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Dodgy landlords and a community union in Bristol

Edition 1

Maria, a resident in Easton, tells her all too familiar story of dodgy estate agents, the troubles of finding a house in Bristol, and a community union defending local residents. (photo: Acorn)

When you rent your home as many of us have to, you can easily be fooled into believing that you’re a valued paying customer. That is of course if the estate agent has not already deemed you at first glance a ‘risk’. As a minimum wage earner I apparently fall into this category.

One of 1.3 Million in the UK earn minimum wage.

While living in Devon, a certain estate agent was kind enough to allow me to live in the property if I’d pay extra ‘admin’ fees, a double deposit and extra rent in advance. We had little choice but to agree, as other estate agents had told me and my husband that we needed a joint income of around £25,000 a year. Something we just didn’t have at the time.

A national survey by Citizen Advice Bureau of 424 letting agents found that 94% imposed additional charges on tenants on top of the deposit and rent in advance.

So there we were, crammed into our ‘cosy’, overpriced bedsit, and grateful enough to have the stress of relocation over with. But it wasn’t long until our landlady began work on the flat upstairs so she could rent that out also. After 18 months of being driven mad by building works, we eventually saved enough money to move to Bristol.

I had a job lined up to start in January. We paid a deposit, holding fee and administration fee to secure the house. We then waited for the agents to email the contract over before they started sifting through our credit history and interrogating our guarantors.

Tenants in Bristol face higher-than-average ‘administration’ fees of £251. (Rentify, online landlord and tenants service

As I read through the contract I realised that there were contradictory terms to which we had agreed to. I politely emailed the estate agent and highlighted points that needed to be amended which included the fees, one of which was a surprising £95 ‘handover’ fee…which covered them handing me the keys.

I waited nearly two weeks for a response and every time I called the office there was nobody available to help or provide me with any information. Then one week before we were due to move in, a new member of staff informed us that they had decided to let the house to somebody else. We were apparently just too much of a hassle. Having already given the notice on our flat and our jobs, we had just two weeks to find somewhere to move in to, otherwise we would’ve been homeless. Luckily they handed back the deposits and fees that we had put down.

Over 43 thousand households across Bristol now privately rent. An increase of 76% in ten years. (Bristol Post)

Somehow, we managed to move to a place in Bristol on New Year’s Eve, shortly after which I sank into a deep depression caused by feelings of helplessness and worthlessness. The ‘new life’ I’d been expecting came to a halt when I lost my job due to exhaustion.

I went to a meeting organised by ACORN (Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now), a new community union in Easton, which encourages the community to share their experiences and defend local people’s rights. I had learned about them on the local evening news and a week later received a leaflet inviting me to come and join in. After meeting everybody I became an eager and active member of the group.

Easton has nearly double city-wide average of private renters, 40% vs 21%. (Bristol City Council)

In one of our campaigns we managed to stop a local estate agent from bullying an elderly, disabled tenant through our non-aggressive yet very effective action. Her quality of life has been much improved as a result. Through this, I realised I wasn’t alone in feeling isolated and held to ransom by their circumstances. Now there’s something we can do about it.

Maria Owen-Midlane

 

 

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  • The fees that agencies decide to charge is somewhat astonishing and out of all proportion to the actual cost of the “service” they are providing. For example agencies often charge in the region of £100 to £150 to undertake credit checks. Having recently, invested in a “buy to let” property it became clear to me that it was possible to get the check done without employing an agent for £34.

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