Another tale of woe from the frontline of the housing crisis. Have you had any dealings with Jon Rosi? Does this story sound familiar? If this story sounds familiar, or you want people to hear your housing horror story get in contact with us through email, facebook or twitter, or fill in our survey.
This is an exciting time for ACORN Reading. We're currently pulling things together for our launch event, where we hope around 100 people from the community will come together, discuss the things that are affecting our lives and agree how as a community we're going to tackle these issues. But things don't just stop for our meetings, and people are still living in crappy houses and are being screwed over by terrible letting agents, so here's the latest instalment that we've been told about by residents in Reading.
Meet Keith.* I met him when I knocked on his door. He rents from a private landlord, as do most other people in the area he lives. And like most other people, he found his house through a letting agent. That letting agent was Jon Rosi.
Things did not get off to a great start. It turns out the previous tenant had a cat (possibly more than one), and for some reason they had been allowed to wee in the bedroom. This had obviously been happening for a long time because the urine had soaked through the carpet and had even managed to get into the floorboards. The smell was awful, the room was unusable and they had to effectively seal it off from the rest of the house to stop the smell spreading everywhere. Needless to say, they contacted Jon Rosi straight away. Jon Rosi did nothing, not even let the landlord know there was a problem. It was like this for over a month, with Keith and his partner constantly contacting Jon Rosi. One time when they phoned, the person on the other end of phone even said something to the effect of, "what's the problem? You have another bedroom!" Eventually Keith and his partner cut out the middle man and contacted the landlord themselves, at which time he rectified the problem.
But that wasn't the end of the problems. One time their washing machine broke. They asked the letting agent to get a new one (the 'white goods' were the landlords responsibility). They were waiting for over 4 weeks. When they asked what was taking so long, they were told, "We got a quote for a white machine like the old one. There isn't one in stock so we had to wait for it." When Keith asked if there were any in another colour, there was a black one so he asked why hadn't they been given the black one. Jon Rosi replied, "But we got a quote for a white one."
Both these scenarios highlight one of the major problems of the tenant - letting agent relationship. There is a massive difference in the power each possesses. We all have to have a place to live. There is a massive housing shortage so there are 1,000s of potential replacement tenants, and often we have to stay in a small geographical area for reasons such as work. Therefore, the letting agents (and the landlords) have us over a barrel. How often have you been scared to mention a problem because you were worried about being evicted? How many times have you had to grin and bear it whilst the letting agent has added fee after fee because that's just how the market works? The flippant attitude shown by Jon Rosi in these situations seems to suggest to letting agents, tenants aren't seen as people but as a way to make money. If the person on the end of the phone had gone home and found out their sister's house stank of cat wee or washing machine had been broken for around a month, they'd most likely have been outraged, and done what they could to help - that's basic human empathy. But when you cease to view these tenants as people, you can quite easily say "you have to wait before you can wash any of your clothes because we got a quote for a white washing machine, not a black one", or say "you don't need to have the use of one of the bedrooms you're paying for, because I'm not going to do anything to get this sorted out for you." To be fair, when talking to Keith he did suggest the situation around the bedroom was the fault of one person who no longer works for Jon Rosi. But when these things happen numerous times (and there are more stories about Jon Rosi - keep checking the blog for more of them!), and happen with different letting agents, you have to start wondering if there's something seriously wrong with a situation when letting agents are allowed to act with little oversight, no regulations and only voluntary codes of conduct.
Because I was talk to Keith whilst door knocking he didn't rate his letting agent for me, and we didn't really discuss what his ideas were to improve things for tenants. But I'm sure if we'd discussed it he would have had his opinions.
And this is what we in ACORN are doing nationwide. In Bristol, ACORN have secured £10,000s of repairs for private tenants, they've stopped evictions and they've been working with the council and respectable letting agents to get fees removed, repairs done on time and to ensure tenants are treated with the respect they deserve. In London, just weeks after they'd held their launch meeting they'd helped prevent 2 evictions, and in Newcastle they're looking to take on the letting agents. We have branches organising in various places (most notably Birmingham and Bedminster), all looking to tackle to housing crisis.
Here in Reading, ACORN is stepping up to the plate. We've been talking to residents across Reading for the last couple of months, and have been impressed with the response. People are angry, people have had enough, and we're ready to do something about the housing crisis in Reading. We understand the council and other organisations are also doing things about this problem, and great, the more the merrier. But to be honest, regardless of all their words and their action plans we've yet to see any improvements. And besides, the people who know best how to sort out their housing issues are the people who are experiencing the housing issues. This is you and I. Will you join us to make changes? No-one is going to do it for you. At the end of February, ACORN Reading will be holding our launch event where around 100 people will gather together, and decide to stand together to demand improvements. Will you be one of them (Event details to follow soon)? If you think ACORN Reading is just the thing you've been looking for, contact us through email, facebook or twitter, or fill in our survey. If you want to lend a hand to help organise tenants, please definitely get in contact.
If this story seems familiar, or you'd like to have your say about your experiences, please take a minute to fill in our survey. If you want to help out ACORN members taking a stand against exploitation, please join, or find us on facebook and twitter.
* Name changed.