Campaigners challenge Brighton letting agent

Posted On 12 May 2014 at 1:31 pm

A group of campaigners gathered outside a Brighton letting agent as part of their drive to improve the standard of service offered to student tenants.

About 20 supporters of the Home Sweet Home campaign took part, taking mops and buckets along to make their point.

They wanted to arrange a meeting with Mark Shields, owner of G4 Lets, in Hythe Road, Brighton, to discuss ways of improving business practices.

Mr Shields agreed to a meeting on Monday 2 June.

Home Sweet Home is made up of a variety of people and institutions and has been talking to tenants, landlords and agents in Brighton and Hove since July last year.

The campaigners said that they had uncovered stories of poor practices in some parts of the private rented sector.

In recent months the campaign has been working to turn the stories and research into practical changes to improve private rented housing in Brighton and Hove.

Last month campaigners met with Brighton University Students’ Union. They agreed to work together on a tenant guide to help students understand their rights and responsibilities when renting. They produced this with the help and advice of the Residential Landlords Association.

Home Sweet Home campaigner Chris Henry said: “We came away with the exact result we were looking for – a date in the diary to meet with Mr Shields. Now we have to see what changes can be made when we have that meeting.”

Fellow campaigner Helena Mardon said: “We’ve been running this campaign for nearly ten months now and we’ve heard so many stories of terrible conditions that renters are putting up with. Often tenants feel like their agents and landlords don’t want to help.

“We’ve heard stories of broken appliances such as ovens, microwaves, showers and even central heating going unrepaired by management agencies for as much as three months.

“There have been stories of broken windows not getting fixed and that tenants have been getting electrocuted because of water leaks.

“Throughout all of this, the recurring theme has been one of agents that don’t pick up the phone or answer emails, and even if they do, it’s another three months before the repairs get done.”

Another Home Sweet Home campaigner Lydia Snodin said: “It’s important to note that we’re not talking about all agents or landlords.

“We asked to meet G4 Lets because we have suggestions, based on the stories and evidence we’ve collected, on how they could improve their customer service.

“We wrote them a letter, and tried calling them, but unfortunately got no reply. We ran this action to make sure they got our request to meet.”

And a colleague, Jack Spooner, said: “‘We’re only doing what any tenant should do if they feel dissatisfied with the service they receive from the letting agents that they pay so much money to – ask to meet with them to discuss the problem.

“I’d encourage anyone else to do the same if they find themselves in similar situations.”

Candice Armah, president of Brighton University Students’ Union said: “Brighton Students’ Union decided to take action today for the thousands of students residing in conditions unfit for study.

“Students are collectively paying thousands of pounds in rent a week yet are expected to accept living in unhealthy conditions.

“Today’s action is just part of an ongoing campaign to improve the living standards of not only Brighton students but all those living in the private rented sector.

“G4Lets are just one of many letting agents who could be doing a better job for people in our city and we’d like to meet with them to talk about how they can provide better for our students and their customers.”

Ian Chisnall, of Churches Together said: “Housing that is suitable for our circumstances is one of the most important of all human needs.

“Landlords and letting agents have a duty of care to provide accommodation that is fit for purpose and it makes good business sense for them to do so.

“I believe that Home Sweet Home provides an excellent reminder of how we can all play a part in ensuring our families have safe and secure homes to live in.”

Purna Sen, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion, said: “For me this is one of the big issues which need tackling in our city.

“High property prices in Brighton and Hove mean private renting is the only option for many local people.

“Congratulations to Home Sweet Home for highlighting the shoddy deal that far too many tenants – not only students – are getting from some unscrupulous letting agents.

“Failure to carry out needed repairs, a refusal to accept their legal responsibilities to tenants and simply ignoring complaints completely are all too common in this city.

“It really is time for letting agents and rogue landlords to clean up their act. Local people living in privately rented homes deserve a better deal.”

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