A renters’ union has forced an Essex estate agent to pay back £5,370 in upfront fees to a vulnerable renter.
The London Renters Union (LRU) launched their campaign to force Advance Glenisters (formerly Advance Estates) to give this money back to the tenant, Mary, as she had never moved into the property and felt pressurised into signing a contract with Advance.
LRU’s tactics included trying to negotiate with Advance on Mary’s behalf, protesting outside Advance’s Romford branch, picketing, and a phone blockade.
The money owed was made up of six months of upfront rental fees – a practice that will be banned from 1 June by the Tenant Fees Act – and £570 of agency fees.
It was only when Mary read in the contract that after the initial six months she would have to pay a further six months of fees upfront again or risk a Section 21 eviction – now due to be banned – that she cancelled the contract. But Advance kept her money. LRU described the actions of the estate agent as “seemingly cruel and immoral” yet “perfectly legal”.
Mary, who suffers from depression and anxiety, sought help and advice to get her money back and almost gave up before she found LRU. She said: “I did a lot of research on this issue, and went to numerous people to try to get help with my situation, and none of them could help me.
“By the time I came across LRU I was nearly ready to give up. It was a stroke of luck to meet the renters’ union in Stratford, and by working as a team we’ve managed to stand up to some really shady agents.
“It’s wrong that people on housing benefit get treated differently, like second-class citizens. Being on benefits, you’re made to feel like you’re not good enough, and that you’re not able to pay your rent. It’s so hard to find anywhere that will even rent to someone on housing benefit, and even when you do they impose these conditions, which put the flats out of reach.
“It’s this system that made me feel like I had to take the first flat that came along that accepted housing benefit, even though the conditions in the flat weren’t up to standard.”
LRU added: “This victory is proof that by building our collective power as renters and demanding better rights and greater dignity we can start to transform the housing system.”