Against the backdrop of spiralling rents and staggering evidence that life for London renters is unremittingly grim, the Greater London Authority (GLA) launched their inquiry into the private rented sector.
And coalition of London housing groups, recently formed to campaign for private tenants were not going to miss this opportunity to make their voices heard.
This morning activists from Digs, Brent Private Tenants Rights Group, Haringey Housing Action Group and Housing for the 99% gathered outside City Hall to present their demands to the GLA inquiry meeting.
With banners and housing themed carol songs, they carried out a lively 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. Passersby expressed support for the cause and spoke about their own bad experiences as London renters.
Inside the GLA meeting, a few activists brought the meeting to a standstill to deliver a book of ‘Letters to Santa’ 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.
The meeting heard from a panel of speakers representing 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.
David Lawrenson from consultancy firm LettingFocus read a quote from a well known mortgage lender who, like many others restricts the length of tenancies landlords can offer and stops 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 reprehensible.
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”.
Heather Kennedy 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.
Christine Haigh from Housing for the 99%, who delivered the scrapbook of ‘Letters to Santa’ to GLA Chair Len Duvall 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.
If you’d like to support Digs or any of the other private tenants group stand up for decent, secure, affordable housing, then please get in touch:
- Housing for the 99%: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Digs: email@example.com
- Haringey Housing Action Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Brent Private Tenants’ Rights Group: email@example.com
And if you’d like support setting up your own private tenants’ group to support renters in your area, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org