Today members of Brighton SolFed delivered letters of protest to two Brighton stores. This was part of an international day of action called by workers in Peru and supported by the International Workers Asscociation (IWA), in response to the sacking of 35 trade unionists. The union members were working in a factory for ‘Topy Top’, one of the major suppliers to high street store Zara, and also a supplier for Gap. Both Zara and Gap stores were visited and letters of protest delivered to local management.
The last 18 months have been quiet for Solfed as a lot of our activity consists of using direct action to challenge employers and landlords. Lockdowns, “social distancing” and online meetings and activities all work against the physical solidarity that this needs. As a local we continued to meet in the virtual world, checking in on each other, having discussions and offering support.
We also continued to be contacted by workers and tenants with issues related to their work or housing. People were invited to meetings to discuss it but online meetings can be exhausting and strange. We discovered how different it is to meet someone for the first time in a little box on a screen compared to being in a room with all the social cues that come with it. For many it was too much and the consequence of sharing difficult issues with strangers on screen meant that they didn’t return. We all shared the frustration of that.
One of the successes we had during this period however was supporting a worker through a grievance process with their employer. This was a baker who we’ll call Peter (not his real name). One of our members acted as his union official in meetings and negotiations. They relate their experience of the process here.
Some of you may remember Patrick, who has been organising with us for the past 18 months to try and improve his living conditions. Patrick's dispute started when his letting agency, Youngs, refused to do basic repair works on his seriously dilapidated flat. In January 2018, shortly after requesting these works, Patrick was served with an eviction notice by his landlord, Stephen Mitchell.
Patrick successfully fought this eviction in court. In the meantime, we also pursued the council to serve an improvement notice on Mitchell, in order to legally compel him to carry out these works. Undeterred by the first failed eviction attempt, Mitchell tried again, this time with the help of a solicitor. Under much pressure, the council served an improvement notice on Mitchell, which should have invalidated the second eviction notice.
A worker organising with Brighton SolFed has recently won a dispute with their North Laine employer, Natulia on Sydney Street.
G4Lets anti-deposit theft rent strike
For the past year and a half, we have organised on a regular basis with tenants being messed around by the student lettings agency G4Lets. This has included tenants who have had significant sums of money stolen from their deposit by G4Lets, as well as tenants living in uninhabitable accommodation that G4Lets have neglected to repair.
What are holding deposits?
Agencies usually charge what they often call ‘holding deposits’ in order for a property to be taken off the rental market. The tenant pays an amount of money, and in return, the agency stops advertising the property. A holding deposit cannot be any more than a total of one week's rent for the property. An agency should stop advertising a property once you've paid a holding deposit, and shouldn't take multiple holding deposits for a single property.
Harassment is illegal
If your landlord is harassing you, it’s potentially a criminal offence. Examples of harassment include:
Increasing your rent
If your contract has a procedure for increasing rent then your landlord must follow it. In a fixed-term tenancy agreement (i.e. a six month or one year contract), your landlord can only put the rent up at the end of the fixed term, and you are allowed to try and negotiate the amount. You can reject the rent increase and your tenancy will continue at the original rent on a rolling, month-to-month contract, though this may mean that your landlord begins eviction proceedings against you.
- Your landlord is responsible for the structure and exterior of the house (including drains, gutters and external pipes)
- Your landlord is responsible for the water, gas and electricity supply, as well as for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary facilities)
- Your landlord is responsible for making sure that the heating and water supply are safe and working