Hackney tenants 'targeted' after asking for rent reduction

By Leana Hosea
BBC London

Image caption,
About 100 renters signed a letter asking for a rent reduction

Tenants who asked for a rent reduction during the pandemic have said they believe they are being evicted from their east London flat in "revenge".

The flatmates said they followed government advice for tenants to get together and work with their landlords for help with paying rent.

They said they had instead been threatened with legal action and told their tenancy would not be renewed.

Tower Quays, which lets the property, said tenancies followed UK regulations.

Image caption,
Jordan Osserman said he received a threatening legal letter from the tenancy agency

After lockdown began, about 100 renters living in Olympic House in Somerford Grove signed a joint letter to their landlord asking for a rent reduction because many of them were losing income and struggling to pay.

One of the tenants, Jordan Osserman, said the group had been "following the government advice to work with landlords to figure out something that worked for everybody".

However, a number of them received a cease and desist letter from a law firm acting on behalf of the of the letting agency who said they had been encouraging their fellow tenants to withhold rent and would be liable for any loss incurred by the landlord.

Mr Osserman told the BBC "things became quite scary for us" after they then helped to create a video with other renters about how they were struggling. The video included the slogan "can't pay, won't pay", which is part of a larger campaign led by the London Renters Union.

He said he subsequently received another letter referring to encouraging people not to pay, and threatening him with legal fees "which were likely to be in excess of £20,000".

"The security in the building really ramped up and it suddenly seemed that the security guards were no longer there to look out for our safety, but were actually monitoring and spying on what we were doing," he said.

Tower Quays letting agency, which manages the buildings on behalf of the three commercial landlord companies owned by Monaco-based property tycoon John Christodoulou, said security was increased for the safety of residents because of a rise in "unknown intruders" during lockdown and tenants "illegally accessing the roof".

'Quite afraid'

The housemates have been told they must leave their flat by 21 September, something Mr Osserman said he believed was because "they think of us as troublemakers" and denied the management company's claim they were encouraging people to not pay their rent.

"We have managed to pay our rent in full every month even though it's been a struggle, we have not called for a rent strike. All we've really done is in this crisis ask for a discount, at least for some tenants," he said.

A tenant from another flat, who has already had to move out, said she found the agency's actions to be "really intimidating" and believed they had been "keeping a really close eye on who they thought were the core organisers".

She asked to remain anonymous as "I'm quite afraid of our landlord because of the legal threats".

The Mayor of Hackney Philip Glanville said he believed the group had been the subject of "a revenge eviction" and were being "targeted for their campaign work".

"They've been good tenants. They've paid their rent and they want to stay in their home," he said.

A ban on landlords from evicting tenants which came into force during the pandemic and was due to end on Monday has now been extended by another four weeks.

In a statement, Tower Quays said the tenants had "no reason to feel intimidated or afraid".

It added it had sent the mayor and Hackney Council details surrounding the eviction and as it had not received any further communication from them, "we can only assume that the council were satisfied why such action was being taken".

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