Perhaps a sign of what is to come, as renting becomes ever increasingly popular, tenant’s unions look likely to spring up and establish their power, similar to the labour unions of the 1970s. Renters unions, however, are not a new idea. Tenant organisations existed as early as 1891, where a union organised a rent strike in the East End of London to support the Dockers Strike. Protests during the First World War culminated in a brutal strike in Glasgow in 1915, which resulted in a war time coalition government for the first time in Britain, thereby introducing rent controls in the private sector.
There has been commitment from the Labour party that a Labour Government would fund renter’s unions across the UK, with the party already backing a campaign from Generation Rent to cease Section 21 notices, dissolve assured shorthold tenancies (AST) and stop the ability of landlords to evict tenants without providing a reason.
A PhD student of Political Science, Bradley Allsop, at the University of Lincoln, has already founded a tenant’s union, with the aim of re-balancing the power between landlords and students in Lincoln. He states that after challenging his own bad landlords single-handed, he had the idea of creating a collective response which would be much more powerful than an individual working on their own. Mr Allsop has emphasised that there is a power imbalance between letting agents and landlords, particularly with student tenants, as landlords assume that students are unaware of their rights, do not know what they are entitled to, and are scared to challenge them due to their inexperience in renting, and his aim is to address this inequality.
Bradley Allsop has claimed that the union is already receiving good support, despite his reservations that such an organisation may take time to get off the ground. A lot of residents are interested in the union, after having bad experiences with private rented sector landlords themselves, and they are fed up and want to take action. It is thought that the existence of such a group with good membership could be enough to make a difference.
The creation of a tenants’ union for Lincoln has come as local authorities are given new powers to fight rogue landlords and poor housing. In this authority, one landlord has been given a record-breaking fine of £400,000.
VP for Welfare and Community at the Students’ Union of the University of Lincoln, Grace Corn, has explained that issues with housing are extremely important to students, and the students’ union takes pride in representing the rights of students. Although the student union is not officially affiliated with the renters’ union, support is available to students from an Advice Centre based on-campus. Since launching in 2015, Lincoln University’s Advice Centre has helped with hundreds of cases concerning students, agencies and landlords.
The new Lincoln tenants union will form part of a national chain of unions called “ACORN”, which will have groups across the whole of the UK. ACORN claims to tackle injustice across Britain as a community-based union, and bring people together to improve lives and communities and support each other. After launching branches in Brighton, Sheffield, Newcastle and Bristol, other groups are looking set to open all over Wales and England.
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