Next action – Saturday 6 July

On Saturday 6 July, Digs (Hackney Renters) and Tower Hamlets Renters will be taking to the streets again to protest high rents and bad behaviour from letting agents. Stay tuned for more info soon, or email hello@hackneyrenters.org.

Want to get involved elsewhere? Check out the other groups involved in the campaign, or drop us a line at letdown.action@gmail.com and we can help out or put you in touch with other renters near you.

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Cease and Desist: the return of the Community Housing Inspectors

On 27 April, as part of a London-wide day of action against letting agents, 20 ‘Community Housing Inspectors’ went out to investigate the practices of local letting agents in Green Lanes, Haringey. The action was a follow-up inspection to one held six months earlier in October 2012, where members of Haringey Housing Action Group became ‘Community Housing Inspectors’ to expose the unwelcome practices that letting agents are engaged in.

Over 20,000 households in Haringey rent their homes from private landlords, and about half of these claim housing benefit to help meet the high costs. The greedy and discriminatory practices of letting agents are a huge problem for Haringey as well as London as a whole. Our inspections showed how local letting agents were promoting unaffordable rents, discriminating against benefit claimants and people on low wages, charging extortionate fees, and offering only insecure tenancies.

The second inspection was to find out if any of our demands for changes had occurred. We served Cease and Desist Orders* to eight letting agents found to be engaging with one or more examples of the above greedy and anti-social practices: Wilkinson Byrne, Easy Properties Ltd, A1 Estates, Hane Estates, Kings Lettings, Winkworth, Bairstow Eve, and Brian Thomas.

Report

Our inspections involved interviewing staff inside the various offices and then formally serving Cease and Desist orders on them. We informed the public of the anti-social practices and crimes being committed by the letting agents. Our inspectors cordoned off the entrances as a crime scene and gave out over 800 leaflets with our demands. There was great public support from passers by and cars honking their horns.

There were a range of responses. Winkworth and Bairstow Eve closed their doors and refused to answer our inspection survey. An employee at Brian Thomas admitted (before refusing further questions) that new company policy means that they now discriminate by refusing to accept people on housing benefit – a new development, as six months ago our inspection revealed they did. In fact, out of the eight visited three admitted refusal to accept people on benefits.Thomas

We were alarmed to note that Kings Group (who refused to answer our questions last year) require a guaranteed, provable, regular income of 2.5 times the rent before they will accept a tenant. This excludes a large number of tenants who have to try and live off the lowest wages in our society. Rather than this being company policy, they put the blame on the reference company (who they refused to name) who they say make this demand of them.

Another of the agents, Hane, recognised there was a serious problem with the lack of affordable housing but blamed the government and landlords. Easy Properties also agreed with us that people should not be forced to move due to high rents, but denied any responsibility on their part and called on the council to do all they could to support tenants in this situation.

There was not enough time to stop at every letting agent along Green Lanes, but we already had information that others, for example Paul Simon and Anthony Pepe, were little different from the ones above. We agreed to continue to monitor and visit all letting agents in the area.

Find out more and get involved at www.haringeyhousingaction.org.uk

* A cease and desist order is an order or request to halt an activity (cease) and not to take it up again later (desist) or else face legal action. The recipient of the cease-and-desist may be an individual or an organisation.

The Cease and Desist order gave notice to the above Letting Agents, as of Sat 27th April 2013, to cease and desist from committing any further anti-social behaviour and/or crimes against tenants, including one or all of the following:
– Ensuring an unaffordable housing market [In contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25]
– Discrimination against people on benefits [In contravention of the UK Equality Act, 2010]
– Charging of fees/extortion [In contravention of the Rent (Scotland Act), 1984 which should be extended to rest of UK]
– Supporting mass tax avoidance by Landlords [In contravention of Fraud Act 2006 – Sections 9 and 12]

Renters play housing crisis Monopoly

As part of the day of action, renters from Hackney, Islington and Tower Hamlets gathered outside high street letting agents on Upper Street near Angel to demand an end to rip off fees, spiraling rents and exploitation of private tenants.

Renters hold a 'Housing crisis Monopoly' banner outside FoxtonsThe local campaign groups staged a series of fun, theatrical actions outside letting agents Foxtons, Savills and Faron Sutaria. They invited members of the public to play a game of ‘Housing Crisis Monopoly’ to highlight the negative impact of letting agents in the current housing crisis and the vulnerable position of tenants.

Londoners dressed as letting agents and Monopoly characters invited the public to play ‘Housing Crisis Chance’ and compete for a London flat. The action was led by London Renters’ own dastardly letting agent, played expertly by Danny Coakley, a member of Tower Hamlets Renters, who also features in this video.

The public gathered on the streets to watch the actions and shared their own bad experiences with letting agents. Raj Singh, a private tenant who came along to the event, said: “When I arrived at today’s action I realised just how wide the problem of letting agents in London is. A few days ago I’d have assumed that a private tenant who gets evicted has done something wrong but speaking to people today I realise people get evicted all the time for no reason.”Renters play housing crisis Monopoly

Most high street letting agents will charge new tenants fees of between £100 and £500 for services such as reference checks, conducting an inventory or general ‘admin’ fees. It is thought the actual cost of a tenant reference check is between £5-£20. After moving in, many private tenants will also find themselves hit with fees of around £100-£300 to renew their tenancy agreement or check out of their property.

In Scotland, letting agents fees are illegal. Last autumn the law was tightened to crack down on agents charging tenants fees unlawfully.A renter holds up a chance card, showing how many tenants face discrimination

Campaigners are also calling for an end to discrimination against people on housing benefit. In 2012, researchers in Hackney found that less than 1% of private rented properties were available to people on housing benefit – either because they were unaffordable or because letting agents and landlords refused to let to housing benefit tenants.

Letting agents also have a significant role to play in the steep escalation of private rents. Shelter found that a fifth of landlords had increased their rents because letting agents had encouraged them to.

Meanwhile the opulence of high street letting agents such as Foxtons knows no bounds. Their fleets of branded minis and glimmering shop fronts with designer interiors leaves us more than slightly suspicious about what these “admin fees” are really being spent on. In Brixton and Islington on Saturday, branches of Foxtons thought nothing of splashing out on private security guards to man the doors in anticipation of our peaceful protests.

Find out more and get involved:
Tower Hamlets Renters: http://towerhamletsrenters.org/
Digs: http://hackneyrenters.org/
Islington Private Tenants: http://islingtonprivatetenants.org.uk/

Foxtons Brixton run scared of Community Housing Inspectors

With letting agents unregulated, south London renters formed their own ‘Community Housing Inspection’ team on Saturday to find out exactly what Brixton’s letting agents get up to. The Community Housing Inspection started at Eden Harper

The team of inspectors were clearly visible with hi-vis jackets and clipboards. When asked whether they were from the council, one of the inspectors explained: “We’re a group of local residents and today we’re conducting a Community Housing Inspection. We’re visiting all the lettings agents in central Brixton to ask about the fees they charge, the rents they recommend and how they handle offers from people on housing benefit.”

We also visited Haart

Letting agents Eden Harper and Haart were prepared to speak to the inspectors, and even talked candidly about their personal views on the need for more regulation in the industry.

But when the team arrived at Foxtons, two bouncers came to the door. They had been hired for the day and instructed to prevent the entry of anyone protesting high rents or dodgy letting agents’ practices. No-one would come out to even speak to them, with the security guards claiming that no one from the lettings team was available. Strange. Even stranger that they still weren’t there when the campaigners returned later in the day.Instead, a crowd of passers-by gathered with the team’s supporters and started to chant “Bring back Speedy Noodle!” in reference to a favourite Brixton eatery which had occupied the space on the high street before Foxtons arrived earlier this year.

We presented Foxtons with a certificate for being Brixton's worst letting agent

Foxtons were given a certificate for being Brixton’s worst letting agent

The protest ended with an awards ceremony, complete with bubbly, party poppers, a specially-written song, and a certificate presented to Foxtons for being Brixton’s worst letting agency, with “high fees, high rents, cowardly behaviour and services to gentrification”.

A member of the Community Housing Inspection Team summed the event up: “Rising rents are a real problem locally and we want to assess whether letting agents adhere to basic ethical standards. We plan to share the results of our inspection publicly and will use them to keep tabs on Brixton’s worst letting agents.”

You can also read reports of the event by the Brixton Blog and People’s Republic of Southwark. To get involved in housing action in south London, get in touch with HASL (Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth) or Southwark Private Tenants Group.