Dozens of angry demonstrators gathered outside the Foxtons office, claiming that they were being priced out of the area by gentrification, encouraged by letting agents charging “extortionate” fees. It is not the first time that the branch, which only opened in March, has been the subject of protests. The office was given a “worst letting agent” award by the protesters.
The activists now appear to be getting more organised. The scenes on Saturday were part of a day of co-ordinated action across London.
In Upper Street, Islington, members of a coalition calling themselves London Renters – dressed up as Monopoly characters and invited members of the public to play “Housing Crisis Chance” and compete for a flat in East London.
In Haringey, protesters dressed-up as “Community Housing Inspectors”, wearing high visibility jackets. They had previously “inspected” local letting agents in October 2012, claiming to have uncovered high rents, high fees and lack of secure tenancies. The “inspectors” carried out a “re-inspection” on Saturday to find out if their demands for change had been met. They served “Cease and Desist” notices on 8 letting agents which they claimed were engaging in greedy and anti-social practices: Wilkinson Byrne, Easy Properties Ltd, A1 Estates, Hane Estates, Kings Lettings, Winkworth, Bairstow Eve and Brian Thomas. The self-styled inspectors then cordoned off the offices with tape, declaring them to be crime scenes and handed out leaflets to passers-by.
Protests against letting agents have been gathering momentum in recent months. The key demands include an outlawing of agent fees charged to tenants (following the example of Scotland), an end to discrimination against people on housing benefit and for letting agents to stop encouraging landlords to drive up rents to unaffordable levels.
Heather Kennedy, of campaign group Digs, part of London Renters, said “Our message to letting agents is that private tenants have had enough. Right across the country private tenants groups are springing up, demanding an end to the destructive impact of letting agents on the housing market.”
“We call on letting agents and MPs to follow the example of Scotland by scrapping rip-off fees. And we must remove the totally unacceptable discrimination which bars housing benefit tenants from accessing a home in the private rented sector. This has a devastating human cost, particularly because social housing and home ownership are simply not an option for many Londoners”
The protesters have vowed to continue to inspect and monitor letting agents and have said that Saturday’s action was just the start of a series of planned demonstrations and events across the capital.