Private tenants unionise and campaign to change unfair policies

Londoners across the capital have been forced to unionise to protect the rights of private renters.

Protest at Natwest in Forest Gate Pic: London Renter’s Union

Due to lax landlords and lazy councils, tenants who feel ignored have organised,  formed unions and changed policy.

In the past five years, The London Renters Union (LRU), Generation Rent and ACORN have sprung up to address the need that councils and landlords have been ignoring. The LRU began as a group of housing action associations called The Renters Power Project, formed out of angry tenants who knew that they could do better. Now they are a recognised union comprised of 1,500 members, and counting.

George Briley, one of the founding members of the LRU, explained why they were created in London in 2016: “At the beginning we saw the need to create London-wide solidarity to build power for renters. Now we aim to maximise this power by organising mutual support and building to take collective action where possible, to win the changes needed”.

The LRU helps renters to address flats in disrepair, unlawful eviction and unfair rent rises. Last year, Jay, a West London union member, was issued with a Section 21 notice,  which  gives the landlord the right to evict a tenant without an explanation. The government’s recent landmark decision to ban Section 21 notices has now prevented private landlords from evicting tenants at short notice.

For most renters, Section  21 was the end of the road, however, the LRU orchestrated an action on the morning of the eviction and were able to peacefully prevent the bailiff from entering the property. Now the union has grown to include branches of Newham and Leytonstone, Hackney and Lewisham.

Generation Rent is a campaign group. They do not have the capacity to protest or organise in the same way as the LRU. Instead, they mine information to help fuel the movement, campaigning by creating petitions that go hand-in- hand with the charity Shelter, for example, or ACORN, a nationwide renters union. Nadia Sultani received help from the LRU when she was evicted from her house by her landlord in 2017. “I called them the morning I was being evicted, I was so overwhelmed. Someone came to support me despite how early in the morning it was, and they helped me so much throughout that time”.

Generation Rent campaigns are created to help the movement as a whole. They can all be participated in by the public, and are created to support anyone who wants to be involved. Their innovations include building consultation response templates, which allow everyone, once downloaded, to contact the government to support their campaigns and have their voices heard. Their petitions are successful; some gain over 50,000 signatures. The campaign group work in tandem with charities and unions to strengthen the effect of their hard work. Hannah Slater, policy and public affairs manager at Generation Rent, has said that “‘Independent tenants’ voice organisations and renters’ unions are vital to re-balancing the landlord-tenant relationship”.

Generation Rent and the London Renters union welcomed a huge victory in March, in forcing Natwest to curb their discrimination against tenants receiving housing benefits. Natwest were shamed in the press last year for having a clause in their mortgage contract that meant landlords who had certain mortgages were forbidden from housing tenants who received housing benefit (DSS). Helena McAleer, a private landlord on a mission, started a petition to raise awareness around this discrimination rather than evicting her tenant who was on DSS. Generation Rent appealed to UK Government Investments and ACORN, and the LRU demonstrated outside branches across the country.

Their hard work paid off. On the first of March, Natwest announced that it would lift “all restrictions on landlords renting to tenants who are in receipt of housing benefits”. Shelter, a leading nationwide renters’ charity, was also involved as Natwest sought their advice in the ongoing campaign against the discrimination of DSS claimants.

The LRU, Generation Rent, the ACORN union and the New Economics Foundation – an organisation that addresses inequalities in our current economy – put together an organisation to “End Unfair Evictions and Abolish Section 21”, which was abolished on the April 15, 2019, making this another successful campaign London’s private renting campaigners.

Section 21 was the legislation at the root of so many problems in the private rental sector. It allowed landlords to evict tenants without cause, if they were at the end of a fixed tenancy – a minimum of six months – or if the tenants were on a periodic tenancy, which is common amongst those who are on a budget. This led to tenants being unceremoniously dismissed or finding themselves involuntarily homeless. “In lots of cases landlords do not really know how to safely rent out a flat” explained Danny Hayward, co-founder of the Hackney branch of the LRU. “My landlord bought his flat from his brother, who bought it from the council in the 1990s. He is an absentee landlord, we never hear from him. My case is typical”.

The petition was posted on not-for-profit political-activism organisation 38 Degrees, and gained huge traction with almost 60,000 signatures. Generation Rent and the London Renters Union lobbied the government by publicising who to write to and the most effective phrases to use. This combined effort garnered the support of the Green Party, the Labour Party and London Mayor Sadiq Khan and resulted in the scrapping of no-fault removals this month.

A poll conducted earlier this year by YouGov and City Hall found that over two-thirds of Londoners are in favour of capping rents in the city. The cost of the average private rent has increased by 38pc between 2005 and 2016. This environment has been a breeding ground for discrimination and negligence, creating serious stress and anguish and, in the worst cases, homelessness. But now help has sprung up for homelessness, the unions are getting stronger and the powers that be are starting to listen.

Follow our Rogue Landlords series this week to find out more about the difficulties of renting in London #RogueLandlords

Leave a Reply