Like most students in Oxford, we moved into our four bedroom flat in September and like most tenants in Oxford, our welcoming was plagued with problems. The letting agency kindly forgot to mention that the neighbouring restaurant did not have their own fire alarm, which we discovered with their loud bangs on our door within the first week of getting comfortable in our new home. For the last year, whenever they triggered the smoke alarm, they would have to enter our house to turn off the alarm. An event we discovered happens almost daily. When we weren’t at home, the restaurant would call the landlord, who then came into our house without the 48-hour notification agreed to in the contract. For our first showers, we could choose between scolding hot or freezing cold, as a retiring boiler combined with illegal plumbing meant that mixing water into an enjoyable temperature was not possible. This is to say nothing about the broken radiators. After several phone calls to the landlord, who quickly stopped picking up, multiple complaints and requests to an inefficient letting agency, and numerous delays and setbacks, we finally received a call at 7:45am notifying us that someone would come that very morning to fix the boiler. We thought our troubles would soon be over, only to find out that fixing the boiler entailed removing the entire old system. This left a living room that looked like a construction site and a deep hole through which the winter entered our kitchen.
Our own story is by no means unique, as we’ve heard countless horror stories from around Oxford. You most likely have your own to share. Discussing with other tenants, we’ve learned that landlords are unresponsive and uncaring, that they can break contracts without repercussions, that letting agencies are unable or unwilling to help, and finally that tenants without money or the legal expertise have no means to defend themselves. Therefore, workers and students have come together as tenants from across Oxford to begin demanding their rights and taking action. We’ve learned that we need more legal knowledge. We need better representation and further possibilities for action. We want to find alternative housing schemes for those who want them. And most importantly, we need increased solidarity with other tenants in the face of rent hikes and letting agencies/landlords, who care more about making money than about those who pay it, the tenants.
Come along on Tuesday 11th February at 6.30pm in the Oxford Town Hall for the formation of the Oxford Tenants’ Union (OTU). We are coming together as tenants to build Oxford’s first tenants’ union from the ground up, to collectively organise and to defend our rights. At the meeting, we aim to identify common problems and struggles, and form specific working groups to tackle them. The meeting is for all tenants to get involved, participate and contribute, to make our voices heard and respected!