landlords to recognize tenant associations, attend at least four meetings per year with tenants, and bargain with tenant unions “in good faith.” If landlords fail to meet these requirements, renters can ask the city to reduce their rent as a penalty.

Freedom of association means that we can interact with others as we choose without interference from the government. Ostensibly, the ordinance recognizes tenants’ freedom of association. However, the law removes landlords’ freedom of association by compelling them to interact with tenant unions whether they want to or not. The result is forced association.

It is becoming increasingly common to protect “tenants’ rights” by restricting landlords’ freedom to act. For example, legislators across the nation are passing laws that force landlords to accept housing vouchers. These laws are enacted in the name of protecting tenants’ freedom of choice by limiting landlords’ freedom of choice.

Underlying these laws is a false view of rights—that rights conflict and we must choose whose rights to protect and whose rights to violate. However, rights do not conflict. Rights protect our freedom to act as we judge best, so long as we respect the freedom of others to do the same.

Tenants have the right to organize if they so choose. And landlords have the right to recognize those unions or not. Tenants have the right to use housing vouchers. Landlords have the right to accept such payment or not. When individuals are free to choose, they can interact with others without interference from the government. The “Right to Organize” ordinance and other laws like it compel individuals to interact regardless of their desires.

Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights. Brian has been defending property rights for nearly thirty years. He played a key role in defeating zoning in Houston, Texas, and in Hobbs, New Mexico. He is the author of three books: Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, The Innovator Versus the Collective, and Principles and Property Rights. Visit his website at

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