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.


The IPPC report on the melting ice caps makes for terrifying reading

A Greeland iceberg, 2007. Image: Getty.

Earlier this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body responsible for communicating the science of climate breakdown – released its long-awaited Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate.

Based on almost 7,000 peer-reviewed research articles, the report is a cutting-edge crash course in how human-caused climate breakdown is changing our ice and oceans and what it means for humanity and the living planet. In a nutshell, the news isn’t good.

Cryosphere in decline

Most of us rarely come into contact with the cryosphere, but it is a critical part of our climate system. The term refers to the frozen parts of our planet – the great ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, the icebergs that break off and drift in the oceans, the glaciers on our high mountain ranges, our winter snow, the ice on lakes and the polar oceans, and the frozen ground in much of the Arctic landscape called permafrost.

The cryosphere is shrinking. Snow cover is reducing, glaciers and ice sheets are melting and permafrost is thawing. We’ve known this for most of my 25-year career, but the report highlights that melting is accelerating, with potentially disastrous consequences for humanity and marine and high mountain ecosystems.

At the moment, we’re on track to lose more than half of all the permafrost by the end of the century. Thousands of roads and buildings sit on this frozen soil – and their foundations are slowly transitioning to mud. Permafrost also stores almost twice the amount of carbon as is present in the atmosphere. While increased plant growth may be able to offset some of the release of carbon from newly thawed soils, much will be released to the atmosphere, significantly accelerating the pace of global heating.

Sea ice is declining rapidly, and an ice-free Arctic ocean will become a regular summer occurrence as things stand. Indigenous peoples who live in the Arctic are already having to change how they hunt and travel, and some coastal communities are already planning for relocation. Populations of seals, walruses, polar bears, whales and other mammals and sea birds who depend on the ice may crash if sea ice is regularly absent. And as water in its bright-white solid form is much more effective at reflecting heat from the sun, its rapid loss is also accelerating global heating.

Glaciers are also melting. If emissions continue on their current trajectory, smaller glaciers will shrink by more than 80 per cent by the end of the century. This retreat will place increasing strain on the hundreds of millions of people globally who rely on glaciers for water, agriculture, and power. Dangerous landslides, avalanches, rockfalls and floods will become increasingly normal in mountain areas.

Rising oceans, rising problems

All this melting ice means that sea levels are rising. While seas rose globally by around 15cm during the 20th century, they’re now rising more than twice as fast –- and this rate is accelerating.

Thanks to research from myself and others, we now better understand how Antarctica and Greenland’s ice sheets interact with the oceans. As a result, the latest report has upgraded its long-term estimates for how much sea level is expected to rise. Uncertainties still remain, but we’re headed for a rise of between 60 and 110cm by 2100.

Of course, sea level isn’t static. Intense rainfall and cyclones – themselves exacerbated by climate breakdown – can cause water to surge metres above the normal level. The IPCC’s report is very clear: these extreme storm surges we used to expect once per century will now be expected every year by mid-century. In addition to rapidly curbing emissions, we must invest millions to protect at-risk coastal and low-lying areas from flooding and loss of life.

Ocean ecosystems

Up to now, the ocean has taken up more than 90 per cent of the excess heat in the global climate system. Warming to date has already reduced the mixing between water layers and, as a consequence, has reduced the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life. By 2100 the ocean will take up five to seven times more heat than it has done in the past 50 years if we don’t change our emissions trajectory. Marine heatwaves are also projected to be more intense, last longer and occur 50 times more often. To top it off, the ocean is becoming more acidic as it continues to absorb a proportion of the carbon dioxide we emit.

Collectively, these pressures place marine life across the globe under unprecedented threat. Some species may move to new waters, but others less able to adapt will decline or even die out. This could cause major problems for communities that depend on local seafood. As it stands, coral reefs – beautiful ecosystems that support thousands of species – will be nearly totally wiped out by the end of the century.

Between the lines

While the document makes some striking statements, it is actually relatively conservative with its conclusions – perhaps because it had to be approved by the 195 nations that ratify the IPCC’s reports. Right now, I would expect that sea level rise and ice melt will occur faster than the report predicts. Ten years ago, I might have said the opposite. But the latest science is painting an increasingly grave picture for the future of our oceans and cryosphere – particularly if we carry on with “business as usual”.

The difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of heating is especially important for the icy poles, which warm much faster than the global average. At 1.5°C of warming, the probability of an ice-free September in the Arctic ocean is one in 100. But at 2°C, we’d expect to see this happening about one-third of the time. Rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, melting glaciers, and permafrost also will also happen faster – and with it, the risks to humanity and the living planet increase. It’s up to us and the leaders we choose to stem the rising tide of climate and ecological breakdown.

Mark Brandon, Professor of Polar Oceanography, The Open University.

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