The stereotypical landlord is lazy, greedy, bullying and dishonest.

Perhaps your landlord – or any landlord – is good. Excellent landlords exist, but don’t overlook the impact of bad ones. Our whole sense of security in life is rooted in where we live, and how. A landlord has power over a tenant.

Bad practices include discrimination, neglect of basic maintenance, unwanted sexual advances, aggressive hassling for rent money, price hikes, stealing deposit bonds and arbitrary eviction. Infestation, faulty wiring, broken heating, leaking roofs and rotten floorboards are frequent and potentially dangerous. Damp housing with mould can cause respiratory infections and even neurological problems. A 2017 study by the University of Manchester indicates that renting increases the risk of depression and lowers levels of wellbeing. Let’s face it, some tenancies are simply slums, with landlords absent and living on the profits. Tenants are vulnerable and poorly supported. According to ACORN, in 2015 over 50,000 complaints were made to Councils about housing. Only 14,000 were investigated and action was taken in fewer than 1,000 cases.

ACORN is tackling this. It’s a renters’ union and anti-poverty group. The initials stand for ‘Association of Community Organisations for Reform Now’. They say that two-thirds of tenants live in ‘non-decent’ homes, so they get people acting together as a support network. Their campaigning added to pressure for a ban on letting agent fees promised in the Queen’s speech in June 2017. The government may be tightening up further, but don’t expect much. Instead, ACORN takes direct action to support individual renters. Law-abiding action, but they’re not afraid to name and shame. In a recent Sheffield case they used people power, surrounding a home to prevent the forced eviction of a vulnerable woman.

Sheffield has a high level of rented housing, including student accommodation. The Council is thinking of adding another ‘selective licensing’ zone around Abbeydale, Chesterfield and London Roads, ensuring that landlords provide safe and well-managed homes. They’d need a licence for each dwelling, with some exceptions, to show that they’re ‘fit and proper’, with no criminal convictions which may affect their management of the property, and that satisfactory management arrangements are in place. A register of licensed rented housing would be made public and properties inspected. The proposed area covers approximately 4 miles and includes over 1,000 residential properties.

You can be sure that landlords will fight this tooth and nail. Landlords are “pushing back on licensing with everything they’ve got, from misleading and outright bizarre claims to threats of passing on the costs to their tenants of ensuring their properties meet legally minimal safety standards,” says Andy Lockhart of ACORN.

ACORN would be very interested to hear from renters pressured to oppose the scheme by their landlords or letting agencies. If you live in this area, there will be local meetings for the Council to consult with you at Sheffield United Football Ground on Weds 10 January and at Abbeydale Picture House on 21 February. Public consultation or pure Hollywood? You decide.

Another selective licensing zone is already running in Page Hall, but sadly these are just drops in the ocean. Nothing’s likely to change until the whole concept of property ownership is rearranged, and the idea of powerful and subordinate positions is rejected in favour of equality.

Housing is a basic human need. How can it be treated as a money machine? You should join ACORN’s fight, especially if you’re living in rented housing. They hold open action planning meetings at Union St every Wednesday, 6:15pm.

‘Selective Licensing Consultation’ leaflet (PDF)
sheffield.gov.uk/selectivelicensing
facebook.com/acornsheffield
alt-sheff.org

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