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How to Throw a Rent Party

Originating in Harlem in the 1920s, a rent party is a fun way to stave off eviction.


  • Step 1: Pick a location Pick a location for the party. You want a large place—more guests mean more cash.
  • Step 2: Invite people Decide if the party will be invitation-only or open to the public. If the latter, knock off some flyers and distribute them to your friends, friends of friends, and around the neighborhood.
  • Step 3: Plan the menu Plan the menu. Traditional foods include fried chicken, ham, macaroni and cheese, biscuits, baked beans, potato salad, corn bread, collard greens, red beans and rice, peach cobbler, and sweet potato pie. Beverages include fruit punch, soda, coffee, and sometimes beer.
  • TIP: Save money by cooking everything yourself.
  • Step 4: Decide the cover charge Once the food and drink budget has been established, figure out how much you need to charge at the door to clear enough for your rent.
  • Step 5: Let friends do the music Enlist friends to DJ, sing, or play instruments. Jazz and blues is the traditional music, like Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.
  • TIP: You can find used CDs of rent party music online.
  • Step 6: Take turns at the door Have friends take turns covering the door, hat in hand, to collect the admission fee.
  • Step 7: Don't anger the landlord Have fun—but make sure the party doesn't get so rowdy that you anger your landlord. You'll want him calm and happy when next month's rent is late!
  • FACT: The going rate for a Harlem rent party admission was usually 25 cents, plus extra for the homemade concessions sold in the kitchen or hallway.

You Will Need

  • A place to party
  • Food and drink
  • Musical entertainment
  • Paying guests
  • And a hat to collect donations
  • Party flyers
  • Lots of beer

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