“The tenants united, will never be defeated.”

This refrain could be heard up and down Abbeydale Road on Thursday 27 July,

as around 100 protesters joined with us to oppose the illegal eviction of a Sheffield family. The huge show of support was organised by our campaigners from the tenants’ union, ACORN.

Included amongst our number were Labour councillor Mohammed Maroof and Green Party councillor and Deputy Lord Mayor, Majid Majid, who joined the blockade around the building.

The Khan family* had asked for essential maintenance to be carried out on their flat, but the landlord had continually ignored their requests. Despite paying their rent, the family of four has been forced to live with a pest infestation and ongoing disrepair, including damp and broken kitchen units. Instead of carrying out the work, the landlord issued a handwritten notice giving the couple just four weeks to vacate.

Under UK law landlords must give a notice period of at least two months to tenants, such as the Khans, who hold fixed-term contracts.

Mr Khan, speaking about the protest, said: “This is the last option we have. We would like to move because the place is bad, but it is difficult to find an affordable home near our children’s nursery and school.”

After we called the landlord to make him aware of what was waiting for him, he had a sudden change of heart and instead agreed to meet with us on a quieter evening.

This is by no means an isolated case and it highlights the wider problem of evictions and homelessness in today’s rental market. In July, Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that evictions are at the highest level on record, with 10,000 more tenants losing their homes in 2015 than in 2003. Rough sleeping has also risen for six years in succession and the primary cause for this rise in homelessness is eviction.

There are currently 12 million people living in rented accommodation in the UK and the homelessness charity Shelter claims that a third of these renters live in ‘non-decent homes’, which includes problems such as mould and damp. In 2013-2014, the health of 1 in 10 renters was affected by a landlord not making repairs or dealing with poor conditions. Considering that we pay the highest rents in Europe, double the EU average, something needs to be done.

This is where we at ACORN come in. We are a ‘union in the community’ and have been organising tenants since being founded in Bristol in 2014.

Our Sheffield organiser, Jonny Butcher, said: “We do two things; we protect members through direct action, such as anti-eviction actions, and we also campaign for policy change.”

An example of this is our successful take-down of the high street bank Santander in March. Buried in Santander’s buy-to-let mortgage contracts was a clause known as a ‘rent rise clause’. This forced landlords to “get written advice from a qualified valuer” and “take all steps to ensure that [it] leads to the maximum increase in the rent which can reasonably be achieved”. On hearing about this, we mobilised in eight cities in conjunction with our Scottish sister organisation, Living Rent. The threat of our proposed action was enough to get Santander to remove the clause from contracts.

Back in Sheffield, the Khan family, thanks to ACORN, have been assured that they will not be evicted before they find a new home and the landlord has agreed to help them in this process. Unfortunately, not every family has this kind of support and unless more renters unite, landlords will continue to take them for a ride.

You can learn more about ACORN and become a member at acorntheunion.org.uk.

*Family’s name has been changed to protect their identity.

 Ashley Birch is an ACORN member and acting Sheffield media officer.

Ashley Birch