We took a removals van to the Ministry of Housing. Here’s why

Some to let signs. Image: Getty.

If you were in Westminster this week you will have struggled to miss the members of Extinction Rebellion demanding action from our politicians to stop cooking the planet. If you were anywhere near the Ministry of Housing, you might also have spotted one of the culprits behind the climate emergency: a removals van.

Right now if you’re a renter, thanks to a law called section 21, you could be told to leave your home with just two months’ notice. It might be because you’ve complained about the single glazed windows in your home or a leak in your roof. And what that means is hauling your worldly possessions across town, not to mention another trip to IKEA to try and make your next house loosely resemble a home, and not a squat.

So that’s why yesterday we found ourselves lugging a replica van down to the heart of government , to deliver a message for the Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick: England’s 4.5m private renters need somewhere to call home.

The government has already taken a major, welcome step towards this, with a promise to abolish Section 21, the right of landlords to evict tenants without needing a reason. Its consultation on how this will work in practice closes this Saturday.

The proposals are designed to stop unscrupulous landlords evicting tenants for no good reason or using the threat of an eviction to bully tenants into staying quiet about mistreatment or disrepair. It’s no surprise that private rented homes are more likely to be classed as unsafe when landlords who don’t want to provide a decent home can avoid their obligations by turfing out tenants who try to exercise their rights.

Many landlords tell us they want their tenants to stay long term. But because every landlord has Section 21 up their sleeve, few tenants know for sure that their landlord definitely won’t get annoyed enough to serve an eviction notice when the cooker breaks.

That’s why the government wants to require landlords to provide – and prove – valid grounds in order to take back their property. Tenants would have more confidence to make requests and develop good communication and trust with their landlord. Clearer expectations make it easier to plan our lives.

But the proposals have gaps that could keep tenants in a precarious position. An unscrupulous landlord could avoid the evictions process altogether and try to raise the rent to an unaffordable level. While tenants would be able to challenge rent hikes at a tribunal, decisions are based on what the market rent is, so if you live somewhere that’s got fashionable in recent years (hello East Londoners), you could still get priced out for speaking out.

The proposals also contain grounds for eviction that mean tenants can lose their home for reasons outside their control: if the landlord wants to sell up or move back in.

In both those cases, a decent landlord would make alternative arrangements: to sell to another landlord with the tenants in situ, or find somewhere else to live. Whether they like it or not, landlords are running a business and their personal decisions should not trump the interests of their customers.

If there is no option but to take back possession, landlords should have a duty to help rehouse their tenant – that means giving them plenty of time to find somewhere new and covering the costs of finding a new deposit, paying rent on two properties at the same time, and getting a removal van. According to the English Housing Survey, nearly two-thirds of private tenants have no savings, so Section 21 is currently plunging thousands of tenants into debt and putting unnecessary strain on local councils’ homelessness teams. This would continue under the current proposals.

Safeguards around “no-fault” grounds for eviction would help tenants during what is a stressful time whoever wanted to end the tenancy, encourage landlords to find alternatives that don’t involve someone uprooting their life, and cut the numbers experiencing homelessness.

We have put these demands in an open letter to Robert Jenrick and Boris Johnson, which has so far been signed by more than 50,000 supporters of the End Unfair Evictions campaign. We have also whittled the long, dry consultation down to a survey with the most important questions to make it as easy as possible for renters to be heard as the government considers responses to the consultation.

And as the urgency of action on climate change builds there are a couple more modest benefits of overhauling tenancy law. You will have more incentive to ask for your home to be insulated properly. And without thousands of unwanted moves every year, we would eliminate the carbon emissions of thousands of trips by removal vans. 

Dan Wilson Craw is director of Generation Rent. The End Unfair Evictions coalition is made up of Generation Rent, ACORN, London Renters Union, Tenants Union UK and New Economics Foundation.


Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.

The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.