Dorchester Court Day of Action

We went to the day of action to support our friends in Dorchester Court who have been treated dreadfully by their landlord Manaquel. Tenants spoke out about how they have been served Section 21 eviction notices and told they would be kicked out of the homes they’d lived in for years within three months if they didn’t accept rent increases of over £400 a month. We were also told that the landlord’s refusal to carry out maintenance and repairs meant that tenants had put in huge amounts of energy and money to make their homes habitable and then many had been evicted with all the benefits from this work going to Manaquel. Other tenants told us that Manaquel had demanded that the building management tell them who were the “ringleaders” of the tenants organisation so that they could evict them. Tenants told us that these were their homes and their community but Manaquel only saw them as a means of raking up money.

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Whilst lots of tenants came out to join in the day of action, some others stayed indoors, which given the level of intimidation from Manquel and private tenants’ lack of security is not surprising. It was, however, inspirational to see many tenants’ bravery in resisting Manquel’s abusive and exploitative treatment of them despite the very real threat of retaliatory eviction and the development of solidarity between them.

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More generally, the brave actions by Dorchester Court tenants show that there is a real capacity for tenants on estates or in blocks who all have the same landlords to resist and exercise collective power regardless of the scant legal protections that private tenants have. We have seen tenants in Chapman House in Tower Hamlets organise against evictions and only this week SOAS students living in cockroach infested halls have gone on rent strike. As one of the Dorchester Court tenants said, if the tenants act together they can defeat Manaquel and resist evictions and rent rises and get vital repairs done.

You can follow the campaign on Twitter @SaveDorcCt, or contact them at savedorcct@gmail.com to find out more.

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Support the Dorchester Court Day of Action

Our friends in Dorchester Court, who have been treated appallingly by their landlord, as we have written about before, are holding a day of action this Saturday, May 2nd. We would urge everyone to come along and show their support.

Our day of action (squeezed into 2 hours) Is happening next Saturday 2nd May from 12midday until 2pm on Dorchester Court, Herne Hill SE24 9QX. We will have banners for a press photo op which will then be on permanent display from residents balconies.

We are protesting our landlord/freeholder Manaquel Limited allowing the building to fall into disrepair while at the same time having massive rent hikes for tenants by as much as 60% in a single year. Anybody who questions these rises when their AST contract expires finds the landlord unwilling to renew and the tenant facing eviction.

We are saying enough! We ask those willing to stand with us to come and show their support.

Nearest train stop is Herne Hill or the 68, 468, 42 and P4 buses all come even closer. Bring your banners and your voices. Hope to see you there.

DC Resists

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Save the Dorchester Court community!

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.

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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.

Dorchester balcony sign

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.

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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.

You can follow the campaign on Twitter @SaveDorcCt, or contact them at savedorcct@gmail.com to find out more.

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South London Renters Statement on new protections against Retaliatory Evictions

The Deregulation Bill was agreed by Parliament this week and now awaits Royal Assent to become law. It contains a provision which prohibits ‘retaliatory evictions’ evictions of tenants who have complained to their landlords about the condition of their home – by limiting the use of Section 21 notices. This protection applies where:

a) tenants have made a complaint in writing to their landlord
b) the landlord has failed to adequately respond
c) the tenant has then complained to their local authority
d) the local authority has instructed the landlord to make improvements

This is a similar to Sarah Teather’s unsuccessful Private Member’s Bill last November, which we wrote about at the time.

While we welcome new legal protections for tenants, and hope that this will give renters more confidence in making complaints about the conditions of their homes, we maintain the reservations we have previously expressed. We know from experience that retaliatory evictions can happen in a vast range of circumstances besides situations in which a tenant has made a written complaint and that while Section 21 continues to give landlords a blanket power to evict tenants with no need for justification it will be virtually impossible to legislate against them. While this bill is certainly a step in the right direction, it highlights the need for greater statutory protections for private renters.

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Regulating landlords without hurting renters?

Last month at the reading and discussion group we hold with Southwark Tenants, we picked a pretty dry topic: regulating landlords. The reason was that, while many renters groups would like to see landlords better regulated so that tenants don’t have to put up with stuff like terrible housing conditions, repairs that are never done and illegal evictions, we were starting to hear concerns that the landlord licensing schemes that some local councils (including Southwark) are introducing might be creating problems for renters.

Among the group was someone who had worked in housing for a local council, so could give us some inside perspectives. One conclusion from the discussion was that some of the problems for tenants appeared to be able to be mitigated if the scheme was designed in particular ways or if it operated within a different legal situation (for example, if tenants were protected by rent controls and more secure tenancies), although it was unclear that this would be possible for all the concerns we identified.

Afterwards, a member of Southwark Tenants wrote this blog post with his take on our conversation, which we’re sharing here as part of a discussion of this issue, which we feel has so far lacked a progressive critique.

We’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue (feel free to leave comments below, or email us at lambethrenters@gmail.com).

You can find out more about our reading group here.

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Fighting for more security – one step at a time

On Monday night members of Lambeth Renters joined other London Renters groups at an action organised by GMB Young London to demand MPs turn out on Friday to vote for a bill to curb retaliatory evictions.

GMB protest

The bill in question has been tabled by Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather to prevent landlords from evicting tenants where they have complained about serious disrepair and unusually has cross-party support. Unfortunately that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere – in order to progress any further, it requires 100 MPs to turn up in parliament on Friday to vote for it. (You can see if your MP is supporting it here and contact them using this tool if not.)

If passed, the bill would provide some welcome additional protection for tenants where there was a serious case of disrepair with their home – something many renters are scared of reporting to their landlord for fear of being branded a ‘problem tenant’ and evicted to be replaced by someone less likely to stand up for their rights.

But as currently drafted, it would still leave renters at risk of eviction for other reasons. The current law means landlords don’t need any reason to evict you, and members of London Renters have been evicted in all kinds of circumstances, including because:

  • they tried to get in touch with the landlord’s other tenants with a view to forming a renters group
  • they asked the landlord to replace broken furniture (which doesn’t fall within the definition of serious disrepair)
  • their landlord had decided to cash in on their buy-to-let investment and wanted to sell their property without the hassle of a sitting tenant.

That doesn’t mean it’s pointless to campaign on this. We took part in Monday’s demonstration because we think could be a first step towards getting the secure tenancies we want and should have, and because coming together around things like this helps build a movement for action to tackle the housing crisis. Whether the bill gets anywhere on Friday or not, there’ll be much more to do, and campaigning together we have a much better chance of winning.

Over the last couple of years, it’s been exciting to link up with more and more groups who are feeling the effects of unregulated landlords and fighting back – and the pressure is definitely building. Earlier this year London Renters held an occupation at the central government housing department, while groups like Tower Hamlets Renters continue to support members who are fighting retaliatory evictions of their own.

Already politicians are feeling the need to be seen to be taking action to address the issues renters face. The current government have gone from point-blank refusing to consider better regulation of renting when they came to power, to supporting the introduction of some measures to regulate letting agents last year, and are now agreeing that there do need to be changes to restrict retaliatory evictions. Labour too have recognised that there’s a problem, committing earlier in the year to introduce longer tenancies if they gain power in May.

So this week’s vote is just one step of the way – and it’s significance is as much as a rallying point for the increasing numbers of people sick of being exploited by landlords as it is for the legislative change it could represent. With more pressure over the next few years, we might stand the chance of much more far-reaching change.

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Lambeth Renters publishes new advice leaflet

We’re recently produced a leaflet with details about our group and basic advice on common problems faced by renters.

You can read the advice here, or download the full pdf here.

If you’d like a copy, or could help us distributing them round the borough, please get in touch at lambethrenters@gmail.com.

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