Bristol’s community union faces down violent threats from landlord to get the job done.
Words: Nick Ballard. Organiser, ACORN Bristol
There’s a wide spectrum of landlords in the private rented sector – from good to middling to bad and all points in between. Then there are ones like Sukchan ‘Tommy’ Singh. According to ACORN’s research Tommy as he likes to be known, has built himself quite the reputation for abuse and intimidation of tenants, with threats of beatings with baseball bats reported.
Following the recommendation of the Citizens Advice Bureau we were approached by Sue* who lives on Chelsea Road in Easton. We’ve seen some pretty dire properties in our time but the water pouring through the roof each time it rains set this one apart.
Whenever Sue asked for repairs Tommy responded with abuse and harassment such that the Police were involved. Things came to a head when the Council ordered works under Discretionary Licensing powers as despite safeguards against this, Sue was blamed for their intervention. Screaming at Council staff and Sue (she says he couldn’t stand being told what to do by three women) he has been determined to evict her ever since.
Following a letter from ACORN calling for the work to be done immediately rather than in the several months the Council allowed, our first conversation with Tommy consisted of threats of violence and general abuse. ‘Born and bred’ in Easton, he apparently ‘knows the score’ and would ‘sort us out personally.’
Despite this we negotiated in good faith and perhaps mistaking this for weakness Tommy saw an opportunity to act nice and string things out. Seems he couldn’t keep it up for long as after being told to cut the crap and begin the work he began threatening ACORN staff with extreme gang violence. While not always on this level, landlords angry at having their authority challenged is all in a day’s work for an ACORN organiser and better it be directed at us than vulnerable tenants such as Sue who has M.E. and is recovering from an operation.
So far Tommy’s threats have rung a bit hollow and it seems that he might have had second thoughts: the morning after his most vicious threats a roofer mysteriously appeared at Sue’s door and began work. We’ll be keeping an eye out and organising further action on this but for the time being the answer to Tommy’s challenge “You think you can take on the landlords?” has to be, where they exploit and abuse tenants YES, WE CAN!
*Name has been changed