Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Tenant troubles

The past year has seen the beginnings of a vibrant private tenants’ movement emerging. Christine Haigh reports

February 13, 2013
4 min read

In July last year, radical housing group Housing Solidarity took up the case of three private tenants in east London who found themselves stuck at the centre of a dispute between the landlord of their new flat and the letting agent, Victorstone Property Consultants. The landlord had changed the locks, leaving the would-be tenants without their new home or the £3,451 they’d paid for rent and deposit. While they managed to recover some of the money from the landlord, Victorstone had held on to around £1,200 that it refused to repay. The money was only returned after Housing Solidarity organised scores of people to call, email and fax Victorstone. Within two hours the company had caved in.

This is just one example of new groups using direct action casework, an organising model that had its roots in the unemployed workers movement of the Great Depression, when people organised to demand their basic needs were met by relief offices. Today, the model has been adopted by the London Coalition Against Poverty, whose members Hackney Housing Group and Haringey Solidarity Group’s housing action group have both won victories in cases where families were at risk of homelessness due to eviction by private landlords.

With sky-rocketing rents for what is often poor quality and insecure accommodation, and those on low incomes being hit by no fewer than seven different cuts to housing support, it’s no surprise private tenants are starting to fight back. But historically, private tenants have been notoriously badly organised, lacking the community links and a common and publicly-recognisable landlord.

And the problems of private tenant organising cannot be underestimated. Many private tenants don’t even know who their own landlord is, let alone whether there are any other tenants and if so where and who. Insecurity of tenure exacerbates the problem, as private landlords can easily evict ‘troublesome’ tenants.

Although there have long been a handful of private tenants organisations, the rise in activism has been driven mainly by newer grassroots groups with a younger demographic and new ways of organising, communicating and taking action. Instead of replicating the committee meetings, annual reports, and formal structures of traditional tenants groups, these new groups generally work with more open structures and have much greater propensity to use social media and direct action tactics, often based on individual struggles.

In May, concerned about the impact of housing benefit cuts on private tenants in the borough, the Haringey group organised a public event to bring people together. One of the outcomes was a specific focus on the problems faced by private tenants, inspiring actions such as a ‘community housing inspection’ of local letting agents, which exposed discrimination against housing benefit claimants, inflated fees, insecure tenancies and extortionate rents.

2012 also saw the establishment of the vibrant Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group. This has already seen success after its targeting of letting agents over tenants’ fees led the Scottish government to clarify that all such fees are illegal in Scotland. Again tailoring action to tackle problems faced by their members, in July the group converged at the offices of DJ Alexander, some of them in TV cop costumes inspired by the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’ video, and designated it a crime scene due to the illegal fees the agency was charging.

Similar creative tactics were adopted by the Hackney private renters’ group Digs and other housing campaigners, who held an action in December to coincide with the national day of action called by UK Uncut. More than 50 people shut down a branch of Starbucks for an hour to hold a ‘housewarming party’ highlighting the cuts’ impact on access to decent housing.

To date, most of the new groups have worked within existing structures, albeit in novel and often powerful ways, to deliver results. But there are clearly limits to this approach, and demands for reform, including rent controls, increased rights for tenants, such as greater security of tenure, and more stringent requirements of landlords, are already being made.

But for many campaigners there is also recognition that the problems faced by private tenants cannot be tackled in isolation. The private rented sector is an expensive way to house people and delivers the worst outcomes in terms of decency and security, with the exception of temporary accommodation.

So different groups are increasingly working together to call for more and better access to other housing tenures, particularly more social housing. They are situating calls for reform within a wider critique of the current housing system, and rejecting the market as a just or effective means of distributing access to this fundamental human right.

Illustration by Martin Rowson

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny

Universal credit isn’t about saving money – it’s about disciplining unemployed people
The scheme has cost a fortune and done nothing but cause suffering. So why does it exist at all? Tom Walker digs into universal credit’s origins in Tory ideology

Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke

The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana

Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth

Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company

You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild

Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University

This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback

Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein

Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up

Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement

‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic

Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden

There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright

Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones

‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression

Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death

‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum

The rights and safety of LGBTQ+ people are not guaranteed – we must continue to fight for them
Kennedy Walker looks at the growth in hate attacks at a time when the Tory government is being propped up by homophobes

Naomi Klein: the Corbyn movement is part of a global phenomenon
What radical writer Naomi Klein said in her guest speech to Labour Party conference

Waiting for the future to begin: refugees’ everyday lives in Greece
Solidarity volunteer Karolina Partyga on what she has learned from refugees in Thessaloniki

Don’t let Uber take you for a ride
Uber is no friend of passengers or workers, writes Lewis Norton – the firm has put riders at risk and exploited its drivers

Acid Corbynism’s next steps: building a socialist dance culture
Matt Phull and Will Stronge share more thoughts about the postcapitalist potential of the Acid Corbynist project

Flooding the cradle of civilisation: A 12,000 year old town in Kurdistan battles for survival
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited places on earth, but a new dam has put Hasankeyf under threat, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson

New model activism: Putting Labour in office and the people in power
Hilary Wainwright examines how the ‘new politics’ needs to be about both winning electoral power and building transformative power

What is ‘free movement plus’?
A new report proposes an approach that can push back against the tide of anti-immigrant sentiment. Luke Cooper explains

The World Transformed: Red Pepper’s pick of the festival
Red Pepper is proud to be part of organising The World Transformed, in Brighton from 23-26 September. Here are our highlights from the programme

Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it

The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going


57