Rats, mould and unsafe gas boilers - Bristol renters speak out over council ‘stitch up’ outside City Hall

Renters handed in their personal testimonies to the council and Mayor Marvin Rees

Bristol renters angry about dodgy landlords, rising rents and housing in serious disrepair have spoken about their experiences at a meeting outside City Hall.

Organised by community union Acorn, around 100 people attended the meeting to hear renters’ stories and to hand in personal testimonies to the council and Mayor Marvin Rees.

Acorn’s ‘REAL Renting Commission’ was organised following widespread criticism of Bristol City Council’s efforts to come up with solutions to the crisis facing tenants in the city.

At the meeting, renters were given pieces of card which they could use to write their personal testimonies about their experiences of renting in Bristol.

These ranged from flats where water was dripping through the ceiling onto electrics below, mouldy floors, gas boilers that hadn’t been safety checked for years, cookers that didn’t work, landlords charging tenants £5 to use the washing machine and infestations of rats.

Wheelchair user Niamh Philips told the meeting of her unfair treatment as a disabled, unemployed tenant reliant on rental properties.

“I was out of work and was forced to take a flat on the top of a block of flats with barely working heating or hot water, no working lift and no fire safety.

“I had to join the council list for an adapted property because you can’t rent privately as a wheelchair user - estate agents don’t know anything about accessibility so you have no choice but to search for social housing.”

Niamh Philips spoke about her situation as a wheelchair user looking for suitable rental property in Bristol

In tears, an emotional Rowena Salmon told the crowd she had been looking for a room in Bristol for five months and her mental health had been affected by the stress of having to bid for rooms from greedy landlords.

She said: “It’s so hard and it’s so draining to be competing for a place to live. I have mental health problems and it’s putting me in a situation day in day out not knowing if I can perform my self-care.

“But I’m so privileged that I have friends who can put me up in their spare room so I can be a bit choosier while I’m finding the right place because I don’t want to be doing it again in six months, I don’t have the time, the energy or the money to move again.

“I’ve been to viewings where they say they’ve had a hundred people message them about the room in the past hour. There’s no way in this unfair system how tenants can be fair to each other and it pits us against each other because landlords are making all the calls. People are charging £1,000 for a room as a lodger in a house with a live-in landlord.

“I’m a young professional with a job and a reasonable budget to find a safe, comfortable place to live and I can’t find anything so what must it be like for others less fortunate?

“Marvin Rees wants this city to be a destination for business and innovation, he loves all that, but why can’t he create a system that will house all the people coming to the city. Instead, he allows rents to be pushed up.”

Renters wrote their personal testimonies on cards which were handed into City Hall for the attention of Mayor Marvin Rees

Ahead of the mayoral election in 2021, Acorn members met with Marvin Rees and secured a commitment to make Bristol a ‘Living Rent City’ and to campaign for powers to introduce rent controls.

Last month the council and the Mayor launched their Living Rent Commission to investigate renters’ experiences in the city and turn Bristol into a ‘Living Rent City.’

Yet it chose to exclude Acorn, which calls itself the largest representative of renters in the city, while offering a seat at the table to the region’s two major landlords’ federations.

The “unofficial” reason for Acorn’s exclusion - given privately by the Chair of the Commission - is that from the outset Marvin Rees personally vetoed Acorn’s involvement.

Acorn members say that their application was rejected by the City Office due to the Mayor’s’ ‘personal dislike’ of the union because they hold those in power to account.

A renter hands in her testimony about a mouldy property where estate agents didn’t act

Last month, Acorn disrupted the first meeting of Bristol City Council’s Living Rent Commission to highlight their exclusion.

To demonstrate that they would not allow the Commission to become a whitewash, Acorn members turned up at its inaugural meeting and demanded that they be given a place at the table, ‘filibustering’ the meeting by reading out the reasons for why they should have been included.

The group also formed a picket outside City Hall to challenge those responsible for putting together the Commission and to let members of the public know about the ‘stitch up’.

Acorn’s work in Bristol since 2014 has been instrumental in bringing to the council’s attention the key issues that the Commission will be investigating.

Acorn have become a household name for renters in the city, with their use of direct action tactics to stop evictions and take on ‘slum’ landlords, often winning rent reductions and compensation.