April 21, 2019

Finally, some good news for UK renters – now here’s what else we can fight for | Alicia Powell | Opinion


Monday marks a huge victory for private renters. Theresa May and the communities secretary, James Brokenshire, have announced that the government will abolish section 21 – a little-known law that means landlords can evict tenants without good reason. Right now, section 21 is used every day to send renters packing. Your landlord might decide they want to hike the rent up, sell the house or just that they don’t want to make the repairs that need doing. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been a good tenant or not, whether you’ve paid your rent on time. The landlord is in control, not the tenant. I should know, because it happened to me.

Last year my partner Simon and I were living in Walthamstow, north-east London, when we noticed a huge patch of damp on our ceiling. We did the usual and contacted our landlord asking for them to take a look. But, as is the case in many disrepair stories of private renters, for the next nine months nothing happened, despite regular calls, texts and emails. So we escalated and reported the issue to our council, which said the damp now developing on our ceiling wasn’t severe enough for it to take action. It was just days later, as we were sat thinking through what to do next, when a section 21 notice came through the post, asking us to leave the property in just two months’ time. We felt we were being evicted for reporting the leak.

After our sudden eviction, Simon and I knew we had to do something. We set about looking for renters who’d been through the same thing. That’s when we found the End Unfair Evictions campaign – involving the housing campaign groups such as Generation Rent, London Renters Union and Tenants Union UK, as well as the community union, Acorn and New Economics Foundation thinktank. These renters had come together to become the official campaign asking for an end to section 21. Groups from across the country started work, launching a petition that gathered 50,000 signatures in just 10 weeks, and getting 13 local councils to back our call, as well as training renters like me and Simon to talk to the media about our story. Since then, we’ve gained support from Shelter, the Labour party and the Greens, and our most unusual ally yet: the rightwing thinktank the Centre for Social Justice.

But we can’t stop here. The government’s announcement on section 21 is welcome – but it’s not going to solve all the problems of private renting. When your rent can be raised hundreds of pounds a month with no notice, and a more than a million tenants’ homes are in a squalid condition, we know we’ve got a lot of work to do. For the end of section 21 to be meaningful at all, we need rent regulation, stopping landlords from simply pricing us out of our homes instead of following legal process.

You only have to look across the globe to see that the UK could be doing better when it comes to renting. In places like Barcelona there are new measures in place that put tenants on a more equal footing with their landlords, and in Berlin support is growing for a referendum to stop corporate landlords from buying up housing stock.

But we can take heart as it becomes clear that renters are becoming a political force. With more than 11 million private renters in England right now – politicians can’t afford to ignore us. And it was the End Unfair Evictions campaign that won this battle nationally. Across the country, renters’ unions are cropping up everywhere – including the Croydon Renters’ Union, which launches this week in Croydon, south London. The fight for renters’ rights has only just begun.

Alicia Powell is a volunteer on the End Unfair Evictions campaign



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