This Monday was no normal day. Having struggled for weeks to deal with the consequences of receiving a Section 21 eviction notice, I awoke to the news that the government had announced plans to scrap the law.
By 11.30am I was discussing the issue live on Sky News, where I faced a bizarre line of questioning, with the interviewer attempting to frame my eviction as a result of my “lack of renting skills” (whatever that means). She subsequently revealed that she had an agenda: she is a landlord.
I knew the interview was going in a strange direction from the start, when she began by asking how much notice we would have to give before leaving the property, following this up with, “Why do you think you deserve more rights than a landlord?”
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the problems with this statement. First, the ignorance. Being evicted with only two months to find another home is not, in any way, the same as the struggle, which isn’t really a struggle, of a landlord finding new tenants.
From our recent experience of trying to find a new property, we know how easy this is for landlords. In our search, every time we were interested in a property but wanted more time to think about it, the agent would inform us that someone else had secured it.
In fact, when we found our current flat, from which we are now being evicted, we were the first people to see it when it came on the market. We acted fast and signed the paperwork with the agent on the same day, knowing that if we didn’t, it would be gone by the next morning.
This creates a precarious situation in itself. Deciding where to live is a big decision – but the market prioritises acting fast. If not, too bad; you’ve been beaten to it, probably by someone who was able to afford the Early Bird fee on Spare Room, which allows you to respond to an advert in the first seven days it is listed on the flatshare website, and view the properties before they are even accessible to those of us who can’t spare the cash.
Once we’d secured the property, we had to pay the extortionate agency fees – including a reference fee so the landlord could check us out. Even at this stage, we knew it was not a done deal. One week previously, we had paid a referencing fee for another flat in the area – but despite passing the checks we were then told the landlord had decided on other tenants whose results came back quicker. We had no idea that others were even going through the same process. We had no way of recovering the money.
There is also the strange yet widely accepted notion that, although we have to pay for reference checks that might not even guarantee us the property, there is no such reference check that a tenant can use on a landlord. If only there had been a way for us to examine our landlord’s history as a notorious tenant blamer before we parted with our money to secure the flat that we were now being evicted from.
There is also an aspect of class bias to consider. When I learnt towards the end of the Sky News interview that the journalist was in fact a landlord, it became clear why her line of questioning had been so brazenly insensitive. If you are someone who rents out multiple properties, it will be of little concern if you don’t manage to fill one in two months because your tenant has decided to move on; you’re certainly not going to be homeless. The worst case scenario is no longer being able to afford to afford the mortgage on a buy-to-let property – in which case, you sell.
But even in that situation, you have one thing that most renters don’t have: capital. This is the privilege the interviewer possessed. I felt as though, because of that privilege, and because of my age, she immediately thought that she was superior. But the majority of my income comes from decent, hard work that contributes something to society – rather than from removing people’s right to a decent home.
Of course, my experience is far from unique. Our housing system is built to create profits for those rich enough to invest in property at the expense of working class people. Thankfully, the public mood is turning; renters have become an important political grouping. Monday’s government announcement about the scrapping of Section 21 is the result of the End Unfair Evictions campaign led by Generation Rent and supported by community-based union ACORN, the New Economics Foundation, Tenants Union UK and the London Renters Union.
I’m a newly active member of London Renters Union, a new housing union where renters support each other and take direct action to win concessions from landlords and estate agents. In 2018, members from London Renters Union occupied a Natwest bank as part of a successful campaign to end its policy of compelling landlords to discriminate against renters who receive housing benefit.
I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to my Sky News interview on social media. I’m hopeful that we’re witnessing a crucial moment where power is no longer stacked against renters, and landlord profiteering becomes politically unviable. I hope that our growing renters movement can win more changes: rent controls that dramatically decrease the proportion of our wages paid to landlords each month, real protection from unfair evictions and disrepair and, ultimately, private rented homes brought back under public ownership so we have a housing system that provides homes for people, not just landlord profits.