A private tenant who fought off two retaliatory evictions before being hit with a 70% rent rise was celebrating today after a rent assessment tribunal cut the proposed £450 increase to £2.50.
Michael James, who has lived in his Shadwell apartment for 25-years, has been battling to remain in his home since reporting dangerous conditions to the council in late 2013 after the landlord ignored his concerns.
Rather than carry out the repairs the landlord twice tried to evict Michael with a section 21 (two months notice to quit) during 2014, but with nowhere else to go he refused to leave forcing the landlord to seek possession through the courts.
However, both times the claim was mysteriously dropped prompting his solicitor to suggest he may in fact be an assured tenant if the landlord’s paperwork was incomplete.
Meanwhile the council inspected the 19-apartment block following Michael’s report and found Category 1 and 2 hazards in every property eventually issuing legal notices last month demanding the landlord, Lepex Holdings, bring the block up to standard or face prosecution.
Seemingly unable to evict Michael and facing a six-figure repair bill, the landlord issued Michael with a 70% rent increase in February presumably to force him out through alternative means.
In a last ditch attempt to stay he contacted the Rent Assessment Committee to determine what a fair rent should be, forwarding the council’s inspection report and requesting the Committee inspect the property too.
The Committee’s report gave little away in how it came to its decision other than describing the block as in “poor” condition, but the ruling that a fair rent for the property is £652.50 – a 0.5% increase rather than the 70% the landlord proposed – spoke volumes.
It also highlights the need for rent regulation and longer tenancies with his neighbours paying up to £1,400 a month for similarly sub-standard properties. But with short-term contracts they are unable to challenge the rents as the landlord can evict them with two months notice and without reason.
It also highlights the need for an effective licensing scheme that gives councils the power to ban landlords such as Michael’s from operating in the borough.
Michael said: “The last 18 months or so has caused me tremendous stress and worry. To be under threat of losing my home that I have lived in for the last 26 years has really taken its toll on my health. I’ve suffered migraines, come out in rashes and at times I’ve felt as if I had ME.
“But my thoughts are for the thousands of other tenants who are threatened, bullied and ultimately evicted for standing up for their rights against unscrupulous landlords who care nothing for the less fortunate and even less for those who speak out against injustice.
“I sincerely hope that what has occurred here will inspire others to defend their legal rights and to campaign for the rights of others.”
But Michael’s journey has also been a lesson in the importance of private renters working together and harnessing support wherever its available. Tenants are less likely to fight alone or last the distance if they try.
He thanked TH Renters for the personal support, publicity and running the campaign, TH Unite Community for providing its community space and resources for the campaign, and local councillor and elected head of housing Rabina Khan for her support in ensuring the council’s environmental health team gave the dilapidated block the attention it deserved.
Equally the pool of knowledge accrued throughout the campaign will be put to use for years to come and give confidence to all involved to do so.
So if you’re suffering from landlord woes join your local housing campaign group to help rewrite the rules; things wont get better by themselves.
*Michael also asked us to pass on special thanks to local housing campaigner Glyn Robbins, Tower Hamlets environmental health team, and at the risk of sounding like an awards ceremony; his mum and friends Rebecca Brennan, Ken Stott and Nina Gehl.