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.

Next TH Renters meeting: 7-9pm, Tues, 10th Nov: eviction resistance, letting fee research, landlord licensing demo

Next meeting: 7-9pm, Tues, 10th Nov, Unite Community Centre, basement of St Georges Town Hall, 236 Cable St, Shadwell, E1 0BL.

Please join us for our next meeting where we will be hearing about the eviction resistance network and if and how we can set one up in Tower Hamlets. ER is not only a great way of stopping people being kicked out onto the streets, but also to give support for people who often feel alone and powerless, to learn about housing law and our rights from one another, and to meet other activists and local people fighting for better housing.

We will also be looking to encourage people to get involved with our online letting agent fee research project and maybe finish the meeting with a group session for those interested. Generation Rent has made a special software application that had compiled a list of agencies that operate in the borough – it just needs us to fill in the blanks!

And finally we are thinking about holding a demo outside the Town Hall before the next full council meeting about the hold up in implementing the proposed landlord licensing scheme. The new mayor and head of housing have both refused to say what their plans are. TH Renter Michael James will be asking just that to the chamber.

We’ll also hear the usual updates and what is coming up not least the Radical Housing Network’s conference on Sat, 14th Nov.

Hope to see you next week

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

Next TH Renters meeting: 7-9pm, Tues, 13 Oct @ 236 Cable St. E1

Please join us for our next meeting in the basement of St George’s Hall, 236 Cable St, E1 0BL.

We’ll be catching up with people facing eviction, how they dealt with it and what we can learn from it. If you’re facing a landlord nightmare come share it with us and join the fight for better conditions in the private rental sector.

We’ll also be looking at getting started with our TH letting agent research project and how to help with that. We hope to compile a list of the fees they’re charging and report the ones not displaying them – liable to a £5,000 fine – to the council.

We’ll also discuss Poplar Harca’s plans to refurbish and privatise Balfron Tower after it finally submitted a planning application. Should we get involved with any campaign to keep it social?

We’ll also be finalising arrangements for our first Chrisp St Market public meeting to discuss Poplar Harca’s plans to redevelop it and find out what people want to know and do about it.

If you have any private renter issues you would like us discuss or campaign on please get in touch or come to the meeting.

Hope to see you there

TH Renters

Upcoming housing events in Sept/Oct – something for everyone :o)

Want to learn more about housing, start taking action or find out how? Then come to one of the events below to meet like-minded people fighting for safe, secure and affordable housing.

  1. Save Chrisp St Market – 7-9pm, Weds, 23 Sept: with our first public meeting booked for end of October we need to start planning and organising for it and the campaign in general. Please join us if you want to get involved with any aspect: web stuff, logo/leaflet design, writing content, publicity, or just generally helping out. Address: Common House, 5e Pundersons Gardens, E2 9QG.
  2. East London in Crisis – 2.30-8pm, Sat, 26 Sept: a community gathering organised by local union branches and campaign groups to find out what’s going on and how to get involved with housing, education, welfare and health campaigns. Address: St Matthias Community Centre, Poplar High St, E14 0AE.
  3. Eviction Resistance workshop – 12.30-2.30pm: learn how to resist evictions with the support of others and the relevant laws around S21, bailiffs and the council’s duty to house you. Address: St Barnabas Church, St Barnabas Rd, E17 8JZ.
  4. TH Federation of TRAs – 7-9pm, Mon, 28 Sept: monthly meeting of the Fed with the new cabinet member for housing as guest speaker. It will also be the Fed’s AGM for the last part. Address: Collingwood Hall, Collingwood Street, Whitechapel, E1.
  5. Community organising for renters – 10.30am-5.30pm, Sat, 3 Oct: learn how to organise with your communities to stand up to landlords and campaign against housing injustice. Address: Green Lanes Methodist Church, 132a Green Lanes, N16 9BN.
  6. People’s Housing Conference – 10am-5pm, Sat, 10 Oct: find out all you need to know about the state of housing, the fightback against it, and how to get involved. Address: Friends Meeting House, 173-177 Euston Road, Euston, NW1 2BJ.
  7. Reclaim Tower Hamlets – 7-9pm, Mon, 12 Oct: meeting of the new group that aims to bring direct action to campaigning in Tower Hamlets. Address: LARC, Fieldgate St, Whitechapel, E1.
  8. Tower Hamlets Renters – 7-9pm, Tues, 13 Oct: monthly meeting that discusses housing issues, supports people with them and plans actions and campaigns to tackle them. Address: basement of St Georges hall, 236 Cable St, Shadwell, E1 0BL.
  9. Save Chrisp St Market public meeting – evening time tbc: first meeting to bring residents, shoppers and traders together to demand a say in Poplar Harca’s plans to redevelop the site. Address: St Matthias Community Centre, Poplar High Street, E14 0AE.

Next TH Renters meeting: 7-9pm, Tues, 8 Sept, 236 Cable St, E1

Please join us for our next meeting this Tuesday, 7-9pm, in the basement of St Georges Hall, 236 Cable St, Shadwell, E1 0BL.

Catch up on what we’ve been up to over the summer and what we’ve got planned this autumn. Lots to get involved in or if you’re having a private landlord nightmare come share it with us.

On the agenda is:

  1. Planning for a community meeting in Poplar about Poplar Harca’s plans to redevelop Chrisp St market. What do residents, traders and shoppers want? So far Harca has failed to ask. We hope to bring the community together and get the conversation started.
  2. Getting started with our letting agent online research campaign. We’ll take a look at how people can help list the letting agents operating in the borough, their fees, and if they’re regulated.
  3. Supporting people facing eviction. What can we do to help? We’ve had a number of requests to support people facing eviction recently and do what we can, but could no doubt do more. What can we learn from Eviction Resistance and should we formally connect with them?
  4. Landlord licensing scheme. The much heralded scheme has been put on hold by the new administration as it gets to grips with its ‘to-do’ list. What should we do to help push it along in the direction that benefits tenants most?

Plus all the usual updates from Stop the Blocks, Radical Housing Network, and upcoming dates for the diary including East London in Crisis on 26th Sept

Hope to see you there :o)

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.

 

Next TH Renters meeting: 7-9pm, Tues, 14th July, 236 Cable Street

Please join us for our next meeting to discuss what’s next for TH Renters and get involved in one of our campaigns.

On the agenda is:

  • Stop the Blocks: Tower Hamlets housing alternative walking tour (Aug 8th)
  • Consulting Chrisp St market tenants and traders about the expected demolition
  • Tower Hamlets letting agency fees research
  • TUSH Housing co-op: TH Councils to kick out the last remaining tenants including an 82-year-old
  • And updates from the Radical Housing Network and TH landlord Licensing scheme

Address: basement of St George’s Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL, 7-9pm

TH Mayoral elections: housing manifestos

With the mayoral elections on Thursday (11th June) who should get your vote for a better deal on housing. Well, firstly we should acknowledge the limitations of mayoral powers; they’re not about to bring in rent caps for private renters or suddenly find the money to start building thousands of council homes themselves.

So what can they do?

There are a few things:

  1. Roll out licensing of private landlords across the borough to better protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and ban them where necessary. The government attempted to limit licensing to 20% of the borough, but can be overturned with permission.
  2. Expand the council’s environmental housing team to investigate tenant complaints of illegal conditions and enforce improvements where appropriate.
  3. Enforce the new letting agent redress scheme that requires agents to be upfront and transparent with fees and deal with complaints.
  4. Ensure every private development delivers a minimum of 35% social housing and a minimum of 50% where the land is owned by the state or housing association that was gifted it as part of a stock transfer.
  5. Where affordable homes are built for the council in exchange for planning permission rents should not exceed 65% of market rates.
  6. There should be no loss of homes rented out at social rates if existing stock is redeveloped.

So what are the mayoral candidates proposing?

Rabina Khan (Independent)

  • Ensure landlord licensing is rolled out across the borough
  • Help private tenants fight against revenge evictions and improve conditions
  • Hold housing associations to account (repeatedly accused of ignoring tenants’ views)
  • Maximise affordable housing from developers
  • Build 5,500 affordable homes
  • Bring TH Homes back under council control (subject to endless complaints)

John Biggs (Labour)

  • Roll out landlord licensing across the borough
  • Clampdown on rogue landlords and improve conditions in private rented sector
  • Ensure housing associations work with tenants to provide a better service
  • Look at bringing TH Homes back under council control
  • More accountability of housing associations

Elaine Bagshaw (Lib Dems)

  • Roll out landlord licensing across the borough
  • Set-up team to investigate tenants’ complaints
  • Set up landlord and tenant rating website
  • Ensure minimum 50% of a social housing redevelopment remains social housing
  • Ensure every social home that is lost is replaced
  • Ensure every private development includes affordable homes
  • Identify empty homes and convert to social housing

John Foster (Greens)

  • Roll out landlord licensing across the borough
  • Prioritise building of social housing
  • Look at regulation to bring empty properties back into use
  • Limit social rents and service charges

Peter Gold (Conservatives)

  • Restructure management at TH Homes
  • Hold public meetings with housing associations and tenants

Next TH Renters meet: Weds, 10 June, 7-9pm Shadwell: What’s next? Balfron, Chrisp St, licensing & July action

Hi All,

please join us for our next TH Renters meeting next Weds in the basement of St George’s Hall, 236 Cable Street, E1 0BL. The venue was booked for our normal Tuesday so re-arranged it for Wednesday – hope that’s okay for people.

We’ll be reporting back on what we’ve been up to and what we’re planning including:

  1. Chrisp St market regeneration: we’ve held three successful stalls gathering emails and personal stories, and are proposing carrying out a consultation with residents who will be affected. But planning permission is yet to be submitted. What next: more stalls, consultation, pause, or something else?
  2. Balfron Tower: plans to leaflet the block – that is inhabited mainly by property guardians – on their rights and how can we solidify fragmented interest in campaigning against its complete sell-off on the private market.
  3. Stop the Blocks: feedback on plans for a weekend of action in July to highlight the sell-off of land and property to private developers across Tower Hamlets including Balfron.
  4. Chapman House: Victory for Michael. A private tenant we’ve supported for the last 18-months looks set to remain in his home after three attempts by the landlord to kick him out for reporting dangerous conditions to the council. Hear about this amazing victory!
  5. Landlord licensing: TH is mid-consultation on introducing a scheme, but after a recent change in the law and the type of scheme being pursued the majority of the borough may not be covered. Should we do more than just respond to the consultation: maybe ask a question at full council?
  6. A new private renters’ issue to campaign on: With the new government offering nothing in the way of protection or security for private renters it’s left to us to highlight and tackle the problems facing private renters, so what should be our next project? Letting agents (are they fulfilling their obligations under the Redress Scheme and Trading Standards), creating info leaflets for tenants (research shows most don’t know their rights), a poster campaign (creatives needed :o)?

So lots to discuss and the more input the better! Please get in contact if you have any questions – hopefully see you next Wednesday, 10th June, 7-9pm.

TH Renters