People Power Won Renters Victory But Landlords Still Profiteering
London Renters Union is a new housing union with more than 1,200 members across the city. Our branches in Hackney, Lewisham and Newham & Leytonstone are vibrant communities where we plan campaigns and support each other with housing problems, including by using direct action to resist evictions and to put pressure on the landlords and estate agents that exploit us.
We’re still celebrating a game-changing victory this week. The government has announced plans to abolish “no-fault evictions” under Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act and introduce open-ended tenancies for private renters in England, something that would have previously been unthinkable under a Tory government.
Section 21 is the piece of law that allows landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason. It is the leading cause of homelessness in England.
The law discourages renters from making complaints or asking for repairs - and at least 140,000 tenants have been the victim of revenge evictions after making a complaint to their landlord since 2015.
In the London Renters Union, many of our members live with the reality of the power that Section 21 gives landlords over renters. Many of our members have received a Section 21, including as a response to standing up for their rights or requesting a repair.
Sometimes it’s possible to use legal challenges or direct action to delay or prevent an eviction. But for most renters in our city, a Section 21 notice leaves misery and homelessness in its wake and violently uproots people from their community and support network.
Section 21 is a pernicious piece of legislation that renters across the country will be glad to see the back of.
When this goes through, landlords will only be able to evict renters if they sell up or move back in.
Keeping up the pressure
We’re proud to be a member of the #EndSection21 campaign that has won this important victory. The campaign was brilliantly led by Generation Rent and actively supported by ourselves, ACORN, New Economics Foundation and Tenants Union UK.
Together as a union we've taken part in protests, helped the campaign petition reach 50,000 signatures, helped get a motion passed at Labour branches and at Labour conference, and contributed to efforts to get local councils to support the campaign. Just last month, Redbridge Council backed the campaign following some brilliant organising by some of our members. This government announcement shows the power of our local organising.
But it’s vital now that we keep up the pressure to make sure the change in legislation actually goes ahead. Landlords aren’t as powerful an interest group as the big corporations that really do have the ear of government, but landlords will use their resources and lobby groups to strongly resist this move. If Theresa May is replaced by a more right-wing Conservative, they might attempt to slip out of this commitment and there will definitely be some resistance coming from the one in five MPs who are landlords.
It’s also important that we pressure government to freeze the use of Section 21 powers or make the process of scrapping it as quick as possible. There is a real risk that landlords will rush to evict their tenants before Section 21 is scrapped. How many renters will be evicted between now and the change in the law?
London’s housing system remains rigged in favour of landlords, developers and property companies and we have a crisis of gentrification and social cleansing in our city. Without rent controls, housing remains completely unaffordable in our city and landlords will still be able to force out tenants by raising the rent. Working class people especially those who are migrants will continue to be violently forced to the fringes of the city.
It was heartening to see London Mayor Sadiq Khan congratulate the London Renters Union for yesterday’s announcement and call for pressure on government “for the rent control that Londoners need”. Many Londoners spend two-thirds of their income on rent so we’ll be pushing Sadiq to come out in favour of rent controls that decrease rents, not just stabilise them. To be effective and really improve our lives, rent controls have to dramatically decrease the proportion of our wages that we hand over to our landlord each month just because they’re rich enough to own a property and we’re not.
We’ve really enjoyed the hilarious tantrums that landlords have been having in our Twitter feed. Sky News presenter and private landlord Jayne Secker was forced to apologise after laying in to our member Kirsty live on air as she explained the impact that Section 21 has had on her life.
What does it say about the private rented sector that landlords are reacting so angrily to the most basic regulation against unfair evictions? Our privatised housing system encourages profiteering.
Yesterday a landlord told the Victoria Derbyshire BBC programme that tougher regulation will mean that many landlords will sell up and the private rented sector will shrink. But is this really such a bad thing?
If we can find ways for private rented housing to be brought back under public and community ownership, this could be the best way of increasing access to decent, affordable housing for all of us.
By Amina Gichinga and Michael Deas of the London Renters Union