Private tenant given 70% rent-rise after twice beating landlord’s attempts to evict him

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA private tenant who twice beat his landlord’s attempts to evict him has been notified of a 70 per cent increase in rent this week in what he believes is a further attempt to force him out after he reported dangerous conditions to the council last year.

For the first time in nearly a year Michael James, who’s lived at Chapman House, a 19-flat block in Shadwell, for more than 25-years, began to feel secure in his home again after his solicitor informed him of a little known law that meant he was an assured tenant and could not be evicted.

However, in February Michael received formal notice from the landlord’s solicitor that his rent would be increased from £650 to £1,100 a month from April.

Mr James said he believes it’s a vindictive move to force him out through alternative means after the landlord twice failed to evict him in 2014 with a Section 21 (two-month notice to quit). He said it has brought back the desperate sense of insecurity and fear for the future he thought he’d put behind him.

He said: “It’s depressing that after failing to evict me on two occasions they are seeking to attack me again like this. The past year has been extremely stressful and my health has suffered as a result. Knowing they can’t evict me with a Section 21 they are resorting to other measures to get me out of the property, so yet again I’m living in limbo.

“I used to have an amenable relationship with the landlord, however, for the past seven years maintenance of the property has all but stopped while rents continued to rise, which is what led me to report the poor conditions first to the agent, and then when they were ignored, to the council.

“Despite all I’ve gone through and whatever happens to me now, my actions will have been justified when the council finally forces the landlord to bring the property up to some sort of livable standard.”

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The owners of the block, Lepex Holdings Ltd, are expected to carry out what could amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of work to deal with illegal and unsafe conditions after the council’s environmental health team inspected the property.

When the council’s head of public health, Dr Somen Banerjee, visited the block in 2014 he expressed shock at what he saw, which included serious mould and damp, illegal electrics, serious fire hazards, poor security and a bathroom ceiling that had collapsed due to a leaking roof.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Renters said: “Michael’s treatment over the last 12-months has been nothing less than disgraceful. The landlord should be thanking him for highlighting life-threatening and illegal conditions at the property. He’s possibly saved him hundreds of thousands of pounds had he been sued following an accident. But rather than take responsibility for their poor management, they have sought to punish Michael by first attempting to evict him and now by pricing him out.

“There couldn’t be a clearer example as to why central government must bring in longer and more secure tenancies, ban retaliatory evictions and limit rent increases, and Tower Hamlets Council must forge ahead with its plans to implement a landlord licensing scheme that could ban landlords such as Michael’s from operating in the borough as Newham is successfully doing.”

Why the landlord failed to evict Michael with a S21

The law that protected Michael was enacted in 1989 after statutory assured tenancies (lifelong contracts) were replaced with six-month contracts as standard. It required landlords to inform new tenants that they were on a shorthold tenancy and not an assured one. This was done in the form of a Section 20 signed by both parties.

Failure to administer a S20 meant the tenant was an assured tenant. Michael has no recollection of ever signing one while his landlord failed to present his solicitor with one after twice seeking a claim for possession through the courts. As long as he fails to produce one Michael is an assured tenant. The requirement to provide a S20 ended in 1997.

HA entrusted by tenants to manage homes kicks them out & sells them off

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Around 20 housing campaigners and local residents marched through Poplar today in protest over housing association Poplar Harca’s business strategy of evicting social tenants and replacing their homes with properties for private sale and ‘affordable’ rent, which of course we know is unaffordable to most.

Tower Hamlets Renters and Action East End organised the demo as Harca prepares to submit a planning application to refurbish and privatise Erno Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower.

If permitted, around £20m will be spent on refurbishing the 1960s block before the majority of its 146 properties are sold off to bankers and investors with no chance of its original and intended residents to return.

Poplar Harca, which the tenants of Balfron Tower voted in to manage the block, claims it can’t afford to refurbish the block and rent properties at social rents. However, if full, Balfron brings in around £1.5m a year in rents, which would be enough to pay the necessary loan off over 20-years. And what has happened to all the rent Poplar Harca took since it began managing Balfron in 2007? According to residents it’s not gone on maintenance.

The wholesale transfer of hundreds of residents on low-incomes out of Balfron to other parts of the borough, London and the country in favour of people who can afford £500,000 to £1m mortgages is social cleansing by any standards.

We call on Poplar Harca to stop this unethical policy and focus on spending its income on properly maintaining its properties and using its surplus income to build homes for social let.

And it’s not just activists making these demands. The response from people we met today: outside Balfron, in Chrisp Street market and outside Poplar Harca’s offices, suggests people are extremely unhappy with the housing association despite it claiming to have 80% customer satisfaction.

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It seems there is a groundswell of anger towards Poplar Harca and its treatment of tenants, so no doubt today’s action was the first of many as housing campaigners and local residents unite to challenge Harca’s unethical policies.

A Tower Hamlets Renters spokesperson said: “People bang on about the architectural importance of Balfron Tower, but frankly its legacy will be more ironic than iconic. Goldfinger designed Balfron to house the East End’s working classes yet the housing association entrusted to manage the estate has kicked them out and selling their homes to bankers and investors.”

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Balfron Tower has 146 1, 2, 3 and 4-bed flats and maisonettes. From 2010 Poplar Harca began moving out existing tenants and paying DotDotDot to replace them with property guardians (to prevent squatters moving in), who pay a reduced rent but can evicted with a few weeks’ notice.

Poplar Harca also struck a deal with Bow Arts which also acts as a property guardian but aimed at artists who need a live/work space and in return for a reduced rent and some form of artistic contribution to the community.

Both of these deals meant Poplar Harca prematurely forced out Balfron’s original tenants while losing huge sums in rent yet it pleads poverty when it comes to refurbishing the block and allowing the original tenants to return.

Poplar Harca has a history of replacing socially rented properties for affordable rents and homes for private sale.

On the Aberfeldy Estate (page 1 & 9) it replaced 297 units (86 bought through Right-to-Buy and 211 socially let) with 170 at affordable rents (55-to-65% of market rates), 20 at intermediate rents (80% of market rates) and 986 properties for private sale.

On Phase 2 of the Leopold Estate (see page 3 – Estate Renewal) Poplar Harca demolished 152 residential units (17 privately owned through RTB and 135 socially let) and replaced them with 367 properties: 19 at social rents, 52 at affordable rents (50-to-65% of market rates), 36 for shared ownership and 256 for private sale.

Focus E15 Fundraver at Rhythm Factory, Friday, 23 Jan, 2015

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Some of London’s leading purveyors and promoters of repetitive dance music have joined forces to raise money for the Focus E15 campaign group that attracted international headlines last year as they pushed the farcical and unnecessary housing crisis back up the political agenda.

The all-night rave at Whitechapel’s Rhythm Factory will feature some of London’s best free party DJs playing techno, acid house, jungle, dub-step, rave and whatever else takes their fancy from 10pm to 6am with entrance a bargain £5.

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New Era tenants celebrate sale of estate to ethical landlord

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The New Era Estate in Hoxton that has been the focus of a high profile campaign to keep 90 low-income families in their homes, has been sold to an affordable housing provider.

The deal between Dolphin Square Foundation and former owners Westbrook Partners was sealed at 2pm today and confirmed by Hackney Council this afternoon.

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New Era residents march to Downing St to hand in 300k petition

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Residents from Hoxton’s New Era Estate marched to Downing Street yesterday to hand in a 300,000 signature petition calling on David Cameron to pressure new owners Westbrook Partners into keeping their rents affordable.

They had earlier rallied outside Westbrook’s offices in Mayfair joined by hundreds of supporters including comedian Russell Brand calling on UK chief Mark Donnor to meet tenants and “do the right thing”.

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London Mayor to intervene in Westbrook New Era dispute following criticism

London Mayor Boris Johnson is to intervene in a dispute which threatens to force up to 90 low-income residents from their homes on Hoxton’s New Era estate in the run-up to Christmas, the Hackney Citizen can reveal.

The news comes after local councillors wrote to residents on Saturday informing them that new owners, US property speculator Westbrook Partners, was backtracking on a verbal agreement to freeze rents until 2016.

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New Era Estate residents hope to match NY tenants victory over owners Westbrook

benyon evictionThe property manager and minority owner of the New Era Estate in Hoxton is to sell-up and withdraw following a highly publicised campaign by residents to challenge plans to treble their rents.

The Benyon Estate, owned by Tory MP Richard Benyon and his brother Edward, announced yesterday that it would ‘reluctantly’ sell its ten per cent share to majority owner Westbrook Partners and step down as the estate’s managers as their involvement in the estate was ‘not welcome’.

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