On a cold but clear day last Saturday, ACORN Reading members took to the streets and took the first steps on their campaign to improve the practices of letting agents.
ACORN Reading's campaign, 'Letting 'em have it!' started on Saturday 5th March. ACORN members met near Market Place at 10am and armed with a petition of over 500 signatures we took our first steps down the road to improve practices.
We visited the letting agents based on Market Place (Parkers, Romans and Chancellors) which rather conveniently are also some of the letting agents we've heard are charging very high fees (Parkers) or offering the worst standard housing (Chancellors), or are just not particularly good to deal with (Romans). We also visited Eurolink on London Street - a particularly notorious letting agent around the Katesgrove area. At each office, two people went in to talk to the manager, whilst everyone else stood outside, talking to members of the public about who we are, why we were there and getting even more signatures for the petition.
We were asking the letting agents a couple of things. The petition called on letting agents to remove fees for tenants, ensure that tenants have the security they need by offering recurring 1 year fixed term tenancies, and looking into the possibility of offering longer tenancies (of 3-5 years). It's not like these requests are unreasonable - it is illegal in Scotland for agencies to charge fees and 3-5 year tenancies are the norm on the continent.
But we are aware that things are unlikely to change by just handing in a petition so we were also asking the letting agents to come to a meeting where members of the community will have the chance to ask them questions about their practices and fees.
The action itself was great - over the course of the hour of so we grew by another 2 or 3 people, we spoke to a lot of people about housing in Reading and although none of the agencies agreed to come to the community meeting, none of them actually said no. Essentially, the people working on a Saturday didn't have the authority to make decisions like that (surprise!)
However, this is not the end . . .
So, we've taken the first steps on getting a fairer deal for renters. But things aren't going to change over night. ACORN members are planning what next to do with this campaign. As mentioned, we're looking to have a meeting on 14th April were members of the community get the chance to quiz letting agents on their practice. Over the coming weeks we will be inviting letting agents from the area to attend. If your letting agents are particularly bad let us know and we'll make a point of focussing on getting them to the meeting.
The meeting will also be a chance to focus on some of the better agencies in town, so if you've had a good experience with letting agents, let us know and we'll invite them as well. Whilst we want the meeting to be energetic and show letting agents that we're demanding change, we also want to show that we want to encourage good practice.
ACORN is as strong as our members. The more of us there are, the more we can do - on Saturday there was 10 of us, imagine if we had 100, or 1,000 people in Reading all demanding change! So we need help building this. ACORN relies on members stepping up to the plate and taking some responsibility. If you feel like you can help in any way email us, message us on facebook or sign up on our volunteer page. Anything you feel you can contribute is a help, be it standing with us talking to members of the public for a couple of hours, to talking to your neighbours, to helping us input data, to liking and sharing our facebook posts - as a certain supermarket chain claims, 'Every little helps!' And we couldn't do anything without our members chipping in the price of a cup of coffee once a month. If you like what we do and would be up for donating, you can sign up here.
We're going to be meeting in the coming weeks to organise the event on the 14th April, and plan further actions. If you want to get involved in the discussion get in contact. Our next planned meetings will be on Tuesdays 8th March, 22nd March and the 5th April, starting at 7.30pm in our office. It'd be great to see you there. If you're not able to come to the planning meetings please do make an effort to come on Thursday 14th April. To get an idea of the kind of meeting we're going to be organising, see the write up of ACORN Newcastle's event.
And we're already having an affect. We're already in discussions with a landlord about signing up to the ethical lettings charter, which would mean improvements for the 10 or so rental properties he has in Reading. He's a member of ACORN and is as angry as everyone else about the fees letting agents charge tenants - he's firmly of the opinion that because the letting agent is providing a service to the landlord, it should be the landlord that pays any and all fees. The ethical lettings charter is an agreement drawn up by ACORN Bristol that ensures certain standards in the rental sector. Bristol City Council have agreed to endorse the charter and it's something our members want to bring to Reading. Find out more about the Ethical Lettings Charter here.
Join us today, and be part of the change you want to see in Reading.