Last Thursday, a group of ACORN leaders from across Easton and Bristol West met with the Government Minister for Communities and Local Government - who also happens to be our current MP - Stephen Williams, at his request.
It was an opportunity for Stephen to tell local renters what he's done, but most importantly for us it was a chance for local renters to vocalise our stories of insecurity, high costs and poor quality, and ask our MP to support our Ethical Lettings Charter, which his two main election rivals have already done.
The current government have refused to seriously strengthen renters rights, despite all evidence and public opinion being in favour of it. What we have got is a voluntary "Model Tenancy Agreement" which is longer than the standard 6-12 months, a law stopping letting agents from hiding their fees, and (fingers crossed) a soon-to-be-law tacked onto another law which will finally give some limited protection against revenge evictions.
In our discussion, Stephen agreed that in his view there is no reason why lettings agents should charge high fees to tenants as well as landlords, but interestingly suggested that now agents can't legally hide them, assertive tenants will force letting agents to drop them. Last year Rentify found that letting agency fees were higher in Bristol than any other city.
But with a housing shortage, high rents and high fees and deposits acting as a barrier, generally on an individual basis we can't afford to be that assertive. The same is true of revenge evictions. The new law would outlaw evictions once the Council have enforced a work order. But often that takes several complaints and some time, and tenants fear eviction at the first hurdle.
The only immediate protection we have is being organised together in community and renters groups. Since our launch less than a year ago, we've involved 2000 of us, we've prevented revenge evictions, and made sure people can stay in their homes while we push to make sure work orders are properly enforced and their homes are repaired. Likewise, our organisation can be the voice of renters, naming and shaming agents who charge exorbitant fees to renters.
But the other effect of organising is to build power - people power - allowing us to be progressive as well as defensive. From nothing a year ago, we are now in a position where Government ministers reach out to us, and congratulate our campaign.
Our Ethical Lettings Charter - though not even officially launched yet - is a real tool for tenants to leverage landlords and letting agents into more ethical, professional practices, and regain some control over our homes and our lives.
The Charter is now supported by both Labour and Green Party Parliamentary Prospective Candidates, as well as by housing association United Housing, and by the Students Union Council of the University of the West of England (representing 26,000 students).
What's more we will be publically launching the Charter on the 5th March, with the first letting agent signing up to it's highest standards - watch this space for details!
Following that, we'll be arguing the business case for ethical practices with our first endorsing letting agent to around 800 landlords at the Landlord Expo. And then on the 17th March we'll be asking you all to join us for support as Bristol City Council consider signing up.
Not bad for a community group formed less than a year ago eh... ;)
But eitherway, I'm extremely proud to say: we're making progress for Bristol's 43,000 renters.