Demonstrators target letting agents in angry protests

Letting agents in London were targeted on Saturday in an angry city-wide protest by demonstrators.

Some who had got wind of the ‘Let Down’ demonstration beforehand decided to stay shut for the day while Foxtons, in Brixton, reportedly hired security officers. Others locked their doors as the protesters tried to enter and make agents answer their ‘survey’.

The protests followed similar action last autumn in Haringey. Saturday’s demonstrations were in Islington, Haringey, Herne Hill and Brixton, and took the form of tours of agency offices by self-appointed community housing inspectors, wearing high-visibility jackets.

Some letting agency offices were cordoned off by the protesters who used tape to make them look like ‘crime scenes’. Some of the agents were served with ‘cease and desist’ notices for supposedly criminal behaviour against tenants.

Passers-by were given leaflets while the demonstrators used loud hailers to get their messages across.

The protesters were demonstrating against “extortionate” letting agent fees, with accusations of greed, exploitation and profiteering; promoting unaffordable rents; offering insecure tenancies; and discriminating against people on benefits and low wages.

A particular demand is for letting agents’ fees to be outlawed, as they are in Scotland. In London, the protesters claim that tenants are charged between £100 and £500 for admin, reference checks and inventories, plus £100 to £300 renewal.

In Haringey, ‘cease and desist’ notices were served on eight agents – Wilkinson Byrne, Easy Property, A1 Estates, Hane Estates, Kings Lettings, Winkworth, Bairstow Eves and Brian Thomas.

Strictly speaking, a cease and desist notice is an order or request to halt an activity and not to repeat it – or face legal action.

In Islington, the protest had a Monopoly theme with members of the public being invited to play a game called Housing Crisis Chance, while another demonstration was led by musicians. In Brixton, the demonstrators awarded the ‘worst letting office’ certificate to Foxtons, which only opened there last month and has previously been targeted with graffiti.

Several tenants’ groups took part in the protests led by London Renters, including Islington Private Tenants, Tower Hamlet Renters, Haringey Action Group, the People’s Republic of Southwark, and Digs.

The protesters are saying that Saturday’s action, which was organised via social networks, was just the beginning of a series of housing-related events throughout London. They have already declared that they will continue to monitor and visit letting agents.

It is thought similar protests could be being planned elsewhere in the country, according to Heather Kennedy of the campaign group Digs.

She said desperate tenants were at the mercy of “greedy, dishonest letting agents” who were getting away with charging for a service “that is often shoddy or downright criminal”.

She added: “We are calling on private renters like us to stand up and say we’ve had enough.

“For too long, tenants have been invisible as the need for landlords and agents to make profit has been put above the basic need for people to have a decent, secure home.

“Our message to letting agents is that private tenants have had enough. Right across the country, private tenants groups are springing up, demanding an end to the destructive impact of letting agents on the housing market.”

She added: “Letting agents encourage landlords to increase rents. They collude with mortgage lenders and landlords to make the private market inaccessible to people most in need, those on benefits or low incomes.

“We call on letting agents and MPs to follow the example of Scotland by scrapping rip-off fees. And we must remove the totally unacceptable discrimination which bars housing benefit tenants from accessing a home in the private rented sector. This has a devastating human cost, particularly because social housing and home ownership are simply not an option for many Londoners.”