Over the past few months we’ve been talking with renters all over Hackney and gathering stories, at local soup kitchens, churches, support groups and from our friends and family. The stories were of incompetent landlords and agents, rip-off rents and uninhabitable conditions and endemic failings in a private rented sector that’s bursting at the seams. We wrote the stories up into a swanky Tell Us Your Story dossier and with renters who had shared their story, agreed a list of demands!
These are the demands we put to councillors and election candidates in our Tell Us Your Story action:
1) Increasing Security of Tenure:
– Hackney Council to take the lead in improving security by making it a mandatory condition of all those landlords advertising through the new Council Lettings’ Agency to offer 3 and 5 year fixed term contracts as well as 1 year
– To put this into planning regulations, so that newly let properties in new developments also have to offer 3 and 5 year contracts
– To extend this Borough wide to all landlords in the future
2) Educating Tenants:
– Implement a blanket marketing scheme of tenants rights designed by Digs and Hackney Council together which will be advertised in highly visible places across the Borough- for example Camden Council’s use of bus stops
3) Landlord licensing:
We are pleased to see that greater regulation of landlords in both the Labour and Green manifestos, and we welcome the scrutiny commission on this topic. We believe any future landlord licensing scheme should be an effective mechanism whereby tenants are able to enforce their rights without penalisation:
– Digs and other tenants should be key partners in the design of any landlord licensing scheme
– For penalties to landlords to be clear and proportionate
– Funds raised through a licensing scheme to be ring fenced and spent on improving the Private Rented Sector by increasing the Council’s capacity for enforcement and tenants support in the Borough
– For minimum standards to be developed with tenants which are enforceable on landlords; damp, mould and cold are not acceptable living conditions
4) Better Enforcement:
– Hackney Council’s current PRS team should see action through on health and safety issues/repairs even after a tenant has vacated the property so that landlords have less of an incentive to evict
– For serious cases to be checked on, even after resolution every 6 months for 2 years to ensure compliance
We believe this dossier is an interesting snapshot of what the PRS is like in Hackney for many tenants, especially at the lower end of the market. After the election, we would like a meeting with Jules Pipe, Clayeon McKenzie, Charlotte Graves and the new cabinet member for housing policy.
We were very pleased that these councillors and candidates came along; Councillor Clayeon MacKenzie (Labour), Councillor Karen Alcock (Labour), Mayoral Candidate Mischa Borris (Greens) candidate Charlotte George (Greens) as well as a Liberal Democrat election candidate. Conservative councillors were invited but we received no reply.
There was cross party support for landlord licensing and Digs will be hoping to feed into the development of the council’s licensing scheme as much as possible to make sure it responds to the needs of renters. There was also cross party agreement that more needed to be done to educate renters, and Digs have already been working with council officers on this. We’ll keep pushing for the council to take a more proactive approach to teaching renters about their rights – we’d like to see renter rights advertised in bus stops, in the same way the Right-to-Buy scheme has been advertised. Currently we think Hackney council could be doing more.
On insecurity of tenure, Digs are talking to housing lawyers about whether the new council lettings scheme could require landlords to offer longer tenancies. Labour councillors who have introduced this scheme though were keen to reassure us that the scheme has been devised partly to increase security for renters. We really want to make sure this scheme does all it can to support some of the most vulnerable people in Hackney who are pushed into homelessness and and dire private rented accommodation.
We’d really like to see the council step up their enforcement against landlords breaking the law, especially with regards illegal evictions where we think a lot more could be done.