Predatory landlords who buy up homes and paint them magnolia before putting them on the rental market for extortionate prices are rightly despised by renters at the sharp end of the housing crisis. Too often, however, the role of the landlord’s lackeys—estate agents—is overlooked. But any fight against the exploitative rental sector must also target those who do the bidding of landlords in victimising and exploiting tenants.
The need to take on estate agents was underlined this week, when myself and my housemates, accompanied by tenants union representatives from the London Renters Union were attacked by our estate agent—an event caught on a now viral video. The attack was ‘provoked,’ simply enough, by our attempt to explain tenants rights. That we were assaulted for stating the law emphasises the arrogance of those who think they are above it.
In a case that many renters will be familiar with, our landlord wanted to increase the rent on our dilapidated property for which we already pay over the odds. In search of a quick buck, they sought a pretext to put us out on the street. In an attempt to force us out, we were served with what we recognised as an invalid eviction notice along with unjustified fines.
In our view, the estate agent in question, Eaton Green, seemed to believe they were above the law. The property in question lacked the licence required to be rented to a group of tenants—a House of Multiple Occupancy licence—but when we resisted attempts to force us out, we felt intimidated and harassed. We even experienced situations where people would allow themselves into the property while we were asleep in bed or in a state of undress.
After suffering this bullying behaviour, we sought the support of our local Labour councillors and our local MP, Harriet Harman. Shamefully, they palmed us off onto renters’ rights associations after providing no help whatsoever. Harman stated that her role as an MP meant she was ‘unable to assist with private landlord disputes.’
The refusal of our Labour representatives shows how lacking renters are in terms of political representatives prepared to stand up for them. Labour councils should be using their autonomy to crack down on shameful practices of estate agents and landlords, and MPs should be providing renters in need with their support—not washing their hands of us.
The Labour Party was founded on a platform of ‘No Landlordism’. Even as recently as the 1960s, an MP from the right of the party, Tony Crosland, stated that ‘The landlord often looks on house-property simply as an investment to give [them] a perpetual return with the minimum of expenditure… worse still, [they] wield a degree of personal power over [their] tenants which can be offensive and intolerable’. How have we ended up in a situation where estate agents and landlords feel free to determine our rights to housing, and Labour politicians leave tenants to fend for themselves?
Having had little help from our elected officials, we had no option but to take matters into our own hands. We entered the offices of Eaton Green to demand our rights—for us, this meant an end to the campaign against us and the ‘Right to Quiet Enjoyment’. That a simple reciting of our rights was enough to trigger the estate agent into insulting us before entering an aggressive fervour, attacking us once we left the office, shows the lack of respect and in fact contempt that many in the housing industry hold for those who make them their money.
Renters—and young people in particular—are suffering a crushing combination of high rents and low wages, and are struggling to get by. This is a stark contrast to the luxury and comfort enjoyed by the landlord class whose mortgages we pay. Estate agents in general ought to be understood as active participants in this exploitation, and not as some neutral third party acting as a mediator between tenants and private landlords—they are too often the instruments of unscrupulous landlords and are used to exploit renters for all they’re worth.
I know our case is not an anomaly and that many renters across the country are facing the same type of deplorable behaviour from people who profit from a basic human right. As the cost of living crisis and the housing crisis continue to escalate, cases as extreme as ours will become increasingly common. The only solution is to build a movement to defeat both landlords and the estate agents who do their bidding.