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STUDENT VOICE: What is a Renters Union, and should you join?

The Verse’s Rosie Pacey gives us an insight into Brighton’s newly founded renter’s union ACORN and what this means if you’ve had issues while renting in Brighton.

The dreadful treatment renters, particularly student renters – are forced to endure has been well known for quite some time. But at last, there seems to be a way to fight back and protect your rights as tenants. Any student could tell you at least one horror story from renting in Brighton; I recently heard of a group of three guys who were shown a two bedroom flat by their letting agents. They were told to put a curtain across the living room to create the third room. The agency were asking for £500 a month with the curtain NOT included!

When I moved into my rented house last year my first words were “Sweet, there’s hardly any mould!” That’s all too indicative of the general standard for rented accommodation. We all witnessed the tragic result of such low standards last year when Grenfell tower burned down, killing at least 80 people. The fight for safe and affordable living has seen many successful rent strikes, however, it is only in the past year that I have started to notice the emergence of Renters unions. The government are unwilling to hold Landlords to account, Conservative MPs voted to reject a proposed rule that would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”. Now it seems unions are stepping up to do what the Government will not; protect renters, and fight for their rights.

What is a Renters Union?

A Renters Union is a way of collectively organising to oppose landlords and protect your rights. All too often landlords get away with exploiting their tenants, withholding deposits, refusing to fix unhealthy and unsafe conditions. Then there’s the mould. So. Much. Mould. Challenging landlords alone can seem like a daunting task, but a union is about building power and holding people to account. The recent success of student rent strikes, such as that at Sussex University, demonstrates the potential for victories at the collective level. With this in mind, I spoke to Duncan Michie, a member of Brighton’s newly founded Acorn Union. I wanted to find out more about why a Renter’s Union is necessary, and what they’ve done to help.

Duncan echoed what many people feel when he said that “Housing is f****ing over everyone, it’s expensive, poor quality and landlords seem to have no interest in changing that. This issue is not going to be fixed by the council, nor the government. The only way to challenge this is if tenants from across the city decide to come together and take landlords and letting agents head on.” This he claims, is what ACORN allows people to do. “It provides a platform for us to work together to make sure we’re not being ripped off, that our houses are fit for habitation and that we don’t get kicked out of our homes for no reason.”

Acorn’s Brighton branch has had a lot of success in its first few months, having already won £65000 in a rent strike at the University of Sussex, giving each tenant £515 in compensation for poor quality housing. In addition to this, Acorn won £2000 for a tenant who had been treated unfairly by Mylets. “These were our two first cases” Duncan said, “and we won crazy sums very easily.” This is why Acorn feels tenant’s unions are so important. “In two months we’ve won what seems unimaginable. If we all come together imagine what we could accomplish in two years, we could fix the housing crisis ourselves.”

If you are affected by some of the housing problems above, or simply want to find out more about renters union, then visit https://acorntheunion.org.uk/ Or find them on facebook @ACORNBrighton.

 

Solfed are another organisation that you can get in contact with at http://www.solfed.org.uk/contact

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