Housing activists stepped up their campaign to pressure Tower Hamlets Council into bringing in legislation to protect private renters from rogue landlords yesterday as elected officials met for the first time since recent elections.
Campaign group Tower Hamlets Private Renters (THPR) and Unite union called on the Mayor to bring in a landlord registration scheme, a council letting agency and increase council housing.
The protest centred around a private tenant who is being evicted from his Shadwell flat for reporting dangerous conditions to the council after being repeatedly ignored by the landlord’s agent.
Michael James, who lives in a 19-apartment block, was concerned that loose bits of concrete hanging off the edge of a second floor walkway could fall on to children playing below.
However, days after the landlord dealt with the problem he received a Section 21 (notice to quit) through the post giving him two months to leave his home of 24-years.
Under current legislation Michael has no right to challenge the move other than to resist through direct action which he plans to do.
While Michael acknowledged his eviction is likely inevitable he hopes to use his experience to highlight the lack of legal protection private renters have, make other renters aware of their option to fight back and pressure the council to address the problems caused by Section 21.
THPR would like to see a landlord licensing scheme that would routinely check that every property for rent meets a minimum standard so tenants do not have to complain. Landlords who failed to meet the standards would have their license revoked while a tenant reporting poor conditions would render Section 21 (two-month notice-to-quit) invalid.
Many of the tenants at Chapman House on Bigland Street, where Michael lives, have suffered poor conditions over many years but have been too frightened to speak out with the landlord’s agent threatening them with eviction or higher rents if they complain.
Severe damp, leaking roofs, collapsing ceilings, boilers not working and external doors not closing properly are just some of the problems they have suffered.
Council inspectors have since visited 15 of the 19 flats and are compiling a report that could force the landlord to carry out tens of thousands of pounds worth of work.
Ironically the ultimate owner of the apartment block is a charity, Gemillas Ltd, set-up to tackle poverty and provide education, according to the charities commission, although no evidence of its charitable work can be found online.
It’s status means it pays no tax on the hundreds of thousands of pounds it makes through rent from more than 60 properties its subsidiary, Lepex Holdings, controls.
It’s not clear if the other properties – including Turnour House a few streets away, or their tenants, are treated in a similar way.
Attempts to contact the landlord, Lepex, thus far have been in vain, however, as one of Lepex and Gemillas’ three board members is related to, and lives with, the owner of the property agent, Andlow Properties, it is assumed they are aware of the state of Chapman House and Michael’s plight, but choose to ignore them.
However, housing activists plan to pay them a visit in the near future to let them know they cannot continue treating their tenants this way.
* Visit http://www.towerhamletsrenters.org or visit their Facebook page for more information. To get involved come to THPR’s next meeting on Wednesday, 18 June, at Unite Community Centre, 236 Cable Street, Shadwell, Tower Hamlets.