London renters campaign for better rights [Audio]

Pic: Julie Thing

Local tenants play Housing Crisis Chance Pic: Julie Thing

Tenant groups from across London have convened in Hackney to launch a new campaign called Let  Down. The groups are reacting to changes in the private rental market and fighting for improvements for renters by calling for lower rent, an end to fees for tenants, proper regulation of letting agents, and an end to discriminating against people on housing benefits.

“Not many people are aware of the roles that a letting agency might play,” said Bethan Steen from Tower Hamlets Renters. “Agency fees are something that anyone is familiar with, but because they are so hidden, they often get forgotten. We just want to raise awareness of those issues and let the people that are working in these agencies know that we are taking action against them.”

The campaign was kick-started with a day of action against letting agencies.  In Islington Green, a Monopoly-themed event was organized by campaigners from Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets. With banners, a megaphone and people dressed as tokens from the classic board game, the group marched to various local letting agents where they played a game called Housing Crisis Chance to compete for a flat in East London.

Local residents passed by and took part in the event. One of them was Moby who said he experienced the changes in the private rental market and thinks it has made London a place for rich people.

“It’s a social programme against people who are poorer,” he said. “If you have the money, great, but it’s getting to the point where people are getting turned into peasants again. You’re working and 50 per cent of your rent goes to the landlords.”

Another campaigner called Owen said the housing situation is a tragedy because people cannot get a home in an acceptable condition and he wants more rights for residents.

“I don’t think councils around London do nearly enough to protect private sector tenants,” he said. “…I think it’s right that people stand up, and come together to be able to say that it’s time for tenants’ rights to be respected.”

The high cost of buying a property has meant that more people are opting to rent. At the same  time renter’s conditions seem to be getting worse, with rising prices and letting agencies or landlords taking advantage of the demand for tenancies.

The renters market has traditionally consisted mainly of students but recent research conducted by Shelter shows that an increasing number of families are turning to the market because they cannot afford to buy a house.

Even though people now spend a longer period in private rented accommodation, most individual tenancies do not last more than a year, which is a standard length for a private rental contract. When the contract ends, the rent can be raised as much as the market allows and the landlord can change the terms of the contract.


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