How struggling students are taking on rogue landlords
Renting in London is hard. It manages to be the most expensive place in the UK to live whilst often offering worse quality than anywhere else.
Most students go from a cupboard-sized room in halls to paying over the odds for a mouldy house in Zone 3. But there are organisations out there that are firmly in the tenant’s corner.
Get Rent Back is an initiative that gives renters a chance to fight back against dodgy landlords. Taking advantage of recent changes in the law around renting multiple occupancy houses, the group works with tenants to get back rent from landlords not playing by the rules.
Before April 2017, tenants could only try to reclaim rent through a Rent Repayment Order (RRO) if the landlord had already been prosecuted by the local authority. Unfortunately this happened rarely, on average once per year.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016 changed this. Since it came into affect in 2017 tenants have been able to use RROs to directly force unscrupulous rental owners to reimburse rent.
RROs can be used if the landlord has behaved illegally by harassing the tenant, not adequately maintaining the property or, most relevant to many students, not licensing it.
Licensing is a requirement of ‘houses in multiple occupation’ (HMOs), i.e. properties with five tenants or more. To license a rental it needs to pass rigorous checks conducted by the local authority focused on
health and safety, so this is a key way to combat poor quality housing.
Under a law change in October last year, thousands of more properties across the country now need to be registered. According to figures from Flat Justice, the organisation behind www.GetRentBack.org, this affects over 800,000 tenants, many of them in London.
Students in smaller properties can also make RRO applications due to localised licensing rules in many areas of London, such as Camden, Hackney and Tower Hamlets. The best way to figure out if your landlord is correctly licensed is to ask Flat Justice directly.
Carly, who studied at London’s Institute of Contemporary Music Performance, successfully used an RRO in August last year along with her three flatmates. They struggled through the process themselves but Carly fully endorsed Flat Justice.
She said,”I think it’s awesome what [they’re] doing, I would have found something like this so helpful when I was going through it, I felt like I was in way over my head and I had no idea what was going to happen in that hearing. I really hope it helps people in the same position.”
As well as offering free advice and help with the jargon-ridden paperwork, Flat Justice also offer to take on the case themselves. Any upfront costs are covered by them and if the tenant doesn’t win the case then there is no fee attached.
Flat Justice is a non-profit founded by ex-KCL student Daniel Herm-Morris, who drew on his experiences renting as a student in London. They are a Community Interest Company, which means they are a social enterprise that use their profits and assets for the public good.
He said, “Mostly, like me, we are or were tenants of unlicensed properties who realised that the process of claiming compensation from rogue landlords can be difficult, expensive and time consuming. Flat Justice wants to make it all easier.”
They are not just using the law to protect renters they are trying to change it as well. As it stands, landlords can charge costs out of any money awarded through RROs for things like mortgage repayments and utilities. The organisation hopes that by arguing for 100% repayment to the tenants in RRO cases, they can set precedence for future cases.
Compared to other large European countries such as Germany and France, tenant rights in the UK are less well protected. This can have serious implications for peoples’ quality of life and ability to plan for their future.
The housing regulator, the Housing Ombudsman Service only mediates a small fraction of landlord and tenant disagreements, with the majority relying on the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. Such schemes only cover certain areas of dispute.
If younger generations are consigned to renting for life with little government protection, then you should be glad organisations like Flat Justice are there to have tenants’ backs.