More than 1000 East Bristol ACORN members recently raised their voices to demand that Bristol City Council extend their Landlord Licensing scheme to cover their communities. And last week I had the pleasure of attending the Council meeting where their voices won the day.
Unlike other businesses, there is no general register of landlords in the UK. This lack contributes to the cowboy culture of impunity in the Private Rental Sector and to the proliferation of rogue landlords.
Currently, only landlords of multi-story, multi-household "Houses of Multiple Occupation" need to be licensed. However, where communities are affected by problems associated with the Private Rental Sector, local Councils can invoke "Selective Licensing", forcing more - or all - local landlords to be licensed.
The licenses guarantee inspections, some protections for renters, and a list of who the local landlords are and what homes they own. The scheme also means that tenants can claim upto 12 months rent back where their landlord is prosecuted for refusal to obtain a license. And now the scheme has been extended to cover our communities in Eastville and St George.
It's a start. For ACORN members taking on rogue landlords in our communities, it's an obvious help.
Last weeks East Bristol victory was not only a victory for the tenants of the newly covered Eastville and St George neighourhoods, it was also a victory for community organising.
Four years ago, when Bristol consulted on selective licensing for the Easton neighbourhood, it was nearly beaten by landlords who, mobilised in numbers by their organisations like the National Landlord Association, drowned out the few tenants who spoke.
Now things are different. Over the last two years, we have brought more than 13,000+ renters into our network of communication and organisation. Now, we can easily speak and act together. It is this that has made it possible for more than 1000+ tenant voices to this time drown out the anti-licensing landlord lobby.
There's a long way to go until the fastest growing housing sector in the UK is properly looked after and represented. Of 52000 private rental complaints last year, only 14000 were even investigated. But I was proud as punch to get an email from Bristol City Council this week thanking ACORN members and organisers for "turning out in force". And prouder still to watch as our 1000+ voices won the day.
Rents might be rising - but so are renters!