Bigger and better things

Housing for the 99% has disbanded.

Housing for the 99% began in 2012 as a callout to those, especially in London, concerned about the growing housing crisis. One particular focus was those renting from private landlords, from and for whom there was little campaigning or activism at the time.

Since there, many new groups have formed around aspects of the housing crisis, and existing groups have begun working more closely together. There are now 9 private tenants groups in London, working together through the London Renters coalition. And the Radical Housing Network has been set up to facilitate sharing of support, ideas and resources between different housing groups more widely.

Those who initial made links around this callout are organising through the Radical Housing Network and/or London Renters and so there’s no longer the same role for Housing for the 99% to serve as a platform or forum for organising or sharing information.

But there’s still plenty to be done to tackle the housing crisis, which continues to worsen. You can get involved with either of these networks:

Radical Housing Network
housingnetwork[at]lists[dot]riseup[dot]net

London Renters
londonrenters[at]riseup[dot]net

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The minority report: a Tory translation guide

So opposed were the Conservative members of the London Assembly’s Housing and Regeneration Committee to the modest recommendations of the committee’s recent report on ways of improving London’s dysfunctional private rented housing sector, they published their own report to explain why they refused to support them.

This handy guide helps you understand what they really mean…

Andrew BoffRoger EvansSteve O'Connell

Conservative members of the London Assembly’s Housing and Regeneration Committee.

They said: A.1 The GLA Conservative Members agree with much of what has been written in this report. However, there are several key issues where we disagree with the majority of the Committee. These are: rent control, compulsory registration of landlords, the Mayor’s London Rental Standard and retaliatory eviction.
They meant: We’ve not got the energy to argue with the overwhelming evidence that private renting in London is a total disaster for tenants. But we are not going to let you get away with recommendations that might actually improve things if enacted.

Rent control

A.2 In our view any artificial controls on rent in the private sector, either through traditional rent control or ‘rent stabilisation’ measures, would be an unwise and counter-productive policy that would ultimately lead to failure.
We are ideologically opposed to anything other than free markets. Rents must be allowed to rise unchecked, even as they push increasing proportions of London’s population into overcrowded housing, poverty or homelessness.

A.3 Artificial rent controls would deter this new investment in housing supply, including the institutional investment that we would all wish to see.
Actually, the market isn’t really delivering more housing. Even massive investors don’t want to build more homes. But claiming that stopping them charging unlimited rents would make them even less likely might help stave off attempts to bring in the type of measures that existing to control rents in most developed countries.

A.4 Rent control would also reduce the amount of money available to landlords to improve their properties and would therefore be likely to lead to reduced standards in rented properties.
Despite London rents rising at a rate far above wages and inflation, and only 4% of landlords raising rents due to increased costs, the reason landlords don’t do repairs is because they’re too poor.

A.5 Ultimately, whilst we understand why people would want to see artificial  controls on rent, we believe that this would be a quick fix that would ultimately harm London’s housing market and reduce the supply of new homes.
Ultimately, whilst we understand why people would want something to be done about high rents, we’re afraid our opposition to anything which might damage landlords’ ability to profiteer means it’s tough.

Compulsory landlord registration

A.6 We would not support not support a compulsory blanket registration of landlords in London, as suggested by the other Committee Members. We believe that such a scheme would be impractical as it would focus resources on targeting good landlords rather than dealing with rogue landlords.
We’ve been convinced by big housing charities that the problem is limited to a handful of rogue landlords. Other landlords never do anything wrong and shouldn’t even have to let their local authority know that they exist, even if they’re receiving thousands of pounds of housing benefit.

A.7 It is unclear whether the Mayor or local authorities would be responsible for this. It would be much better for local authorities to focus on rigorously enforcing the existing regulations that they already have.
Since we haven’t decided who would carry out this yet, it can’t happen. Even though it would make it easier for local authorities to enforce existing regulation at a time when their budgets have been slashed.

London Rental Standard

A.8 We support the Mayor’s London Rental Standard as an important initiative and strongly feel that it should be given the chance to succeed. As the scheme is still being implemented, it is too early to judge whether or not the scheme has delivered a ‘step change’.
Even though Boris’ current approach to improving the private rented sector is business as usual so won’t result in any change, we think we can get away with doing nothing for a bit longer at least – and fully intend to.

A.9 A key concept of the London Rental Standard is to encourage landlords to voluntary(sic) sign up and improve their standards. The priority should be to maximise the number of landlords voluntarily signing up, resulting in more landlords adopting agreed standards and practices. Therefore, if at this point the standard is set so high as to put it out of the reach of many landlords, this will clearly be counter-productive to that aim.
A key concept in the London Rental Standard is to make the standards as weak as possible in an effort to get landlords to sign up to it. So we obviously can’t allow the standards to be raised above the current legal minimum.

A.10 We are also not persuaded of the merits of a single badge of accreditation. We are concerned that it would undermine the different accreditation schemes that exist in London at the very time that they need to be strengthened.
We are also not persuaded to support anything to make this accreditation scheme recognisable to tenants across London. We wouldn’t want it to actually work – bad landlords rely on tenants’ lack of information to rip them off.

Retaliatory eviction

A.11 We do not believe it is appropriate or helpful to call for the removal of “Section 21” eviction powers for landlords. There is a delicate balance to be struck between the rights of landlords and tenants, but we believe that landlords should ultimately have the right to reclaim the use of their own property. The problems in defining or establishing the existence of a “legitimate complaint” make this recommendation unworkable in practice.
We believe that landlords should ultimately have the right to evict their tenants for any reason. The landlord should certainly not have to show that the tenant had done something wrong – because then they couldn’t suddenly decide there was more money to be made from renting out a different property or to better-off tenants.

A.12 However, we would be happy to see a review of housing legislation to see if sensible safeguards can be introduced for tenants.
However, being seen to oppose efforts to stop retaliatory eviction doesn’t look good. The nasty party’s been rebranded, you know. So let’s say that we’d be OK with a junior civil servant looking at current legislation to check that tenants definitely don’t have any rights or safeguards when it comes to no-fault eviction (but don’t worry – we’re not actually going to ask for this review to happen).

The full minority report can be accessed on pages 47 and 48 of the committee’s main report, Rent Reforms.

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Let Down – and fighting back

Will April be the month when letting agents wish they hadn’t pushed it quite so far?

In less than two weeks time, MPs will vote on a piece of legislation known as the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform bill. Last month, in the House of Lords, Dianne Hayter added a clause which would require letting agents, currently unregulated, to face the same requirements as estate agents, requiring them to belong to an Ombudsman Scheme and enabling the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to ban those who act improperly.

While it certainly isn’t going to solve all the problems A private tenant protests against high rentsprivate tenants currently face, it would be a small step in the right direction. But to get this amendment passed will need a lot of support – so Islington Private Tenants have produced a handy letter which you can send to your MP.

Meanwhile, if you think action is still needed to tackle rip-off fees (illegal in Scotland), discrimination against housing benefit claimants, and letting agents’ role in pushing up rents, you probably need to join the day of action being organised by London Renters, a coalition of private tenants groups across the capital.

To get inspired and link up with others taking action, come along to the skillshare being organised on Saturday at 2pm at St George’s Town Hall, 236 Cable Street, London E1 0BL (map).

See you there or on the streets!

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London sees tenants fighting back

“Housing for the 99%” was the call last May from a couple of private tenants, angry at spiraling rents and cuts to housing benefit and concerned that the resistance didn’t meet the scale of the attacks on people’s right to housing. In less than a year since, there has been an explosion in housing activism in London and further afield.

Where there were once just two private tenants’ groups in the capital, there are now eight and counting, with boroughs including Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Southwark and Tower Hamlets all seeing new groups set up. Next month these groups are joining forces for a day of action highlighting the extortionate fees being charged by letting agents, and their role in pushing up rents.

Meanwhile, social tenants have joined forces to resist the introduction of the bedroom tax from next month, with last weekend seeing around 50 protests across the country.

But there are also efforts to join up housing struggles and avoid divide and rule tactics with, for example, social tenants being pitted against private tenants, many of whom have been forced into private accommodation by a chronic shortage of social housing. The government is set on a race to the bottom, with social tenants being hit by increasing rents and attacks on secure tenancies reflective of the dire state of the private sector.

This coming week sees the launch of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth (HASL) in south London, an attempt to replicate the successful model of London Coalition Against Poverty’s Hackney and Haringey housing action groups, which use a direct action casework approach to supporting members to solve each others’ housing problems – whatever their housing situation. The group’s first meeting is at 7.30pm on Wednesday 27 March at Kings Cafe, 120 Denmark Hill, Camberwell, SE5 8RX.

Based on recent trends, it will be the first of many more!

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London landlords 1 – private tenants 0

Reading Boris’ plan for the private rented sector is certainly an eye-opener.

On one hand it’s a deserved indictment of London’s fastest growing housing tenure: a virtually lawless sector consisting of unregulated letting agents, endemic health and safety problems, little awareness by landlords of their obligations, poor enforcement by under-resourced local authorities, pathetically low levels of landlord licensing or accreditation, and acute overcrowding (euphemistically termed “making best use of London’s existing housing stock”). It also flags the inherent tensions and problems with the sector, such as the fact that insecurity for tenants is actually good for letting agents and landlords.

Unfortunately, there are some pretty fundamental omissions, such as recognition of the way in which spiralling rents have been inflating the housing benefit bill to the advantage of landlords not tenants, and the difficulties of private tenant organising (which the proposals claim to want to support) when few tenants share the same landlord, have little chance of finding each other, and risk retaliatory eviction if they do try to organise, as the Cally Cows discovered to their cost last year.

Also unacknowledged is the inability of the sector to provide decent housing at anything like a reasonable rent – something that should be obvious with statements such as “properties that require the largest amount of investment are also the ones that generate the lowest rental yields” while large investors “must allow for much higher management and repair costs in order to justify higher rents”. There’s clearly a pretty fundamental problem when London rents, which for the average two-bedroom home currently take up 47 per cent of median income, are way above the level considered affordable (35 per cent), yet the report claims “one of the key factors behind poor conditions in London’s private rented sector (PRS) is that rental yields are too limited to finance capital expenditure on any significant scale”.

Then there’s the misrepresentations, such as the private rented sector being an option (the Hills review found that only eight per cent of private tenants would stay in the sector if they had a choice) or the main problem being rogue landlords (a myth perpetuated by big housing charities; in reality, the vast majority of tenants have had problems with their landlord, whether it be harassment, getting repairs done, or massive rent increases).

Add the tenuous argument about the private rented sector’s contribution to London’s housing supply (the report recognises that 80 per cent of PRS supply has come from conversion of other housing tenures, i.e. not increased overall housing supply at all; the fact that the PRS accounts for two-thirds of new market homes in London reflect how little housing for its owners to actually live in is being built) and jobs (when clearly construction of any type of housing would create employment and homes, regardless of the tenure it was to become on completion) and the picture is becoming seriously distorted.

But what stands out most blatantly is the cosy relationship between Boris and the industry, and his strategy’s ideological opposition to any kind of regulation, despite the evident problems of poor conditions and high rents caused by deregulation. The tenuous argument that regulation would reduce supply (one can only assume they think it would cause existing rental properties to vanish into thin air) and increase costs (the Mayor has clearly never visited countries like France or Germany where rent increases are controlled) is of course unsubstantiated.

The result is “commitments” such as promises to “work with industry”, and “support” and “promote” a voluntary standard for voluntary accreditation schemes (yes, you read that right – City Hall won’t actually be accrediting anyone itself) which barely go beyond existing legal requirements, and create a conflict of interest since competing accreditors will inevitably look to make their schemes as undemanding as possible to join so as to attract paying landlords and letting agents.

Unfortunately, voluntary accreditation schemes aren’t going to make a blind bit of difference. When the London Borough of Newham launched a voluntary scheme in 2011, only two per cent of landlords joined. As the Mayor’s own report shows, the existing accreditation schemes include less than 12,000 landlords – a miniscule fraction of the hundreds of thousands renting out property in London.

In fact, voluntary accreditation schemes are likely to exacerbate housing inequalities, since only landlords at the top end of the market are likely to go the extra mile to become accredited, benefitting better-off tenants who can afford their higher rents, while those renting the cheapest properties are least likely to have an accredited landlord or see any improvement in standards.

Add to the fact that it is difficult enough for tenants to find a decent property without thinking about whether their landlord has a logo to say they probably won’t break the poorly-enforced law, and the inevitable difficulties in making sure that landlords comply with the schemes or are removed if they don’t, and you can pretty much forget about seeing any improvements.

Quite simply, BoJo’s commitment to private tenants isn’t worth the paper it’s written on. Housing is a basic human need and right, not a luxury for consumers that can afford it. Our dysfunctional housing system is in urgent need of a major overhaul, not a license to continue business as usual. We need tough regulation to protect tenants, and public money invested in decent, genuinely affordable, publicly-owned housing stock rather than lining the pockets of unscrupulous landlords. Just don’t hold your breath with the current mayor.

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In the bleak midwinter…we went to demand tenants rights

This morning we headed down to London’s City Hall with members of Haringey Housing Action Group, Digs and Brent Private Tenants Rights Group to demand decent, secure and affordable housing for London’s renters. City Hall protest Dec 12 022

We arrived ahead of the final meeting of the London Assembly housing committee’s review of the private rented sector, where tenants’ voices have been few and far between, to make sure they got the message that private tenants are sick of being ripped off, paying extortionnate rents for poor quality, insecure housing.

4 protesters

After a good protest and housing-themed carol-singing, we headed in to the meeting to deliver a scrapbook of Christmas messages from private tenants to the chair of the committee.

While the conclusion of the meeting was a long way from a commitment to the changes we need – including greater responsibilities for landlords, controls on spiralling rents, and an end to letting agent fees like in Scotland, it seems like momentum is gathering and our message is starting to be heard. See you on the streets!

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Private tenants demand decent secure affordable homes for all!

Join us at London’s City Hall on Tuesday 18th December to stand up for the rights of private tenants to decent, affordable, secure homes.

When: Meet 8:45am, Tues 18th December
Where: Café Fratelli, behind City Hall, The Queen’s Walk, London SE1 2AA (click for map)

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/400399076707182/?context=create

We have linked up with Haringey Housing Action Group and Digs to demand that rent controls are brought back, local housing allowance (LHA) is increased with inflation, secure tenancies are reintroduced and greater protection and support is given to private tenants.

A private tenant protests against high rentsOn Tuesday 18th Dec the London Assembly Housing and Regeneration Committee are holding their last meeting as part of the review of London’s Private Rented Sector. The theme of this meeting is ‘tenant and landlord rights’. Tenants have been given little voice in the process so far, so come and join other private tenants and supporters to make our demands known and put pressure on those attending to stand up for private tenants.

Bring banners, Santa hats, placards, lots of noise ..and warm clothing…

Tenants have adapted some classic carols to the theme of housing and will be singing on the day, so come ready with your best singing voice

The meeting
The meeting starts at 10am, and is a public meeting. Some of us are planning to go in after the protest outside as we want to make the presence of tenants and supporters felt, so please join us. At the start, we’ll be presenting our Christmas messages and ‘Dear Santa’ scrapbook to the Chair of the Committee, Len Duvall. Click here to submit your private housing ‘Dear Santa’ message.

Private tenants demand…

Affordability

  • Bring rents down! Housing is a basic necessity, like food and water. Actions to maximize rental income at the detriment of tenants show this has been forgotten. Rent controls do exist on pre-1989 tenancies and we demand these controls be introduced to all tenancies.
  • Remove all bogus letting agents ‘fees’ for tenants! Letting Agents provide a service to Landlords and charge them for doing so – they should not take further ‘fees’ from tenants. Agency ‘fees’, reference ‘checks’, admin ‘fees’ and leaving ‘fees’ are all costs that have been created in recent years by and for Letting Agents to increase their profits and exploit the basic need to have a home.

Security of Tenure

  • Bring back secure tenancies! Until 1988 most tenancies were secure. Today, private tenants are given a six month tenancy with few rights. Across London, people are being evicted by landlords who know they can charge extortionate rents for substandard properties. Tenants should be able to live in their chosen community and home, near schools, friends and family, as long as they wish. Housing should not be a business like selling cars or renting holiday homes. Bringing back rent control will force rents down to affordable levels.


Tenant Rights 

  • Decent standards! Less than half of private rented homes meet the Decent Homes Standard. Many homes in London are in an appalling, dangerous condition and it is often children, the elderly and vulnerable adults who are worse affected. The link between poor housing and the health, wellbeing and life chances of tenants is striking.
  • Tenant Empowerment! The GLA should ensure that empowering tenants is central to the policy recommendations that come out of this review. Presently, landlords have many rights, and tenants have very few. This balance of power needs to be shifted so that tenants are empowered to enforce their right to be involved in all decision-making about their housing, from rent to maintenance to length of tenancy. The GLA should ensure that the voice of private tenants is heard at all levels of policy making. There is a tradition of landlords being thoroughly consulted in discussions about the private rented sector but tenants being ignored. The London Assembly has the power to see this change.

Private tenants in London are mobilising! Why not get involved with a group near you? Or set one up of your own.

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