At South London Renters we’re used to paying rip-off rents and living in badly maintained housing with very little security. In fact, it’s the reason we set up the group. But at Dorchester Court, these problems have reached a whole other level.
The vast majority of the residents of the 96-flat art deco blocks in Herne Hill are tenants of a single private landlord, a company called Manaquel, which owns hundreds of properties. The estate was, until recently, managed by Property Partners, who previously made the headlines for having ‘anti-homeless spikes’ outside some of their buildings to prevent rough sleepers bedding down there.
Arriving at the estate, it’s immediately obvious that it has not been well maintained: wooden supports prop up the corners of the blocks, something that the tenants say they were told was a temporary measure – yet they’ve been there for three years. On the notice boards in the stairwells, there are signs warning people not to use their balconies because they may be unsafe.
At the same time, the tenants are facing huge rent increases, with one family’s rent increasing 100% in just two years. Many people, anxious to keep their homes and not wanting to leave their neighbours or disrupt their children’s education, have simply coughed up the extra and cut back elsewhere in their budgets. But the way rents have been rising, this is becoming more and more difficult.
The residents describe what a great community there is on the estate, with summer parties and socials. But already there are less families with children living on the estate, as increasingly only households where several adults share and don’t have the cost of supporting children can afford to live there.
While people have tried to challenge the rent rises and maintenance issues, several have subsequently been served eviction notices. Since the 1990s, the law has meant that renters have been at risk of ‘no fault’ evictions, where the landlord can decide to evict them without having to provide any reason. Challenging rent rises or the landlord’s failure to make repairs is a great way to find an eviction notice posted through your door.
Several of the tenants who have been there for years, including one who has raised her family there over a 21-year period, are now due to lose their homes over the next few months. Some people have also been given eviction notices with the claim that the company wants to make renovations – even though the residents know of cases where people have been moved out in these circumstances only for a new tenants to be moved in immediately, without any upgrade to the flat.
But with soaring rents, poor conditions and now the threat of eviction for those who remain in Dorchester Court and little better on offer in this part of south London, the renters are planning a campaign to demand an end to the unfair rents rises and aggressive behaviour of the landlord which is breaking up their community. They are also demanding that the necessary repairs and maintenance to the blocks is done properly and on time.
It’s a tough battle, but there’s little choice. And as Tower Hamlets Renters have shown, it is possible to win: after a member of their group was threatened with eviction after complaining about dangerous conditions in the privately-rented block where he lived, they organised a campaign to prevent the eviction and force the council to take action against the landlord.