This Friday (28th March), RNU will be re-launching their ‘Drop the Rents’ campaign with a picket in West Belfast, aimed at highlighting ‘Landlord Extortionism’; the despicable practice in which chronic housing shortages in ‘nationalist areas’ are exploited by Landlords and their letting agents to justify raising rents, thereby squeezing more money from the most vulnerable households here.
This practice (as well as inflating Housing Benefit expenditure) forces many families to ‘dip in’ to other income related benefits in order to make up a deliberate shortfall, and as a result causes many homes to go without essentials, including food, heat and light.
In the forthcoming campaign, RNU will be making the straight forward demand that rents be capped at a level matched by Housing Benefit, helping ordinary people avoid the poverty and despair that comes when profiteers buy up the social housing stock then exploit their ability to control the provision of homes.
Sinn Feín’s position?
However, it has somewhat inevitably been brought to our attention, that Sinn Feín (not content with staying silent about landlord extortionism) have taken to promiting some of the worst culprits, in both their North & West Belfast Newsletters.
|‘Northern Properties’, Landlords agents, advertised in Sinn Feíns west Belfast newsletter.|
‘Northern Properties’ and ‘Property People’, are both letting agents well known for facilitating local speculators and outside capitalists who wish to buy up local housing and rent it on at extortionate prices. While Northern Property have been the source of steady streams of complaints from tenants unhappy at sub-standard housing, Property People are well known for using intimidation and threatening behaviour against tenants, one employee made the headlines in 2012 after being recorded threatening and verbally abusing a tenant who he (illegally) issued an eviction notice against. Still Sinn Feín appear happy to promote such agencies in newsletters delivered to working class homes.
|Threatening tenants, an add for ‘Property People’ appeared in Sinn Feíns North Belfast news sheet.|
Speaking on the issue, RNU candidate for the Lower Falls, Tommy Doherty stated:
Ironically, while granting advertising space to the Landlords agents, the Sinn Feín papers also carried some worthy articles on the wider issue of homelessness and housing shortages.
This paradoxical position of opposing housing shortages on the one hand, while supporting those who help create housing shortages on the other cannot go without comment. The issue is clear, landlordism is killing our communities and forcing families into utter despair. Sinn Feín need to let the people know exactly where they stand on the issue.
|RNU at a previous ‘drop the rent’ picket in 2012.|
What is Landlord extortionism?
The practice effects both working families and those who rely on housing benefit to pay their rent. Landlords, particularly in Catholic areas (where housing waiting lists are longer) set rent levels at significantly higher rates than what is both the norm elsewhere and what is available from ‘Housing Benefit’. They do this in the knowledge that families on long term waiting lists are often willing to pay more or indeed dip into other benefits intended to pay for food, heat, light etc.
The vicious cycle in this process occurs due to the fact that ‘Housing Benefit’ levels are deliberately set below the accepted standard rent for an area. Landlords by refusing to keep rents low, are effectively conspiring against the state before going on to squeeze even more profits from their tenants, gaining both higher payments from working families, higher payments from ‘Housing
Benefit and a ‘bit on top’ from those who rely on benefits.
Landlords and their letting agents have used Thatcher style ‘principles of the market’ in a way that not only compromises the right of every family to a home, but which is also leaving vulnerable children without adequate food and clothing. To top things off, the standard of housing provided by the same letting agents is often sub-standard to say the least.
RNU call for the Landlords and their letting agents to reduce the rents to Housing Benefit levels, while emphasising the need for Stormont to reform their methods of calculating Housing Benefit in return.
This will end the practice of vulnerable families ‘dipping into’ their income related benefits and go some way to reducing the increasing poverty which exists within households forced to go to profiteers and speculators, just to put a roof over their heads.
|Protesting Property People in North Belfast.|