Prosecuting landlords and holding councils to account: Renters’ Rights

Activism in London doesn’t only come in the form of camps outside parliament and marches with placards – Renters’ Rights London is an online campaign group striving to improve renters’ difficulties through gathering rent information and unifying London renters.

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via CC 2.0

One way of protesting. Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski via CC 2.0

The Camden Federation of Private Tenants, having seen grass-roots rent-groups spring up in places like Hackney and Islington, founded the group in August 2014.

They attained funding from charitable organisation Trust for London, whose concentration on poverty and inequality demonstrates the extent of the renting problem in London.

Around two in five of those living below the poverty line in London rent privately.

Renters’ Rights most recent initiative collected data from 18 London boroughs to assess and compare councils’ efforts to tackle local private rent problems through a Renters’ Index.

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The Renters’ Rights league table – Islington rates the highest and Westminster the lowest. Picture credit: Renters’ Rights

The 10 criteria rate on a scale from one to five factors like the number of criminal prosecutions brought against a landlord, if there is a landlords’ licensing scheme and whether they have a direct phone line to assist renters.

Roost spoke to the group’s co-ordinator Rosie Walker.

Why are you campaigning?

The first reason is the cost – renters often have to pay half their salaries or more on rent, and there’s no benchmark for quality. Some people pay £1000 a month for a substandard home in a shared house.

The second thing is the insecurity. With a six-month minimum contract the landlord can do whatever he wants – chuck you out for no reason or put the rent up. It’s that constant insecurity that prevents people complaining about standards, which is the third problem: the terribly low standard of housing.

Conditions you didn't sign up for. Photo credit: Stephen via CC 2.0

Conditions you didn’t sign up for. Photo credit: Stephen via CC 2.0

Usually people won’t complain to their landlord because they don’t want to be evicted. That’s what pushed me into campaigning – I got evicted for asking for a new set of drawers which would have cost the landlord £70.

The situation pits renters against each other. I’ve seen it happen where a person moves in and they pay £800 a month when actually their room only costs £600 – the other tenants get a nice kickback. It’s horrible. We’re trying build solidarity.

Why have you produced the renters’ index?

It tells renters that their council is meant to get involved. Most people think the council is just for social housing, not realising that the council have a role to intervene when landlords are behaving badly and uphold standards.

Photo credit: Renters' Rights

Photo credit: Renters’ Rights

We’re trying to encourage renters to get involved with the struggle for change. For some people that means occupying buildings and having big marches but most people don’t have the time or energy to do that – it could be as basic as going to your local councillor and saying: “Can you please do something about my situation?”

If you’re gonna do that you have to know what you can ask the council to do. Some councils are doing good things, like introducing the landlord’s licensing scheme: these are the things you should be looking for.

We want to build up, over a few years, a base of renters across London who’d be able to tell us what the council is doing. It took us six months to compile the data.

How is the data set going to help improve conditions? 

It’s an indirect thing. We’re trying to revisit every six months or so to show what changed. Hopefully some councils will have changed.

We’ve sent it to existing renters’ groups in different boroughs to use as they want.

Some councils really are trying. We don’t back any party, but it does tend to be the Labour councils that are trying harder.

We encourage readers to get involved and tell us things that we should be including in the renters’ index. We want it to be a constantly evolving thing. We’re always looking for volunteers.

Follow Renters’ Rights @RentersLondon

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