Robbie de Santos
Robbie de Santos

By Robbie de Santos

Action for renters?

I like the idea of people power – people on their own or coming together to resolve issues in the market. It’s something we hear a lot of at Shelter – we get sent lots of suggestions to help tenants make educated choices, such as tenant training and tripadvisor-style websites.

But until recently, examples of real hands-on private renters campaigning were few and far between, save for the likes of longstanding groups in Brent, Camden, Scarborough and Blackpool.

In the last few months we’ve seen a new generation of local private renting campaigns set up – the Cally Cows campaign was set up after the Secret History of Our Streets programme on Caledonian Road brought together the tenants of a landlord who owns a lot of property on the north London street.

Just up the road, the newly formed Haringey Housing Action Group protested outside a letting agent a few weekends ago in response to an alleged scam on fees. And over in South London, the newly formed Housing for the 99% campaign was protesting outside the National Landlords Association headquarters.

Unlike people living on a purpose-built estate, private tenants may not know they share a landlord with their neighbours – they may have never even met their landlord (I never did). So it can take an event like a television programme to expose people’s common suffering, show the bigger picture and encourage people to take action.

However, some tweets over the weekend suggested taking action was not without its consequences. The Cally Cows Twitter account reported that eviction notices were being served on some of the tenants of the landlord in question – the suggestion was that tenants who were following the Twitter account were singled out and issued Section 21 notices, which were dropped through their letter boxes over the weekend.

This must have been a depressing reminder of how fragile renting a home is; how, even if you pay your rent and look after your home, you can be given two months’ notice any time after your first six months is up.

Of course good landlords want to keep good, reliable tenants. But the landlords that give their tenants most concern – those for whom tenant action is most needed – are surely least likely to worry about the consequences of turfing their tenants out for taking action. A big disincentive for tenants campaigning to improve the practice of their landlord.

I can only imagine we’re going to see more of this in the coming years, as more and more people rent for longer, as competition for affordable private rents increases, and as a growing number of low to middle income households have no other option but to rent, and start to get angry at their lot. The longstanding private tenants groups have recently joined forces as the National Private Tenants Organisation, which is seeking to expand and develop tenant action – it’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds.

Shelter is always looking to hear your stories about renting – do send an email to bill_rashleigh@shelter.org.uk if you would be keen to share your story.

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