Community union Acorn calls on Bristol renters to voice their concerns at public meeting outside City Hall

The city’s biggest representatives of renters is inviting people to have their say on Bristol’s rental property market
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Bristol renters will be given a chance to tell the public about their experiences with dodgy landlords and the state of renting in the city at a special event next week.

The Bristol branch of community union Acorn, which is organising the event, is calling it the REAL Renting Commission - a reference to the fact that despite being the city’s biggest representatives of Bristol renters, they haven’t been included in Bristol City council’s newly formed Living Rent Commission.

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Acorn members and renters who will give their testimonies in public, will be outside City Hall on Wednesday (September 28) at 5.30pm.

With demand outstripping supply of rented properties in Bristol, and bills rising due to the energy crisis, more and more people are seeing their rents increased too.

Ewan McLennan of Acorn says: “I’ve just had an email from somebody whose rent is being put up 300% which is mad, and it’s happening quite a bit and a lot of dodgy landlords.

“In a lot of areas of Bristol, there’s such a short supply of rented accommodation that landlords know they can get away with murder now.

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“They know people are queuing up for properties and a lot of landlords are taking advantage of that.”

Ewan says next Wednesday’s peaceful protest outside City Hall will give people the rare opportunity to stand up in public and give their testimony about their experiences of being renters in Bristol.

“We’ve sent an open invitation to lots of different groups and I think Shelter and Bristol Fair Renting Campaign are sending people down.

Acorn staged a protest about renting properties in Bristol at City HallAcorn staged a protest about renting properties in Bristol at City Hall
Acorn staged a protest about renting properties in Bristol at City Hall

“It’s a growing problem in Bristol and it has been brewing for ages. One of the reasons Acorn started in 2014 in Bristol is that there was a real problem with dodgy landlords ripping people off and making people live in conditions that were really appalling.

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“That’s still going on and in some ways it has got worse, although we’ve won lots of fights when we’ve taken on the landlords.

“The thing that has really picked up even more since the cost of living crisis has started to set in has been landlords putting up the price of rent.

“Some of the time that’s because bills are included in the rent but a lot of the time it’s because landlords think they can get away with that now because the price of everything else has gone up so they think why not increase rent, too.”

Ewan says Acorn is hearing shocking stories from renters on a regular basis.

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One Bristol renter says her rent has gone up £200 a month at a property where the landlord hasn’t fixed a broken shower for seven months.

She and her partner are having to use the bath instead, which costs a lot more with the rising energy bills.

Acorn campaigners stormed Bristol’s City Hall in AugustAcorn campaigners stormed Bristol’s City Hall in August
Acorn campaigners stormed Bristol’s City Hall in August

Ewan says: “We hear stories about mushrooms growing on damp carpets and walls but some of the more scary things tend to be around faulty gas and electrics.

“We hear about live wires showing where there are young kids in the house and gas boilers that haven’t been checked for years.”

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Although initial emails or letters to landlords and letting agencies can sometimes result in Acorn’s demands being met and fixed, they often have to take direct action on behalf of their members.

Ewan says: “We regularly go down to the landlord’s office for a peaceful, non-violent protest with a letter of demands such as fixing boilers or sorting dangerous electrics.

“It’s about shining the light on people and landlords don’t like that. Often they act the next day and things get fixed.”

As well as problems with rental properties, Acorn also takes on other issues in Bristol including buses, public toilets and free school meals.

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And, according to Ewan, it’s because of this that Mayor Marvin Rees, pictured, has told Acorn they can’t be part of the Living Rent Commission, despite being told originally that they could.

Ewan says: “We’ve been told categorically that Mayor Marvin Rees won’t let Acorn on the Living Rent Commission full stop.

“The idea of Bristol being a Living Rent city was something Acorn originally came up with and Marvin Rees ran with it in his first election as Mayor - he said it was good idea and set it up.

Mayor Marvin Rees Mayor Marvin Rees
Mayor Marvin Rees

“We were told all along that we were going to be a central part of this as we are the biggest representative of renters in the city but we found out last minute that Marvin Rees, who isn’t even part of the Living Rent Commission, personally vetoed our involvement because we’ve been on his back about other campaigns including public toilets and other ways the council has been letting down its citizens.

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“He did it quietly and unofficially but we were told by the person running the committee for the council. However, he has invited two big groups of landlords onto the Commission inspire the fact we aren’t allowed. It’s so disappointing and underhand, it lacks transparency.”

In August, Acorn members stormed the first meeting of the Living Rent Commission in City Hall, where they held a peaceful protest and sit-in.

Ewan says: “It’s about showing the council they can’t get away with freezing out the city’s biggest representative of renters from a so-called Living Rent Commission.

“Wednesday’s event on the steps of City Hall is a rare opportunity to give renters a voice in public out in the open. The council should be listening to renters rather than ignoring them.

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“Whenever the council tries to do these things, it’s behind closed doors in back rooms and they consult a couple of renters so they can tick that box but what we’re saying to the city’s renters is come along and make your voices heard.”

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