Renters protest high rents and poor standards at City Hall Meeting

Tuesday 18 December -    Housing groups across London came together today to demand that members of the GLA Housing Committee at City Hall meeting hear loud and clear the views of private tenants as they form their recommendations for the private rented sector. 15-20 members of London private tenants groups Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group, Digs, Haringey Housing Action Group and Housing for the 99% carried out a lively, vocal protest to highlight the imbalance of rights of landlords over private tenants, extortionate rents and insecure, poor quality private rented housing.

Private tenants gave out leaflets and shouted demands as London Assembly members arrived at City Hall ahead of the final meeting of the housing committee’s review of private rented housing. Many passersby expressed support for our demands as they read the leaflets (see text below) and banners some of which read ‘Cap rents, not benefits’, and ‘Admin fees do not add up’ and ‘We demand decent, secure, affordable housing for all’.  Some activists adapted carol songs to highlight the housing problems and demands, whilst others chatted to passersby to gain support and encourage people to set up more local housing action groups across London. All were united in their demand to return to a situation as seen prior to 1989 where rent caps existed and tenancies were secure for everyone.

Inside the GLA meeting, a few activists brought the meeting to a standstill to deliver a book of messages from angry private tenants with demands for rent controls, longer/secure tenancies and an end to Letting Agents’ fees. The book of private tenants’ messages were given to committee chair Len Duvall who along with the rest of the committee. They now have a very good understanding of the need to take action and include recommendations in their review for rent controls and other changes within the private rented sector to ensure no tenant is evicted due to high rents or forced out of their homes and communities as a result of benefit cuts and caps or house disrepair.

Few private tenants have been invited to join these discussions despite them being about their housing situation, but with this protest we have provided a host of information from the private tenants perspective which can no longer be ignored. Christine Haigh from Housing for the 99% said, “Considering that there are 1.5m of us in London, private tenants have had pathetically little voice in this review. We’re being ripped-off with poor quality, insecure housing and urgently need action to raise standards and control rents.”

We are calling on all private tenants along with anyone concerned with the growing housing crisis to organise in their local neighbourhoods, set up private tenants groups to support one another and campaign for decent, secure and affordable housing for all.
         

INSIDE THE MEETING (Report by Heather Kennedy, DIGS Hackney)

The inquiry panel included a range of speakers who represented the views of local councils, charities, investors, financial service agencies and tenants. This was the only meeting that included a representative from a tenants-led group (Digs from Hackney).
There were gasps from GLA members as Lewisham Tenants’ Relations Officer Ben Reeve Lewis described letting agents and landlords violently threatening and physically abusing their tenants, something he comes across on a regular basis.
Speakers were asked whether complaints from private tenants were increasing, to which the answer was a resounding ‘yes’. But some speakers urged GLA members to recognise that the majority of tenants, particularly vulnerable ones will never complain, not matter how bad their housing situation.
Shockingly, David Lawrenson from Consultancy Firm LettingFocus revealed that not only are some mortgage lenders restricting the length of tenancies landlords can offer, they are also stopping landlords from letting to people in receipt of benefits. The fact that some of these mortgage lenders were state owned banks made the revelation all the more shocking.
One such mortgage lender, Yorkshire Building Society explained this restriction as follows:
“We entered the buy-to-let market with a specific profile in mind – experienced but not professional landlords seeking to purchase properties of reasonable quality – and we shaped lending criteria to meet that market. We didn’t feel that DWP-supported tenants would generally fit in with the profile of landlords or properties that we are looking to lend to.”
There was agreement from all speakers that something had to be done about unregulated letting agents. Heather Kennedy from Digs called for London to follow Scotland in banning extra letting agent fees.
Speakers debated about the issue of rent controls, which some members of the panel felt were a compulsory step to curb massive rent increases. But the steely opposition from landlords to any rent control was also mentioned. As Ben Reeve Lewis explained:”If you talk to any landlord about rent controls they won’t even let you finish the sentence. You’ll get instantly shot down”.

David Lawrenson and Heather Kennedy both called for a rent control model that works successfully in Germany, where a three-five year tenancy is offered and the rent rises no higher than inflation.
Boris Johnson’s new London Rental Standard, a system of voluntary accreditation for landlord, announced last week was also hotly debated. Heather Kennedy argued:   “Private tenants are desperate to find a home that is even halfway decent. They’re in no position to negotiate. If one prospective tenant turns down a property because it isn’t accredited then the landlord knows the next person in the queue will take it. And the next person in the queue is likely to be more vulnerable and less able to self advocate. If it has any impact, Boris’ London Rental Standard will just push problems down to the bottom end of the market to people who are less able to defend themselves.”

The spotlight was shone on the huge issue of retaliatory evictions, where the landlord evicts and tenant for standing up for their housing rights, an action which is perfectly legal. All speakers agreed this was a very real issue for private tenants which councils had very little power to prevent.

Other reports:

The Guardian   http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2012/dec/18/london-rental-sector-regulation
Inside Housing   http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/tenancies/campaigners-to-stage-rent-protest/6525089.article

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More quotes from groups:

Jacky Peacock from Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group said:    “The number of people in poverty living in private rented     accommodation has doubled in the last decade as rents have spiralled. We are now seeing families forced into acute hardship in order to pay the rent, even in places like Harlesden which is not the most luxurious part of London.”

Heather Kennedy from Digs said:     “At the beginning of 2009, Boris Johnson pledged to end rough sleeping in the capital     before the year was out. Instead, what do we have? We have rough sleeping up by 43 per cent since last year, with the end of a tenancy in the private rented sector being one of the most common reasons cited. Successive years of policy making have placed the agenda of landlords and letting agents over the needs of private tenants and this has to stop.     ‘“Only bold action will do given the scale of the crisis. London has played host to some of the worst excesses of bad landlords and letting agents getting rich off the housing crisis. Self regulation has failed. That’s why we’re asking the GLA to recommend a workable model of rents control alongside longer default tenancies, so private tenants can build stable lives and plan for the future. We’re asking for London to follow Scotland by putting an end to bogus, opportunistic letting agent fees. But laws are nothing without enforcement, which is why we’re asking the GLA to lead local authorities in demonstrating political will in enforcing the law and protecting private tenants.”

Members of Haringey Housing Action Group said:  “We demand decent, secure affordable homes for all residents of London in the area they choose to live in.”

For more information and interviews, contact:
Christine Haigh at Housing for the 99% on 07870 577934 orhousingforthe99@gmail.com
Jacky Peacock at Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group on 020 3002 2786 or jacky.peacock@bptrg.org

Notes:

  •     Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group runs a private tenants advice centre providing advice, advocacy and casework for private tenants. For more information, see http://www.bptrg.org/
  •     Digs is a private tenant information and support group, run by Hackney renters, for Hackney renters. For more information, see http://hackneyrenters.org/
  •     Haringey Housing Action Group meets regularly to give and receive support on housing problems and campaign for better housing. For more information, seehttp://haringeyhousingaction.org.uk/
  •     Housing for the 99% was formed earlier this year to bring together private tenants and others concerned about high rents,         cuts to Housing Benefit and poor quality, insecure housing and take action to address these problems. For more information, seehttp://housingforthe99.wordpress.com/
  •     The average rent for a two-bedroom property in inner London is now £18,000 a year (Source: Shelter – Private Rent Watch). This is 40 per cent more than someone working fulltime at the National Minimum Wage would earn (£12,646) before other living costs are taken into account.
  •     A third of private rented homes fail to meet the Decent Homes standard – almost double that of social rented homes – and almost a fifth fail basic health and safety standards. Private tenants are also most likely to live in cold and damp homes than social renting tenants or owner occupiers. There has been a 23 per cent increase in overcrowded private rented homes in the last year alone. Source: English Housing Survey.
  •     A Report from the New Policy Institute published in         November by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation ‘Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2012’ reveals that there are 4 million private renters living in poverty (2010/11), up from 2 million in 2000/2001.


TEXT OF LEAFLETPRIVATE TENANTS DEMAND: Decent, Secure, Affordable Homes For All!
Join us on Tuesday 18th December to stand up for the rights of private tenants to decent, affordable, secure homes.
We will be demanding that rent controls are brought back, local housing allowance (LHA) is increased with inflation, secure tenancies are reintroduced and greater protection and support is given to private tenants.
On Tuesday 18th Dec the London Assembly Housing and Regeneration Committee are holding their last meeting as part of the review of London’s Private Rented Sector. The theme of this meeting is ‘tenant and landlord rights’ and the purpose of the review is to ‘evaluate different options for achieving higher property standards, greater security and more affordable tenancies’.
Tenants have been given little voice in the process so far, so come and join other private tenants and supporters to make our demands known and put pressure on those attending to stand up for private tenants.
The meeting
This is a public meeting and some of us are planning to go in, we want to make the presence of tenants and supporters felt, so please join us. At the start, we’ll be presenting our ‘Dear Santa’ scrapbook to the Chair of the Committee, Len Duvall.Click here to submit your private housing ‘Dear Santa’ message.
Private Tenants Demands…
Affordability
 
Bring Rents Down!
Housing is a basic necessity, like food and water. Actions to maximize rental income at the detriment of tenants show this has been forgotten. Rent controls do exist on pre-1989 tenancies and we demand these controls be introduced to all tenancies.
Remove all bogus Letting Agents ‘fees’ for tenants!
Letting Agents provide a service to Landlords and charge them for doing so – they should not take further ‘fees’ from tenants. Agency ‘fees’, reference ‘checks’, admin ‘fees’ and leaving ‘fees’ are all costs that have been created in recent years by and for Letting Agents to increase their profits and exploit the basic need to have a home.

Length of Tenure
Bring Back Secure Tenancies!
Until 1988 most tenancies were secure. Today, private tenants are given a six month tenancy with few rights. Across London, people are being evicted by landlords who know they can charge extortionate rents for substandard properties. Tenants should be able to live in their chosen community and home, near schools, friends and family, as long as they wish. Housing should not be a business like selling cars or renting holiday homes. Bringing back rent control will force rents down to affordable levels.

Tenant and Landlord Rights 
 
Decent Standards!
Less than half of private rented homes meet the Decent Homes Standard. Many homes in London are in an appalling, dangerous condition and it is often children, the elderly and vulnerable adults who are worse affected. The link between poor housing and the health, wellbeing and life chances of tenants is striking.
 
Tenant Empowerment!
The GLA should ensure that empowering tenants is central to the policy recommendations that come out of this review. Presently, landlords have many rights, and tenants have very few. This balance of power needs to be shifted so that tenants are empowered to enforce their right to be involved in all decision-making about their housing, from rent to maintenance to length of tenancy. The GLA should ensure that the voice of private tenants is heard at all levels of policy making. There is a tradition of landlords being thoroughly consulted in discussions about the private rented sector but tenants being ignored. The London Assembly has the power to see this change.
Private Tenants in London are mobilising! Why not get involved with a group near you? Or set one up of your own.

 

- Housing for the 99% .,..housingforthe99@gmail.com
- Digs – Hackney Private Renters Group.. hello@hackneyrenters.org
- Haringey Housing Action Group… housing-action@haringey.org.uk

December 18, 2012  Tags: , ,   Posted in: NEWS