I’m lucky enough to have that rare thing in London: a flat I like. The ceilings are high, the windows are big and there’s a nice tree I can see from my skylight while I work. It’s a place that I’ve been in for nearly two years, where I’ve had people over, moaned about the tiny dishwasher, stuck stuff on the walls. In short, it’s somewhere I feel at home. Lulled into this false sense of security over a flat I’d got for below market rate, I was cruelly reminded on Monday that it’s not my home.
A dispassionate email from the letting company told me that my landlord was selling the house, and would we mind terribly getting gone months before the end of our lease? It was polite but firm – this is not your house, please leave.
After the wave of panic about jumping back into London’s rental market subsided, all that was left was the all-too familiar feeling of being used, of not feeling welcome in a city that you love. The fundamental feeling of being stripped of the ability to decide your own choices.
So it was extremely gratifying to see a thread on Twitter about how a group of renters in south London, not only took control of their situation, but forced their landlord into paying them back thousands of pounds. The beginning of the story is a tale as old as time: bad landlord who doesn’t care about a property or its maintenance refuses to fix anything, and then tries to evict their tenants because they committed the simple crime of paying their mortgage for them. But this time, the ending went a little differently. The tenants did something that very few private renters do. They fought back. The group ended up walking away with six months of their rent back – about as close to a win as you’re ever going to get. Stories like this, even if they’re few and far between, at least help other people feel a bit less helpless.
It’s also worth noting that the appalling state of the rental market isn’t just a problem for Londoners with access to a few thousand Twitter followers. Up and down the country the proportion of renters remains stubbornly high. It’s largely people under 34, but increasingly, a more diverse range of ages now find themselves looking down the barrel of years of instability and unpredictability in the private rental market. According to stats published in the Times, more than 50 per cent of renters can afford mortgage payments, but just 3 per cent have the savings necessary for a deposit.
Today (9 June), the government hinted at yet another half-baked idea to get people buying. This latest iteration included selling off yet more social housing stock and vague promises to look at mortgages. But – just like a house – I’m not buying it. In the meantime, as long as millions of us are forced to live under the yoke of landlordism, and as long as we have numbers on our side – it’s time to fight back and take everything we can.