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.
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.
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]