By Liz Ely of Living Rent
It won’t be a surprise to many renters that cases of bullying by landlords are on the rise, a fact widely reported this week following Citizen’s Advice Scotland’s damning evidence on the state of rented housing.
Extreme cases of bullying and intimidation make headlines, and are all too common. Even more tenants experience the drudgery of living in flats where landlords refuse or fail to carry out basic repairs, to mould and damp infested accommodation which is frequently more expensive than any other form of tenure type.
It is easy to point to examples of particularly heinous individual landlords guilty of exploiting vulnerable tenants, and it is vital we deal with these individuals locally.
However it is also vital that we understand and address the system which allows these practices to continue. This means tackling the vast power imbalance which currently exists between tenants and landlords.
One thing that the majority of bullies have in common is that they find themselves in a position of power which they abuse to make the lives of others miserable.
In our current housing market, landlords are calling the shots. The simple fact is that with unaffordable mortgages a lack of social housing, many of us are relying on private landlords to get a roof over our heads. With poor regulation and rights, tenants have to put up with unaffordable prices, terrible quality and abusive treatment.
In order to deal with rogue landlords, we need to call out and stand up to the bullies. Local authorities need the resources and ability to take appropriate action, but we also need to address the power imbalances which facilitate these abuses.
Despite being at an economic disadvantage, we know that as renters, we have significant potential to make real differences to our living situation; but we can only do this by coming together, and organising collectively.
Scotland has a proud history of tenants organising from crofters in Skye withholding their rent in a dispute over land rights and winning security of tenure in 1882, to the wave of rent strikes lead by Mary Barbour which forced the UK Government to freeze and regulate rents.
More recently, in Edinburgh tenants of one particularly notorious criminal landlord came together to form Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group, holding protests outside Edinburgh City Council forcing them to take action, as well as dealing with dodgy letting agents in the city.
In Bristol ACORN is a community union largely made up of tenants taking action to deal with dodgy letting agents, raising the housing crisis at every opportunity and working to make their city a ‘revenge eviction free zone’.
We also think Scotland’s tenants need representation at the national level. Landlords have their own professional bodies that sit in government meetings to push their members’ agenda, so it makes sense for there to be a well organised tenants’ representation too. Other countries have this model already – in Sweden, for example, the national union of tenants represents over half a million tenants and undertakes collective bargaining on rents on their behalf.
At Living Rent we are inspired by these examples. The Living Rent Campaign harnessed the enthusiasm and energy of the post referendum movement and had a major impact on new government legislation winning significant improvements to security and flexibility for tenants and putting rent controls firmly on the agenda. It’s now time to take the next step, and become organized enough to ensure that we win real improvements for tenants. We need to come together in an orgainsation run by and for us, capable of standing up to the bullies, and winning real lasting change for renters.
Coverage of EPTAG standing up to Mark Fortune
National Union of Tenants in Sweden