Lenny’s story reveals the lack of security for tenants in the private rental sector in London.
Lenny*, who works at a publishing company, and his partner Stephanie*, a university lecturer, had called their flat in Hackney their home for the past 15 years until they were evicted for complaining about an unfair rent hike.
While they loved the area, the flat itself had lots of problems. Like other tenants in the private rental market, Lenny and Stephanie were too worried about negative consequences to contact their landlord, and so remained silent despite a long list of things that needed repairing.
“Everything was falling to pieces. The floor was disintegrating. The doors were coming off their hinges. The front door was collapsing. There were damp stains everywhere”, says Lenny. “It was a really run-down flat. The tradeoff was that rent hadn’t gone up as rapidly as other places in the area.”
While the flats in the building that Lenny and Stephanie lived in are owned by different private landlords, the building itself is in a council estate. When Hackney council decided to have the buildings in this estate rewired, the landlords were charged individually.
“The bill was something like £5000 each,” said Lenny. “When our contract came up for renewal the next month, our landlord said he was going to put up our rents, as he does every year, plus the sum he had to pay for the repairs, spread over a five-year period”.
Stephanie and Lenny were frustrated. Not only was the upkeep of their flat neglected and their rent increased every year, now they were expected to pay for the rewiring of their building, despite having paid £150,000 in rent over the past fifteen years.
“Everything was falling to pieces. The floor was disintegrating. The doors were coming off their hinges. The front door was collapsing.”
Instead of paying, Stephanie and Lenny tried to strike a deal with their landlord; they would agree to a rent increase consistent with the rate of inflation, but they would not pay the £5000 bill for the electric works.
The landlord “immediately threw a tantrum” said Lenny. He claimed, as there was a clause in their contract stating that the tenants needed to inform the landlord if repairs were needed, that Lenny and Stephanie were in breach of contract as they were only just informing him of these repairs. He concluded that, as a consequence of this clause, they had lost all of their rights.
This was exactly what Lenny and Stephanie had been trying to avoid. After an extended dialogue, where the landlord was reminded of how little work he had had to do with such quiet tenants for such a long period, he agreed to sign one more six month tenancy, after which he would move back in, refurbish the flat and sell it.
“Now it will inevitably be refurbished to the standards of what I assume will be young professionals and let out by a letting agent,” said Lenny. “One fewer flat rented at a price available to a community of renters who can’t afford the astronomical rent increases”.
*All names and identities have been changed to protect those involved.