Tenants take action to prevent evictions and rising rents
While the UK is in the grip of a cost of living crisis, greedy landlords are continuing to increase rents, threaten people with eviction, and make people homeless if they can’t pay.
Renters across the country can’t afford to heat their homes, yet landlords are relentlessly lining their pockets with as much income from tenants as possible. At the same time, they’re accruing value on their homes for essentially doing nothing. And in big cities such as London and Bristol, where rents are already extortionate, once-working class neighbourhoods are turning into enclaves for the affluent.
A 66.6% increase in rent
Tenants across the UK are supporting each other, organising together and taking collective action.
In Bristol, ACORN community union members marched on the office of rogue letting agent and landlord Paul O’Brien on 1 February. O’Brien owns Just Lets rental agency as well as several high-profile businesses operating across Bristol and the south-west. He’s also the landlord of ACORN member Thai and has hiked her rent by 66.6%, or £300 per month. Thai faces eviction and homelessness given that she can’t afford this increase. ACORN pointed out that O’Brien is “no small-time landlord struggling to get by”. The union said that Thai has tried to negotiate a more reasonable increase, but O’Brien has refused.
Bristol ACORN said:
the 66.6% increase […] is extraordinary, and completely unaffordable for a renter on a fixed income. Thai now fears eviction and homelessness. To make matters worse, Just Lets have repeatedly given workmen access to the flat without giving Thai notice, and for the last four months Thai has been living with faulty fire alarms, leaving her feeling extremely unsafe in the flat.
The union continued:
After the landlord has refused to negotiate a more reasonable increase, Thai teamed up with members of the community union ACORN, to march on O’Brien’s offices to demand a fair rent increase that’s in line with inflation.
‘Countless other people in my situation’
Standing outside O’Brien’s office, Thai said:
I am standing here in front of you today, not just for me, but also for the people that don’t have a voice, as there are countless other people in my situation across the country right now. £300 a month is a drop in the ocean for Paul O’Brien, but it means the different between having a home or not to me.
Thai said she has proposed a rent increase of 11% in line with inflation, but O’Brien has flatly refused any negotiation. She continued:
I want to be heard. It’s not right for landlords with dozens of businesses and millions of pounds worth of assets like Paul O’Brien to push people around.
A nationwide problem
Thai’s impending homelessness is, of course, not limited to Bristol. Back in late 2022, Zoopla said:
The imbalance in supply and demand is here to stay, and rents will continue to rise at above-average levels into 2023 across the more affordable markets.
Meanwhile, ACORN stated:
Rising rent has been a news story for months and is impacting renters up and down the country. The average increase in rent in 2022 was just over 12%, pushing more and more private tenants into homelessness.
Indeed, Sky News reported in August 2022 that homelessness rates among private renters had reached record highs, “largely because landlords are choosing to sell or re-let their properties”.
In January 2023, BBC Newsnight reported on another Bristol resident, Hayley, who was hit by a 25% rent increase. Newsnight said:
Last year Hayley was told her rent was due to increase by over 25%. Shortly after that she was served a section 21 notice, a so called ‘no-fault’ eviction, giving her eight weeks to leave.
Taking action for better living conditions
It isn’t just evictions that ACORN is fighting. Across the country, tenants are fighting their landlords to provide them with more acceptable living conditions.
As individuals, renters often feel powerless – but collectively, their voices can be heard. In Bristol, residents and ACORN members scored a huge victory when they won their campaign for fire safety in the city’s highrises. They won their demands to get sprinklers installed in tower blocks, to get public fire risk assessments for every block, and to have 24/7 fire wardens until the blocks are made safe.
And in London, ACORN managed to reclaim £7,750 for one household in Dalston:
£7750 VICTORY FOR ACORN HACKNEY MEMBERS!
ACORN member El and her flatmates were faced with a bedbug-infested flat in Dalston. Not only had they been paying rent for these unacceptable living conditions, they had also been forced to pay for fumigation.
— ACORN Hackney (@AcornHackney) December 5, 2022
ACORN Hackney said that it presented the tenants’ demands to their landlord – and the landlord paid out £7,750 to cover rent, deposit and fumigation costs. Similar actions by ACORN around the country have resulted in victory.
As we have seen, collective action can force landlords to act more decently. But it’s not likely that these actions will give landlords better morals. So, we need laws to prevent rental prices from escalating even further. Bristol ACORN said:
After pressure from ACORN, Bristol City Council has recently called on the government to grant it powers to introduce rent controls.
This would restrict the amount of rent that landlords could charge tenants. Moreover, renters organisations from across England have written a manifesto. It calls for, among other things, an end to Section 21 (no fault) evictions, and for:
Rent controls which bring down rents to 30% of local income.
The manifesto says:
One in four private renters in England lives in poverty. Over half of the families with children living in private rented accommodation are below the poverty line. We need rent controls that bring rents down to 30% of median local income, following the accepted yardstick of affordability. Rent controls should be introduced incrementally, to prevent negative consequences for current tenants, and should be accompanied by a massive increase in public housebuilding.
In the meantime, if you’re struggling to pay your rent, team up with people like you and take action against money-grabbing rogue landlords.
Featured image via Acorn
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