London Renters Union members protest an eviction in north London earlier this month. Photo via Facebook/London Renters Union.
Priya* has lived in Newham, east London, in a rented two-bed flat with her family for ten years. Her household income took a huge hit earlier this year due to the pandemic, and she is now struggling to pay rent. Here, she explains why she is taking part in London Renters Union’s "Cant Pay Won’t Pay", a rent strike campaign that calls on the government to cancel rent debt and make the coronavirus eviction ban permanent.
“When I started renting this flat in 2010, it was £700 per month – it's £1,200 now. We had gone into arrears for a couple of months. Our rent has increased consistently, and I've been renting with the landlord for the past ten years.My wages haven't gone up and my household income hasn't gone up, really. We struggled a bit, and at the moment, because of the lockdown, my husband's income has completely dried up, and because I'm on a zero-hours contract working with the council, this month I'm being paid less than half of what I'd normally earn. That has had a direct impact. We've not been able to pay rent for the last couple of months since the lockdown began.When we tried to communicate this to that landlord, he didn't want to know anything. He said, "I don't want to talk to you, my solicitor will get in touch" but then he also texted us to say, "I am going to the courts, and I am trying to get you declared bankrupt" – which made no sense to me. In the meantime, we've been trying to get some legal advice.There is almost no protection for somebody like me. The ban on eviction was in place for a few months, but the ban is going to be lifted and the landlord can actually evict us. There are lots of people like me who are in this situationWith the [London Renters] Union, we're supporting each other to be heard. [The "Can't Pay Won't Pay" rent strike] is because we can't pay. Because it is impossible and because we feel it is important to prioritise our food and our essentials more than giving money to the landlord. There is no choice and we've had to withhold rent so that we can survive. If I was to pay a part of my rent to the landlord, it would be difficult to put food on the table. It's as dark as that.
I know that my landlord is not a big corporate landlord, but at the same time, on principle, it just feels like this is a home for me. I have not been able to have an income, and at the end of the day, if this is a business for him, where he has invested, and he is getting returns every month, and it has happened consistently for the last ten years, and then at this point when everyone is suffering, why should my landlord think that he can be completely buffered and protected from this? If he takes it as a business, there are periods of losses.We know that there are many many people out here in this situation, and there are many who would put themselves in harm's way or expose themselves and still go out and do the work and not really worry too much about their own safety because they have to pay rent. What I'm hoping is that because there are so many of us in this situation, that the government cannot ignore us.In the long term, there has to be rent controls, but immediately, there should be no eviction and an eviction ban. We're hoping that the government doesn't just listen to the landlords, because at the moment, they are the ones that they're listening to. More of us feel that because many of the MPs themselves are landlords, they won't create legislation that is against their own interests.We want to have our voice heard."Interview has been edited for length and clarity.*Name has been changed.@RubyJLL