From Bristol Solidarity Network
“The harder the battle, the sweeter the victory”
Well, this win has been a long time coming and a lot of solid work has made it a victory we can be very proud of. We are well pleased to announce that all the repairs demanded have been finished for an Easton based family who contacted us in November 2014 after seeing one of our posters. Not only have they won their fight for a decent, liveable home, but they have also secured a legally binding 5 year guaranteed tenancy with no rent increases!
Here’s the story of how it happened!
The length of the list of urgent repairs we identified with the family was matched only by the length of the cracks in the wall and the time the family had been waiting for the landlord, Mr. Ernie Biela, and his letting agency, Central Estate Agency to fix up the house. Jabar Mohammed of CEA arrogantly and callously ignored and refused all the family’s requests for desperately needed repairs. So, while he and the landlord were getting rich from fees and rent the family members were getting asthma and poor health from living in intolerable cold and damp. Equally culpable in all this was the council, who refused to take any action when their own improvement notice and licencing conditions ordering repairs were flouted by the landlord. Box ticking, sidestepping Lisa Williams from the environmental health dept made it very clear that we would not be getting any help from the council.
Our first step was a demand letter delivery to CEA in December 2014. Mr Mohammed responded with a call to the tenants saying they should leave the house and would be evicted if they did not go. So then we demonstrated at their offices on Gloucester Road and went in for a frank discussion with Mr Mohammed. He was visibly squirming at a barrage of awkward questions and home truths from family members and supporters as well the embarrassment of the demo exposing their profiteering negligence, complete with large photos evidencing his “management” of this house of horrors. Passers by stopped to hear about the situation and were very supportive of the family’s fight for a decent home. Shortly after the demo CEA did a quick distancing job and ceased any involvement with the property, finding it all too much and folding at the first sign of pressure.
So then it was time to deal with the landlord directly. Mr. Biela is a man that likes the sound of his own voice and likes getting things his way. He tried everything to avoid his responsibilities to do the repairs. He tried to pass it off as an overcrowding issue (“Why can’t they live like normal people?” and “They like living in squalor” – actual direct quotes from him!). He clumsily attempted to sow doubt and division in a phone call to the tenants, claiming that the solidarity network is racist and possibly involved with UKIP! He chose retaliatory eviction over responsible action, issuing a notice to quit to the family shortly after a phone call in which he gave assurances that he would start the repairs soon. As a result, the family suffered a great deal of stress and anxiety facing the threat of being made homeless.
A widely publicised communications blockade of Mr. Biela and his businesses followed as we started to increase the pressure on this slum landlord. Alongside our support and actions, the tenants sought the help of South West Law, who gave excellent advice and acted quickly and decisively. They exposed the eviction notice as bogus and invalid and threatened legal action. Getting it from all sides now, Mr. Biela finally, after almost 10 years of ignoring his tenants’ requests for a liveable home, agreed to start the repairs. It was clear that the pressure was getting to him and he realised that fixing the house and fulfilling his responsibilities to the property and his tenants would actually be the cheaper option. The repairs are finished and the family are finally enjoying a home fit to live in.
We are proud to have stood alongside this determined and courageous family in their struggle. Their refusal to give up should be an inspiration to us all. Together we have shown that we can fight and win. We wish them all the best for the future. We also look forward to supporting other tenants and winning more victories for decent and safe housing for all.