Category Archives: News

Private renter sought for Tower Hamlets Homes resident panel

Tower Hamlets Homes (THH) is the arms-length organisation set up by the council to manage its housing estates. Like most housing organisations it has resident scrutiny panels for its social tenants and leaseholders. But they rarely give a voice to private tenants who rent from a leaseholder. One renter has now had that addressed with THH and has joined the panel, but they are looking for one more. So, …

“If you are a private renter on a Tower Hamlets Homes estate (a tenant of a leaseholder), you now have representation on the Tower Hamlets Homes Residents Panel. The purpose of the panel is to ensure the voices of residents are heard and acted on by Tower Hamlets Homes.

There are two places on the panel for private renters, one of which is currently vacant. The panel meets every two months to oversee the performance of Tower Hamlets Homes, reviewing the organisation’s performance on issues relevant to renters, such as the rating of cleaning and caretaking services, resolution of anti-social behaviour issues and repairs, as well as general customer services. The panel can call in managers from the organisation to answer questions.

If you have any issues with Tower Hamlets Homes, the current representative for private renters, James Wilson, would be happy to hear from you and will raise them on your behalf. You can contact him at jamespeterwilson@gmail.com

If you are interested in taking the second place on the panel for private renters, you can contact Kamal Hanif at Tower Hamlets Homes on kamal.hanif@thh.org.uk

Council gives letting agents 28-days to display fees or face £5,000 fine after TH Renters campaign

Tower Hamlets Council has issued six letting agents with notices they will face a £5,000 fine if they do not begin displaying their fees after research by TH Renters revealed 34 were failing to do so.

Since April 2015 letting agents are legally obliged to display their fees prominently online and in their offices, but research carried out by TH Renters and Generation Rent showed 34 of around 170 agents operating in the borough were failing to do so.

Following a high-profile protest and campaign TH Renters submitted their findings to TH Council’s cabinet members for housing and its trading standards department to act on.

Dave Tolley, head of environmental health and trading standards, said an officer was dispatched to check on 11 of the agents and found six still failing to display their fees and subsequently issued them with a ‘notice of intent’. He said his officers would check another eight in the coming days.

While forcing agents to display their fees is unlikely to bring their extortionate rates down it sends a message that they should at least abide by the law and that there are concerned renters who will pursue them if they do not.

Recently an agent was reported to the police and council after a member of his team allegedly assaulted a tenant in his own home following years of the agent letting themselves into their home unannounced.

After initial attempts to dismiss the report TH cabinet members for housing were contacted and the case is being investigated by both the police and the housing department.

Plans are currently afoot to set up an ethical letting agent that will charge minimum fees and offer longer tenancies, however, the new London Mayor has made similar proposals and so local efforts may be unnecessary.

A previous attempt by Hackney Council has so far proved unsuccessful with little take up by landlords suggesting a higher profile marketing and engagement campaign may be necessary to make it work.

Pro-active councils could also look at taking over sub-standard and empty properties in their boroughs, doing them up with government funding and manage them for a minimum five years to help get ball rolling.

Chrisp Street market development proposals include 75% of homes for private sale

view from north opt

A view of the new development from the north-east. Chrisp Street itself is the main road going from the top-left to the bottom-right of the picture. Buildings lit-up are new and those that are not are existing.

Plans to redevelop Chrisp Street market into a modern retail, leisure and residential complex will see 75% of the 650 new homes for private sale with only 25% social housing it was revealed at a consultation open day this weekend. The Council’s target is 50% with the minimum 35%.

A representative of Telford Homes, the developer behind the scheme, said the lower figure was due to the investment in public facilities.

However, in its literature Poplar HARCA, the social landlord that owns the land, said it will guarantee that all existing shopkeepers and market traders will be offered a space in the new scheme with many concerned they would be priced out or not welcomed back.

One representative said shopkeepers would be offered ten-year leases at current rates, but admitted the complex – barring the social homes – would then be handed over to Telford Homes to manage on completion.

Leaseholders worried about being forcibly bought out (through a compulsory purchase order) and unable to stay in the area would be able to negotiate a package so they could, it was said, however there was currently no policy guaranteeing this.

He said: “No one will be forced out of the area against their will,” referring to one leaseholder who has lived on the market square for more than three decades. He said they would either be offered some sort of shared ownership scheme to move into one of the more expensive flats in the new development or helped to find an equivalent sized ex-council property to buy within ten minutes walk.

Most social tenants had already been ‘decanted’, but there were still a few social tenants still bidding on new places to move to, he said.

Planning permission is expected to be submitted in June with work due to commence by the end of 2017.

The majority of the area surrounding the market square will be demolished with exceptions to the Ideas Store and the shops and flats above on the north side of the square and along the path to Cordelia Street. HARCA said the shops that remain will have their fronts modernised.

view from south opt

The new Chrisp Street development is set to commence by the end of 2017 and carried out in two phases. This pic is from the south with the A13 East India Dock Road bottom left and Chrisp St coming off it to the top right of the pic.

The development will be carried out in two phases with the north side of the square demolished and rebuilt first and the south side to follow.

It is proposed market traders will be allowed to set up along Vasey Path – between the market square and East India Dock Road – during the first phase.

Shopkeepers and traders will be disappointed that no car parking facility has been included to replace what will be lost. This was their biggest complaint in a survey carried out by TH Renters in 2015.

And while existing shopkeepers and independent units are championed in the literature it admits to pursuing ‘established’ retailers (read chain stores) and a major food store for the development, both of which could have a negative impact on market traders and small retail units ability to survive.

The public facilities that it was suggested warranted offering only 25% social housing were listed as a Sure Start centre, for toddlers, and a ‘community space building on the success of the Ideas Store’.

HARCA also hopes to develop a night-time economy with a cinema and other entertainment provided in and around the square including restaurants, cafes, drinking and meeting areas.

Chrisp Street campaigners will be holding a meeting to discuss the proposals and their response on Wednesday, 1st June at the Chrisp Street Ideas Store at 7pm.

TH Renters to send council list of letting agents not displaying fees as law requires

agent protest wideshot

Clarke & Lloyds, off Brick Lane, doesn’t display its fees

TH Renters is to send TH Council a list of 35 letting agents not displaying their fees online, as the law requires, after completing a research programme with Generation Rent.

The agents will be subject to a £5,000 fine if the council pursues them. From May last year agents are obliged to clearly display their fees both online and in their offices so potential tenants know in advance what they can expect to pay.

Previously agents that hid charges could only be named and shamed by the Advertisement Standards Authority. The Government said the new law will “require letting agents to publish a full tariff of their fees both on their websites and prominently in their offices. Anyone who does not comply with these new rules will face a fine.”

35 agents storyHowever, ten months later many are still not doing so either through ignorance or maybe they have something to hide. Our research found agents charging fees of up to £900 for two people to rent a property and up to £762 for someone renting alone. It’s possible some of the 35, which failed to publish their fees, are charging even more.

On Saturday, 20th Feb, TH Renters paid a visit to some of the guilty agents to hand them a mock fine before protesting outside and handing out leaflets to passers-by.

We hope renters will demand to see agents’ fees up front and inform us or the council where they’re not.

£5000 fine certificate

TH Renters kindly warned a few TH letting agents about the law before shopping them to the council on Monday

 

 

Letting agents and their fees targeted by TH Renters

nelly agent midshot cropTH Renters targeted a series of letting agents today over their extortionate fees and failure to display them as the law requires.

We first visited Spencer’s Property on Bethnal Green Road and handed them a certificate for being the most expensive agent in TH – outside the oligarchy of Canary Wharf.

Spencer’s charge a whopping £742 in admin and reference fees for two people to rent one of their properties, and an even stiffer £521 for one person renting alone

With a months rent and deposit demanded up front that means renters have to find around £2,000 before moving into one of their cheaper properties.

We then held a protest outside handing out leaflets and explaining the action to passers by. The action was carried out after we completed a research project with Generation Rent, which along with Shelter and ourselves, is calling for agent fees to be banned altogether.

stuck with us crop

From our leaflet for passers-by

For the average Londoner the additional cost in fees can leave renters having to borrow money or go without the basics simply to put a roof over their head.

The worst offender in Tower Hamlets is Skampi that operates out of an off-street office in Canary Wharf and charges £900 in fees for two people to rent a property, although Vanet Property Management, also in Canary Wharf, shamelessly demands £762 in fees for one person renting alone.

TH Renters would like to see tenant fees banned as they are in Scotland, which has been successfully enforced since 2012.

spencers certifcate-page

TH Council agrees to license private landlords in three wards

TH Council agreed to implement a landlord licensing scheme in three wards at its cabinet meeting last night.

All private landlords in Whitechapel, Weavers and Spitalfields and Banglatown – based on their pre-May boundaries – will be obliged to be licensed and meet its conditions from – it’s hoped – October.

The annual fee and exact conditions that must be met are yet to be agreed.

Licensing is aimed at improving the conditions of private rented properties, their management and to tackle so-called anti-social behaviour.

In Newham it has been successfully implemented since January 2013 and the borough now prosecutes more landlords than the rest of London combined.

Unfortunately the scheme is only being implemented in three Tower Hamlets wards after the Coalition government limited Selective licensing to a maximum 20% of a borough shortly before the election last year after intense lobbying by the National Landlords Association. Permission must be sought from the Department for Communities and Local Government before extending the scheme to become borough-wide, but recently blocked Barking and Dagenham’s request to do so.

However, Additional licensing, which only covers houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) – as opposed to HMOs and single family households that Selective covers – is not restricted and the council agreed to look into consulting on implementing it once the government finishes its own consultations on extending mandatory licensing to a greater number of HMOs. Legislation already covers HMOs with five rooms, three or more floors, and two or more households.

However, if it decides to act, the government is expected to implement a diluted version of Additional licensing that would not, for example, cover flats.

The key protections that licensing offers tenants is that the license becomes invalid if any of the conditions are breached rendering the landlord liable to a fine of up to £20,000 and unable to issue a S21 eviction notice.

The decision comes more than six months after the consultation was completed last summer following mayoral elections and a change in administration.

The council said that one of its problems in dealing with the private rental sector is that it relies on tenants reporting poor conditions and reacting to them with limited resources.

Licensing puts the onus on landlords to meet certain conditions and face penalties if it breaks them.

Some of the conditions that must be met include: carrying out repairs, particularly to furniture, fittings and electrical appliances, fitting and maintaining working smoke alarms and having an up-to-date gas certificate. However, each tenant will also be obliged to provide a reference.

In its report to cabinet, the council stated it would also use licensing to identify landlords of the approximate 1,500 empty properties in the borough and encourage their owners to bring them back into use.

It also said it would employ additional staff for its under-resourced environmental health team to carry out house inspections.

New TH cabinet member for housing fluffs lines on new eviction law

licensing demo 5

A sneaky picture from inside the chamber. It wasn’t me.

TH Renter Michael James was left feeling angry and offended last night after asking TH Council’s new cabinet member for housing, Sirajul Islam, what the council can do to speed up property inspections to make use of the new law to prevent revenge evictions.

Michael’s landlord attempted to evict him three times last year after he reported dangerous conditions at the 19-apartment block he lives in and so fully appreciates the importance of the new law that came into effect in October.

However, instead of offering any assurances or asking for an explanation if he wasn’t aware of the new law, Sirajul simply repeated the answer he gave to Michael’s previous question on landlord licensing.

licensing demo 2TH Renters are concerned that the councillor responsible for protecting private renters from callous landlords doesn’t seem to be keeping abreast of new laws aimed at doing just that.

The new law states that a private tenant cannot be evicted from his or her home for six months after the council has carried out an inspection and issued an improvement notice to the landlord following a complaint about sub-standard conditions.

However, as Michael found out, it can take up to a year for the council to carry out an inspection and 18-months to issue an improvement notice. To be fair to the council it was not one property they had to inspect, but 19. They then have to compile a report before issuing the improvement notice.

licensing demo 6But the reality is that TH Council’s environmental health team – who carry out the inspections – is under-resourced and so they are unable to quickly respond to complaints meaning a landlord could evict a tenant who has complained before the council has inspected the property and issued an improvement notice.

Hence Michael’s question: “can the [cabinet member for housing] outline how he will speed up inspections and the issuing of improvement notices, so private renters can benefit from the new law that is supposed to prevent revenge evictions?”

The answer is clearly: “no he can’t.”

TH Council commits to Feb 2016 Licensing decision

licensing demo 1

TH Council said last night it would decide on whether to implement a landlord licensing scheme in February 2016, however it’s still not clear what scheme they plan to adopt and how effective it will be.

TH Renters has been calling for the introduction of licensing, which provides councils with the resources to inspect properties and prosecute landlords in breach of basic conditions, for years.

Newham has been successfully operating licensing since 2013 and prosecutes more landlords than the rest of London put together.

To be licensed landlords must also pass a fit-and-proper person test meaning those found guilty of housing law violations, fraud or sexual, violent or organised crimes would be banned from acting as a landlord and would have to transfer the management of their property to a reputable agent.

However, the concern is TH Council only plan to introduce Selective licensing, which can only be applied to 20% of a borough (after the coalition government changed the law in April) – unless the case can be proved to the secretary of state to make it borough-wide.

So TH Renters would like the Council to introduce Additional licensing, which has no restrictions and so can be borough-wide, alongside Selective – as they did in Newham.

Additional licensing requires every property let to mixed households (ie where everyone in the property is not related, also know as ‘houses of multiple occupation’ or HMO) must be licensed.

The net result being that a far higher percentage of private landlords would be licensed than would be if only Selective was introduced to 20% of the borough.

The Feb 2016 announcement was made after TH Renter Michael James asked a question to new cabinet member for housing Sirajul Islam at Wednesday’s full council meeting.

TH Renters letter of objection to the privatisation of Balfron Tower

IMG_3182Dear LB Tower Hamlets Planning Dept

please accept this letter as an objection to planning application PA/15/2554 for the refurbishment of Balfron Tower.

It is not that we are in itself opposed to the refurbishment of Balfron, in fact we wish it had happened thirty years ago when it was first mooted, or any one of the number of times since.

The problem is that instead of refurbishing the flats and maisonettes for Balfron’s tenants, Poplar Harca is refurbishing them for private buyers of which no doubt many will be investors who will either leave them empty or rent them out at rates that are unaffordable to most people.

Not only is this a breach of the promise Harca made to refurbish tenants’ homes if they voted for stock transfer in 2007 and then allow them to return, it is a betrayal of the highest order. If they had known Harca was going to kick them out shortly after they would have surely voted to keep the council as their landlord.

Harca would no doubt say that the former social tenants all left voluntarily but testimony shows that tenants felt they did not have an option – that their removal was a fait accomplis, while others were ‘seduced’ by the £4,700 buy-off, of which tenants are on record as saying they were not told that accepting it meant they lost their right-to-return.

Poplar Harca claim they cannot afford for social tenants to return given the estimated £20m cost of the refurbishment, but what has happened to the slice of the £45m they were given to refurbish the East India Estates which should have been for Balfron, and all the rent that has been paid since 2007?

And if money is so tight why did Harca swap the rent-paying social tenants for property guardians who pay them no more than a peppercorn rate, why have they voided so many flats so they can’t be rented out, and why are they paying leaseholders up to £1,500 a month since January 2014 to keep their properties empty – how many millions have been lost through this strategy to keep social tenants out of the block?

No matter, the cost of refurbishing the 146 homes comes to around £140,000 each – £20m in total. Harca says it’s not cost effective keeping them as social homes yet Barking and Dagenham Council has just spent £45m on a block of identical size. That makes refurbing Balfron and keeping it social a bargain.

But am I getting ahead of myself? The planning application makes no mention of the change of use from social housing to private sale and Harca has made no public announcement of its intention to do so. This is indicative of the sly approach Harca has taken all along: making false promises to tenants before transfer, bribing or bullying them into leaving, and failing to be open and honest about its intentions.

Throughout Harca has claimed it had taken no decision on the building’s future, yet we now know from a confidential 2012 report by the HCA that a privatised sell-off was their intention all along.

As you will know Tower Hamlets needs more truly affordable housing not less and this is what granting permission in the application’s current form will lead to. Harca will claim they can put the profit from selling off the flats to better use, but it will simply be used to pay back some of the £260m debt that its accrued under the guidance of its HSBC and property developing executives and the homes will be lost forever as we are seeing in other Harca developments.

On both Aberfeldy and Leopold estates it claims it is building new homes, but they are primarily for private sale. The number of ‘affordable’ homes it builds is less than the number of social homes it demolished. Harca is acting more like a private developer than a social housing provider.

Tower Hamlets Council should refuse to be complicit in the privatisation of social homes. Sure, allow them to build private homes for sale in and around the estates, but don’t ever let a development – or refurbishment – see a loss of social homes. If Balfron is privatised the Brownfield Estate will see a net loss of 99-social homes according to a recent academic study.

For this reason the application in its current form should be refused unless Harca agrees to keep it 50% social, which should not include any intermediate rated homes as these can in no way be considered social housing. The profit from the 50% sold would easily pay for the rest to be refurbished.

Yours Sincerely

Tower Hamlets Renters

Open day & protest against last TUSH co-op family’s eviction: Weds, TH Town Hall, 6-7pm

John, Angelus and Mike hope the council doesn't split the family up

John, Angelus and Mike hope the council doesn’t split the family up and force Angelus into an old people’s institution

Please join TUSH housing co-op this Wednesday evening to protest against TH Council’s decision to evict them from their Bow home of 17-years.

The council has decided it wants to kick out the three friends – Angelus, John and Mike – and spend £150,000 doing it up before renting it out – and risk losing it to right-to-buy or selling it on.

Octogenarian Angelus has lived in the Bruce Road co-op for 30-years and relies on his friends for support and friendship. The council say he should be in sheltered housing. Angelus says it will be like being sent to prison to wait to die.BAMBI dog pic

John, who grew up in the area, has lived at the property for 17-years with his dogs and apart from being split up from his friends will be forced to give up his beloved dog Bambi as both private accommodation and housing associations won’t accept pets.

POLOMike, who has also lived in Bruce Road for many years with his pet dog Polo, has already been forced out of one former TUSH property when the council tricked him into moving out to do some work under the belief he could move back. The council deemed the best use of the property – along with a number others – would be to let it sit empty for nearly five years rather than let people move back in.

The council proposes they all move into one bedroom homes, which is odd given the shortage of housing and the inefficient use of stock that would be. Meanwhile the council is proposing wasting £150,000 on doing the property up despite its shortage of cash and John having spent years renovating and maintaining the property, which the friends are all happy to live in as it is.

The TUSH house sharing co-op was set up 35-years ago when the council had neither the money or the will to renovate seven derelict properties. The original members began renovating and maintaining them and lived there and getting involved in community work and campaigns. The council eventually gave them licenses to live there.

The arrangement meant the council had no costs in looking after the properties for decades. We only have to look at Robin Hood Gardens and Balfron Tower to see how good the council is at taking care of its stock.

It now seems the council wants to cash in on other people’s hard work by either selling them on or possibly letting them out to families. But they are a family in the most important sense of the word: taking care and looking out for each other. It seems the council is too willing to dismiss older single people as being somehow undeserving.

So please join them this Wednesday outside the Town Hall before the monthly full council meeting where their petition will be presented to the chamber and discussed.

6-7pm, Weds, 22nd July, Tower Hamlets Town Hall, Mulberry Place, E14 2BG

How to get there: East India DLR or buses: 15, 108, 277, D6, D7, D8

Visit the last TUSH co-op home on Bruce Road

Angelus, Mike and John will be opening up their door during the day on Wednesday for supporters to come and see their co-op home for themselves and find out more about the history of the co-op and why their way of living is a benefit and not a burden.

Their welcoming people between 12 and 5pm. Enjoy a cup of tea or a glass of juice and let John give you a tour of the garden where he grows food and is nurturing wildlife.