It is the season of the strikes so as a striking teacher I got to interview Conall from the Haringey branch of the London Renters Union. I am really happy about the coordination of the different unions as teachers, nurses, posties, rail workers are all incredibly affected by housing especially in London. I hope you find this interesting and useful even if you managed the almost impossible these days - home ownership.
London Renters Union Haringey branch
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Hi I'm Jamila and anybody everybody Tottenham is a bi monthly podcast, introducing the good people of Tottenham to you. Hello, my friends. It's the week of the strikes. And on Wednesday when it was the teacher strike, I was interviewing Conall from the London renters union, and he is from the Haringey branch. And also I have to give him props. He was prepared for the top tips. So we've got some real gems for that one. Enjoy. Today on the pod. I've got Conall from the London renters unit from the Haringey branch. Thank you very much for joining me today.
No problem. Thank you very much for having me and for having London renters union.
It's the day of the unions isn't it? I'm on strike. And I saw some of you were supporting like were marching with the teachers like the Lewisham branch.
I was down at I was down at Chestnut primary school this morning joining their picket as well. So that was great. And solidarity to you and your strike, of course.
So yeah, it seems to be quite good vibes. So fingers crossed. Okay, so let's start with you. Tell me a little bit about what brought you to Tottenham how long you've been here.
I'm from Dublin, originally, in Ireland, and I moved here about - I moved to London about three and a half years ago, coming up around four years shortly after in June so so yeah, and I spent my first six months in manor house and since then have been living in and around Tottenham - first in on West Green Road, then by seven sisters stationnow by Downhills Park, so I haven't strayed far. But yeah, I think Tottenham has become a home for me, which is, which is really nice. And not something that I expected to find. So quickly when I moved from Dublin to find somewhere that felt so much like home, but
how come it feels so much like home?
I think the people here are amazing. And the resilience that the community shows here is, is incredible. In a lot of adversity, I've kind of become quite involved with the community I was when I was working in hospitality previously. So I was on furlough for like two years over lockdown, or the guts of two years. So I wasn't working and the kind of first lockdown, I was a bit anxious and my mental health wasn't very good. And then the next lockdown I was like, right, I need to do something. So I reached out and I started volunteering with Tottenham Food Bank and I started volunteering with Selby center and then I just fell in love with what To ttenham is and the resilience that the (??) shows and the people here and yeah, it's a privilege to live in somewhere that has such a historical and political past. And it's it shows in the people and the welcoming nature of the people. I always find that in Tottenham when you're walking down the road, someone might just like a stranger is just gonna say hello to you, which is, which happens in Dublin and Ireland all the time. But you don't really get that anywhere else in London, you know, you don't just stop and kind of have a start having conversations with strangers about something that's going on or just about anything. So yeah, I think I think those are the those are the reasons why it's become like a home to me like a second home.
Is there a little bit of an Irish community? Because I think back back in the day, but not so much anymore? Or have you?
Yeah, I think there's kind of there's kind of an ageing Irish community, I guess, I guess, to a certain extent, because I think there was there was a big Irish community. And I remember speaking to someone who I've just passed by in the street, and we started talking to each other like I mentioned, but he was telling me that he remembers when he was young when he was four or five years old and his mom was bringing him around and there was signs saying no blacks, no dogs, no Irish on the doors in around Tottenham. And we were just Yeah, we were talking about that. But there was an Irish community that definitely, probably a bigger one. And there was the Irish center. There's an Irish center in Tottenham that recently closed. So they're still there, you still find kind of a connection there. And you still - there's quite a lot of Irish pubs in Tottenham. And you find lots of lots of people who, who Yeah, who've been here for a long time are second generation people whose parents were Irish. Yeah, there's a connection, but maybe not quite as strong as it was. Yeah, a couple of years ago, I guess.
Tell me a little bit about the renters union. So I've seen that they started in 2018. Do you know a little bit about how it started off? And then maybe how you got involved? And then I'm gonna ask you questions.
I think the start and I don't know this perfectly accurately. But it was kind of a bunch of housing groups who came together or housing reform groups, people who are working around housing policy and all these other kinds of Yeah, I think it was a mix of about several groups who came together to create something that where people could fight for better housing policy and people can fight for their own housing because no one else was going to do it and no one else is going to do it. So I think it born out of that. And I do actually think that one of the leading kind of maybe on the academic side, one of those people who was kind of central in getting London renters union started, does actually live in Tottenham in seven sisters. Her name is Beth Stratford. And she's a yeah, so she's kind of an acclaimed housing activist and activist in terms of academia. But it was brought together yeah in 2018, like you said, so it's a relatively young organization. We've grown since then. I mean, I joined when I moved over to London, because I'd heard of London renters union I was quite involved in housing activism back in Ireland as well, given that Ireland has a similar housing crisis, and similarly terrible housing policies, in my opinion. So I was quite involved and I'd heard of it. And when I moved over, I joined and I went to a couple of protests, but there wasn't a group in Haringey at that point, then over I think, yeah, during lockdown, I then received a call saying, Hey, we're going to be starting a group in Haringey. Are you interested in getting involved? And I said, Yeah, absolutely. So I got involved around late 2020, early 2021 got more heavily involved with it then. And that's kind of when the group and Haringey have started gathering a bit of momentum,
the way the union is organized is through local branches, isn't it? And there seem to be in South London and maybe Hackney it's like developing all the time now, isn't it?
Yeah, I think overall, there is six branches, Newham, Hackney, Haringey, Lewisham, Brent and Tower Hamlets. And then there's also groups in Wandsworth I think there's a group and there's groups in a couple of other places as well, where they're hoping to eventually bring them into branches like we were a new group up until I think it was August, September last year, that's when we became a branch officially. But yeah, I think there's over 5000 members across London, which is quite a big membership, and it's growing all the time. And I think we have about 450 to 500 members in Haringey, it doesn't necessarily mean we have 500 people coming to each branch meeting so not everyone is active in that sense. But the union is growing in general, because at this point, it's really important.
So what would you say are like the key things that you're working on that you think you can change, and hope to change
in that sense is kind of a slight differentiation between like kind of London wide policies and campaigning that's being done and then also maybe more local campaigning that we're doing in Haringey, because obviously, we can campaign to the local council on things like that but there's certain powers that they don't have to in terms of changing policy. So, for example, there's not really much point in campaigning to the local council on rent controls. And we can campaign for them to pledge to support a bid for rent controls, but they can't bring in rent controls that needs to be a national policy change. So we're in the middle of a rent freeze campaign in terms of London wide renters union kind of campaigning, which we had a day of action in Haringey, on the third of December last year, which was a great success, every each branch of the renters union as well as a sister organization and renters union in Manchester, we all had a day of action on the same day. So we targeted estate agents in our local boroughs or areas and had protests outside them and demonstrations outside them, which was brilliant. All of the estate agents actually closed on the day because they didn't want any trouble. So we weren't going to give any trouble anyway, we were just we're just trying to show the public that we need to freeze rents so that people aren't being forced out of their homes and people aren't being evicted, and people aren't being given astronomical rent rises, which we are seeing pretty across the board
Those two points that you mentioning the rent rises and evictions. So there's big question about - is it section 21? The no fault evictions. What have you seen? Because, yeah, it's all thanks to Liz, isn't it? Liz Truss and her little Reign of Terror?
So yeah, I mean, section 21 is like a long standing way for landlords to be able to evict tenants pretty much - they give them two months notice. And they don't need to give any reason or anything like that. So it means that essentially, renters are left with very little power in that sense. Because if you get a rent rise, and then and then you say, No, I don't want to pay this. And then the landlord can just give you a section 21 And you have to leave. Or if you have lots of disrepair, and you're saying, Oh, you need to fix this mold, you need to fix this leak, you need to give us a new boiler. And suddenly, if you complain too much, they might just evict you. So section 21 is a really backwards way of operating any kind of housing system and there has been a renters reform bill that was passed, which will remove section 21. But this still needs to go through Parliament and since we've had the changes in Prime Minister, there has been doubt of whether this is going to go through or not. And when Liz Truss came in, it seemed like they were going to reverse it or there was murmurings that it was going to be reversed. And since then there hasn't really been a definitive answer either way. But there's so I would say that there's still a lot of campaigning to be done to make sure that we can get rid of section 21. Unfortunately, what they're going to bring in is a system that they have in Ireland where you can only be evicted if a family member of the landlord is moving in, if they're doing renovations, or if they're selling the property. In my experience, this doesn't really stop landlords, because they find a way they'll say that their cousin is moving in, and then suddenly, it's on the market two weeks later. So there's still ways around that. And there's still even if we do remove section 21, there's still a lot of work to be done. From there, we're expecting quite a lot more evictions and coming this year, we've definitely started seeing more eviction in Haringey, we're actually supporting some members at the moment who have been really organized and have been brilliant in knowing their rights and learning their rights and communicating that to the landlord. And they've done really well. But we kind of had a call out that it was either going to be today or tomorrow that the landlord was potentially gonna come to do an illegal eviction, but they haven't shown up as of yet. So that shows our power when you show your landlords that you've got a union behind you, and you've know, your rights, and you're able to - so these are ways that you can show your powers, but we have seen several other members who also have been served section 21s or are at risk of being served section 21. So it's going to be a fight this year. Definitely.
The section 21 is this just private landlords that use this or can also housing associations - can they do it or not?
Ahem no - housing associations and council housing, can't so that's they have a lot more security. There's another type of eviction called a section eight, this is testing me on my know your rights training there. So hopefully I get all of this right. But I think that to evict people from a housing associations or council housing, you need to serve a section eight, which needs to prove that there's been kind of severe rent arrears, kind of two months, two months plus of rent arrears, or antisocial behavior, severe antisocial behavior, the issue with a lot of housing policy is that there's quite a lot of kind of ambiguous terms. So they might, they'll say something like, antisocial behavior or severe antisocial behavior, it's some kind of term like that. But there's no parameters on what that is. So then suddenly, you are kind of saying, Well, is this antisocial behavior? Or is this not? Or similarly, when you're facing issues with disrepair, it says that landlords have to reply within a reasonable time. What's a reasonable time? They have to address this within a reasonable time. So a landlord can say, well, it's been a month that's kind of that's, that's still within a reasonable time. But one tip that we kind of do when we do know your rights workshops, and things like that is that if you're ever writing to your landlord to try and fix disrepair, or something like that, if you state in your email, or whatever it is, you're writing to say, our boiler is broken, or there's a leak, or we're facing mold, this needs to be addressed within two weeks or within one week, if you give them that time parameter that can then be construed as the reasonable time that you've given them.
And the important thing is to do everything in writing is not to just call them with no proof of your communication.
Everything in writing, email is usually better than Whatsapp. And if it gets to a point where you're in a legal battle, I think email stands up slightly stronger than WhatsApp. So in having all of this an email is good. And having evidence of everything and all times when you move in, take photos of everything, when you have a disrepair issue, take photos of everything, take photos of the progress if it's getting worse, and they're not addressing it. Yeah, everything in writing and get evidence of everything is two big things that we are constantly repeating when we're doing our know your rights workshops.
So I was gonna go back to one thing, what I saw on your website about the rent rises, which I thought was quite useful - was to have like a little survey that people can go on there and put in their postcode and say how much - so that there is a picture what is actually going on in London, how much are rents really going up being reported? Is that something that you would encourage people to do?
Absolutely anyone who is experiencing a rent rise - it would be, it's really important that we can document all this particularly I guess, borough to borough as well, so we can have that information but we know within our branch, even our active members, we've had several pretty intense rent rises, I had one myself where we had to, we had to move because our landlord raised the rent by 40 50%, which is a huge amount and similarly some other members had a similar issue. So yeah, we're definitely seeing it in Haringey and we're seeing it all over London, I think.
And the other thing I see a lot on social media is a shortage. How was it when you were moving trying to find a new place to? I'm hearing like people have to compete with other people who are offering to pay, like almost a year's worth of rent, and things like that. What what is what have you experienced? What have you heard?
Yeah, I've heard that it's gotten really bad now. I mean, we were slightly before it got kind of really bad. We were kind of last May that we were looking and we got quite lucky that we kind of just found somewhere that yeah, we kind of jumped on it and got quite lucky with it. But since then, it's gotten much worse. You yeah, you hear a lot of loads of people coming to viewings, and yeah, there being bidding wars and estate agents kind of encouraging people to offer over the asking price or the yeah, the rent price itself. They're saying, Yeah, I mean, if you offer 100 pounds, 200 pounds more than that, then maybe you'll get it, you know, and it shouldn't be like that. You should have a secure way of securing housing. But definitely, I think it's bad out there right now, the shortage seems to be yeah, not good.
Why? Why is it?
I mean, I think as much as maybe there seems to be a shortage, it's probably a shortage of affordable housing. You know, it's a shortage of housing that people who live in these boroughs can afford. We're seeing lots of housing being built. It's just being built for luxury apartments, particularly in Haringey, if you look around Tottenham Hale, I mean, people aren't able to afford those apartments around you, there's tons of housing, there's not any effort into being made into making this housing affordable for people. So it always seems like there's a shortage or there's this shortage of landlords, but it's really it's a shortage of affordable housing, because landlords are able to put the rent up to, to whatever they want, because it's a there's a demand there. So if we don't build council housing, and if we don't ensure that landlords can't charge extortionate rents, then people aren't going to be able to afford that. And then they're going to be forced out of their homes and out of their communities and their neighborhoods.
Because I think it's always like, what is affordable? What do they classify? Because I think it's, that's how they get out of it. Isn't it? By saying like, Oh, it's 300,000? Really, it is affordable. But who is this affordable to?
And that's something that we do campaign on quite - We have been campaigning on, we have mainly been meeting with the council around the section 106, which is essentially when private developments are being built, how much of that goes into affordable housing, but like you say, the way they classify that, like shared ownership schemes and things like that count as affordable housing. So we're trying to push for genuinely affordable housing where, okay, if you say 30% of that is going to be affordable housing, you want 30% of that to be social housing, or whatever it is. So that's definitely something that we're trying to focus on, in that sense, specifically in Haringey.
Oh, so I was gonna ask you. So do you want to talk about maybe some cases what's going on in Haringey if there are any specific issues in Haringay, in comparison, maybe to other boroush I don't know.
In Haringey disrepair is a really big issue. (Okay). There's a lot of disrepair. There's a lot of housing that's in really poor quality, a lot of mold, a lot of leaks, a lot of boilers that don't work. One of our members right now is going through a battle with a housing association where they've been severely mistreated for nine years, and they've gone through weeks with no gas or hot water. They've gone, they've had disrepair, issues ongoing for a long time. They've had leaks for months. And that's a case that we've been fighting for a long time. And we've luckily started making at least some progress in that case, at least, but it's a real uphill battle. But in general disrepair is definitely a big one. Between 2018 and 2021 Haringey council didn't issue a single fine to landlords, for enforcement of disrepair. So there was zero fines issued in three years to landlords, which is something that we've been campaigning on we campaign quite ...
why do you think that is? Because the tenant that you're referring to they were in a housing association. So is there that the council maybe doesn't want to upset housing associations or but then again, you've got the private landlords? I don't know.
Yeah, I mean, that's specifically the stat of the fines that will be specifically for private landlords. That's slightly separate to the case I mentioned before, why it is - I don't know. I mean, to me, it makes sense if you're fining these landlords end up bringing more money into the Council, as well to fund what they need to fund and housing. But I think sometimes there's a skepticism that landlords might leave the market and things like this, but really the disrepair the situation with disrepair in Haringey is bad, and it needs to be addressed pretty quickly. We've had a member a couple of weeks ago whose ceiling fell through and she's got a young family. Luckily we were able to get organized and send some emails to the council and get some local councillors on our side to support us with that and managed to get that case, that ceiling fixed and committments and dates secured for other repairs that have to be made in that flat. So it's always important to celebrate the wins so that's a win that we can celebrate recently.
But you know, like with the disrepair because we had those horrendous cases with that child that died from the mold. Do you feel there has been a push nationally?
Yeah, I think you do see it, you were seeing it in the media definitely. But so far for me that hasn't been reflected in action, we still have a lot of members coming for disrepair and a lot of other members afraid to report disrepair because landlords will tend to charge them or letting landlords will threaten with eviction, evict them or raise the rent, what we have been doing is kind of working with members as well on negotiating rent rises, too, because what we found is that it's in the current market, very difficult to completely just avoid the rent rise, but what you can do is negotiate to try and bring that rent rise down or also get commitments from the landlord to address the disrepair issues that you have in your home before any rent rise happens or anything like that, too. So if they're saying I'm going to raise the rent by 30%, we're trying to bring members and train members up and being able to say, well, actually, we'll pay 10%. But you need to fix the boiler, you need to fix the leak that's there, or whatever else it is. So I mean, there's ways to fight it but it's pretty widespread right now in Haringey. Unfortunately.
Shall we talk about how people could get involved? what's on offer, because I think there are different things that people could do to support the local branch
Absolutely. I mean, I think the first way that we would always encourage people to get involved is probably come to one of our branch meetings, or one of our neighborhood meetings, which happen usually once a month or once every six weeks. The next one is on the fourth of March. And we have them in living under one sun, which is a community cafe in Tottenham Hale, in Downhills Park. So n 17, quite close to Tottenham Hale tube station. So we have them there usually from about 12 o'clock to three o'clock.
What day of the week is that?
Saturdays. Yeah, so we'll always have them on Saturday, and we have lunch provided and childcare provided to. And so we're trying to be inclusive in that way to make sure as many people can come as possible. The structure of those meetings kind of varies. But we'll usually speak a little bit about what we've been campaigning on, we might have an activity of some kind like banner making or something like that. And we always offer a peer support space as well, a peer support space is essentially one of the models we use to support people who have housing issues or live housing issues. So essentially, it's a space where people can come and speak about those housing issues to - we kind of break into groups and others within that and within that group might have similar experiences and might be able to share their knowledge with their skills. And then we work on we might like even start drafting a letter together in those groups, or start thinking of a plan of what that person might be able to action. Next, we always try and make sure that whenever anyone comes to a peer support space, they leave with some actions, whether those are actions that they take themselves or actions that the union will support them with. It depends, of course on the case, but we do operate, we've got kind of in terms of how we support people what their housing issues, it's called member solidarity. That's what we call it. And there's kind of certain principles of how we operate with member solidarity, one of which is its solidarity, not charity. And so rather than being a service, it's we come together as equals and of equal members of our community to try and share skills with each other and empower each other to be able to action and take action against landlords or against whatever housing issue that you might be experiencing. So yeah, the Peer Support Service spaces are really nice, in that sense. And we're trying to make them more and more practical all the time. But yeah, we've got a great group of people. And there's lots and lots of people who have lots of opinions, and it's usually a bit of fun. So, so yeah, it's a really kind of nice thing to come down to. And within that we have kind of different teams. So if you, for example, if you were passionate about supporting others in your community with housing issues, or maybe you experience a housing issue, and then you want to share the skills that you gained from when you took action against that you could join the member solidarity team, and that team would meet once a month as well, to kind of see what cases we have active in the union and how those people are doing and how they need to be supported or, or what action needs to be taken. We also have a campaigns team who would focus more on campaigning, so they would have headed the organization of our day of action in December, and they would have headed the campaign that we had during the local elections last year, which was a side with renters campaign where we campaigned to counselors who were running for election and then had follow up meetings once they were elected into positions. So you could join the campaign's team you could join the outreach team which would organize lots of the stalls, or the door knocking or the phone banking, which is where you kind of call through to members and things like that. So that would be kind of part of the outreach teams roles, which is always a fun thing to do, I think trying to speak to other people on the streets and speak about housing and things like that. So yeah, there's lots of different ways, basically,
what do you do in your that's, that's what fun is for you speaking to people on the street about housing oh, it's fun.
Yeah. I mean, I am on the outreach team. So I guess it's good, but it's nice. It's nice when you come together as a group as well. And you get to know the other people in your union. Because I think it's about building that strength in our community and building that knowledge that together we are kind of stronger. So yeah, getting to know people and maybe getting to know people from parts of the community that you wouldn't otherwise, like maybe run into, which is another great thing too, because there's lots to learn from kind of other members of our community.
I was wondering if there is like, do you know some stats about the make up of renters in London?
I mean, I'm afraid, my stats game is not quite there. (Okay). But in terms of the stats, I wouldn't, I wouldn't know that. But in terms of, kind of the experience, we definitely have lots of members with families living in maybe temporary accommodation or other kinds of overcrowded kind of situations as we have lots of members who would come with issues like that. It's definitely something kind of anecdotally that I could attest to, but I don't know the stats. And we also, we're campaigning to make sure that within haringey, that there's no cooperation between Haringey Council, and the home office in terms of housing, so people who maybe have precarious immigration statuses or have no recourse to public funds, that they're not at threat of being deported through approaching housing or anything like that. So that's something that we've campaigned on.
But one question I had was, do you have to pay to be a member of the union?
so there is, there is paid membership, and then there's also membership for those who are unwaged or on low wages where you have an option to pay less, to pay what you can or else to not pay as well. I mean, I pay 4 pounds per month. So it's not something that's - it's not a huge amount, but obviously, there's people who are on low wages, who may not be able to pay anything, and that's also fine, too.
All right. Are you ready for the third part, then top tips tottenham?
I am ready.
So give it to me.
I want to do a couple.
so one is Tai cheong, which is a Chinese takeaway on West Green Road. And it is it's the best. I think maybe the outside sign says traditional fish and chips.
Yes, yes. I had an Uber driver who told me about this.
It is it is truly excellent. And it's like totally a family run joint, which is amazing. You've got you've got the whole family in there. And yeah, it's always very busy on like a Friday night or Saturday night. So yeah, definitely. It's very, very good. Old school. Not on UberEATS not on I mean, I think you can call them but that's about it. That's as far as it goes. But yeah, definitely a big recommendation. In terms of places to have a drink, I think Mannions is my local. It's an Irish pub on broad lane. And it is truly a special place truly a special place. So it's, it's got this wonderful mix of people - you've got kind of elderly Irish people who've lived in London for a long time, and you've got kind of trendy warehouse people as well because it's close to Fontaine road. And then you've kind of got everything in between as well. So it's brilliant. It's brilliant. They have a legendary karaoke on Friday nights.
I was just gonna ask, is there any music? There has to be some music?
Yeah, I mean, they've got a jukebox most of the time. So it's like, it depends who's got control of the jukebox as to what you're going to hear. But yeah, the karaoke on Friday nights is pretty legendary. It doesn't start until a little bit later on though. I've had friends who kind of I've seen there and they're kind of in a big group and I was chatting with them and they're saying yeah, we're here for the karaoke. We've been here since six o'clock. I was like okay, you're gonna have to wait a couple more hours and it usually starts around 9/10 but it's great. So yeah, definitely. Mannions it's Rose and Mick are the owners and they're lovely people. One is from Roscommon and one is from Mayo and they are very nice people. So 100% big recommendation. I also wanted to recommend Idris which is a barbers there's one in Tottenham and one in Finsbury Park, admittedly I actually go to the one in Finsbury park now but that's because I used to go to the Tottenham one but then my barber Josh moved from Tottenham to Finsbury Park, so technically outside of Tottenham, but there is one in Tottenham and all of the barbers they're really really good. I have had my hair cut by a couple of the others and, and they're really really good as well. But yeah, I mean, shout out to Josh. He's a great Barber, and he's also a great musician. So this is another tip I guess. Refound is his musician name so refound on Instagram.
What kind of music is that?
Hip Hop, yeah hip hop and rap but it's do I have any more?
well I guess Tottenham marshes because I think that's one thing that's special about Tottenham is that you don't you're so close to nature and so close to the canal and so you can like quite quickly feel like you're not in like the City of London and so I think that was definitely very important for me through lockdowns and in general for for mental health. Yeah, Tottenham marshes definitely.
Okay. Thank you very much. I like those top tips! Also, I'm very interested in this Karaoke. I can Yeah, I can imagine
I see you there next time.
Okay, thank you so much, and have a lovely evening.
Yeah, thank you very much. Bye, bye.
So in the show notes, I will link their socials. So they are quite active on Twitter, always talking about the latest actions they're taking. They're also quite active on Instagram. And I will link the website and I think I will link in living under one sun as well because they're just a fantastic organization in their own right. So I hope you enjoyed this and felt invigorated to join some kind of union. And we shall all stand in solidarity and have a good day. Bye. I hope you enjoy today's episode, learned something new. And let that Tottenham love grow. Take care and until next time, bye
Transcribed by https://otter.ai