Revenge evictions are a threat hanging over UK renters that needs to end

Image: Getty.

Many tenants feel worried when they have to report a problem to their landlord. There’s the feeling that you might be putting them out, or that even though you didn’t cause the leaky boiler, it’s somehow your fault. Sometimes renters are unclear whose responsibility it is to make repairs (hint: it’s usually the landlord’s).

UK tenants going to landlords with complaints about derepair or hazards have good reason to worry. Under the current renting law, landlords can evict tenants without giving a reason, and some choose to do this instead of fixing the problem. There’s nothing the tenant can do about it.

Under a rolling, month-to-month tenancy, a landlord can use what’s called a Section 21 notice to undertake a “no fault” eviction (meaning they’ve decided not to renew the lease), giving the tenant just two months to find somewhere new to live. This is the case even if they have been at the property for years, have never caused a problem and are on time each month with the rent.

Retaliatory evictions are a real and widespread problem. Research produced by Shelter earlier this year showed that in the last year alone, 200,000 renters faced eviction because they asked their landlord to fix a problem in their home.

The organisation I work for, Generation Rent, frequently comes across this kind of case. Michael, for example, is being evicted for trying to help in his block of flats in east London after reporting loose concrete on his walkway which could have proved hazardous to others below.

Furthermore, we know that the fear of eviction alone stops tenants from going to their landlord when there is a problem. In Shelter’s survey, 8 per cent of those asked said they had avoided asking for repairs from their landlord in case they were booted out.

At the end of November, MPs will debate Sarah Teather’s Tenancies (Reform) Bill, which aims to roll back landlords’ rights to carry out retaliatory evictions. The Bill would make a Section 21 eviction notice void for six months after a landlord has received an instruction from the local authority to make repairs in their property.

If it passes, this bill would mean that tenants could notify their agent, landlord or local authority about hazards in a property without the risk of being evicted. The council would have to show evidence of serious disrepair before this clause would be applicable, so landlords wouldn't have to worry about spurious complaints.

The measure would also drive up standards in the private rented sector and make sure repairs are carried out in an appropriate and timely manner. For local authorities, it could help identify cases of disrepair under their jurisdiction and ensure they focus their resources effectively.

The change relies on enough MPs attending the vote on 28 November and voting for the Bill to pass. UK renters can email their MP here and ask them to turn up.

This is a real opportunity to improve the private rented sector and redress the huge power imbalance that currently exists between landlords and renters. It would be good for tenants, landlords and local authorities and is one of the final chances to improve the housing market before the 2015 General Election. Let’s make sure we take it.

Seb Klier is the Policy and Campaigns Manager at Generation Rent.

 
 
 
 

Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.

 

Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 


“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL