I want to start by saying how my heart goes out to each and everyone, either resident in the block, fire fighters who tried desperately to get people out, and the everyday people who stopped what they were doing to try and offer whatever help they could, who have been directly affected by the absolute horror of the Grenfell Tower fire.
I am utterly bereft that despite promises that “lessons were learned” after the Camberwell Lakanal House tragedy, we are here, yet again, with a fresh batch of politicians standing, with faces set to suitable look of sadness with their hands ringed, next to a smoldering building, next to another appalling incident that could, with the easiest processes in order, have been prevented.
I also want to say how much I admire, yet again, just how us normal folk answer a tragedy, by pulling together and raising funds, and putting collections of clothes, bedding, toys and other essentials for the victims, how places of worship opened their doors to those who have lost all their possessions, and cafes and restaurants fed them in their hour of need and beyond. We are masters of taking control in a crisis, and no matter how bad the situation, someone, somewhere, will see you as right as they can, will give you their last ten pound note, and will try and make things a little more manageable.
Now, I am angry. I am disgusted that we live in, maybe not the richest country in the world, but we’re not so bad that 300K for a sprinkler system wasn’t obtainable. Especially when the same people who refused this most basic request was allowed to wrap 10 million pounds worth of toxic plastic that went up like tissue paper round the exact same block. To make it “look pretty” and appease the people in the more gentrified homes down the road who weren’t happy their view was obscured by sub standard poor houses. That poverty was on their doorstep in pleasantville so they had to put a metaphorical screen round it so they could feel better whilst sipping their lattes and eating their Waitrose dinners.
Don’t let the government tell you different.
The residents had been tirelessly warning that this could happen. That it would cause mass amounts of avoidable death. That they lived in piss poor conditions and you know what? They were ignored.
They wanted to bring a lawsuit against the people responsible for the block- both Kensington and Chelsea council (which until last week was a Tory stronghold) and the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. They couldn’t. People in the block, despite living in what is a very well to do borough, were not in a position to pay for solicitors to bring their case. Nor could they- as people could previously- get Legal Aid to bring their case, because Legal Aid is now largely an outdated institution that was removed for “costing too much”.
I have long said, as a longterm renter since the age of 17, that there are simply no rights for tenants. If you can’t buy your own gaff, you are beholden to a person, or group, to take your rent and pay you the courtesy of keeping you safe, of doing repairs in a timely manner and with registered tradesman, of not cutting corners and of giving respect.
Whilst volunteering with the Salvation Army, I was shocked and appalled at some of the stories fed back by service users.
Of Landlords who refused to give the standard 24 hours notice before entering a property. Who let themselves in when they saw fit. Riffled through cupboards. All sorts for no reason.
The intimidation I have heard about- and sadly experienced myself- is unreal.
The power balance for tenants is unfairly pitched towards the Landlord.
Yes, you will hear politicians and Councillors say that Tenants can complain. There is the Environmental Health. They can give notice and move somewhere else. They can go on the council list and get a new home that way.
All utterly wonderful if not totally inaccurate.
Twice we have had cause to complain about substandard, unsafe property. Twice, as a result, we were threatened, abused, and then given notice to quit. One Landlord refused to allow us to put a handrail up the staircase, and, as a result, one evening- thankfully and mercifully after I put Mini to bed and before I was pregnant with Littlest- I fell down and over the side of the staircase and am still suffering pain in my back and neck ten years later. We complained and on that occasion the Environmental Health team came out. They found several high level faults with house, and placed an order on the owner to fix things- things we hadn’t even been aware of. That cost her a lot more than the £50 that we wanted to pay ourselves to fit a handrail.
And I’m sure those of you who have read this blog for years will remember the Landlord who left us, for five years, living in a frankly inhumane dump after promising verbally to fix the home swiftly after we moved in.
The water feature indoors, the black and white thick mold that made us all ill, the staircase that collapsed under Littlest (and which he left with no banister on the landing for months before we paid for it ourselves despite him telling us we weren’t allowed to without his permission). The windows we couldn’t open as they were literally falling out the wall. The electrics that were unsafe and had no trip switches, and the boiler that was twice condemned and leaked gas and continuously had to be made safe by British Gas.
We went to the council then. We went to the Housing department, who refused us help as we were “adequately housed”. Their budgets are such that no new homes are being built, so those in houses- even shit shows like that one- are housed and not in need.
Refuse to pay rent as some charities tell you to and that leads to a notice to quit. We tried that with the Handrail Landlady and all that happened was a Magistrate told us we were out of order and to leave- siding with her and her unsafe home. The councils will then say they find you “intentionally homeless”- meaning you have done something which has made someone kick you out and thus they wont even offer temporary accommodation.
The lines on “Intentional homeless” are blurred by borough too.
In Maidenhead (Theresa May’s Constituency), if you leave before you receive a Bailiff Order, they will not help. You have moved out in their eyes before you should. What they don’t mention is that this leaves you open to court costs into the hundreds of pounds levied by the Court. And more costs associated with the owner going to Bailiffs to get you out. You wont know exactly when these Bailiffs will come either- leaving you in danger of losing your worldly goods.
In Reading, when our last Landlord out the blue decided- despite signing new contracts months before- to kick all seven families including ours from his properties to place them for sale, we asked where we stood should we not be able to find new Private housing, expecting to be told to not move until the Bailiff order.
In this borough, you are expected to go no later than the last day on the notice to quit or guess what? No help for you!
And what if the Landlord wants you gone because they’ve screwed up financially and the Notice you have is no fault of your own? Tough. Deal with it and move.
What if they put the rent up by a ridiculous amount you can’t afford? Tough. Deal with it and move.
The only safety net now is the much lauded “DPS” or Deposit Protection Service.
This is seen as fairer to Tenants and Landlords, but when you leave a property, you need your deposit to secure the next one. All fine if you are lucky and have a good Landlord or Agent who knows fair wear and tear and who doesn’t argue the toss unless you’ve wrecked the place. Then you should receive it within days of moving on if not on the day.
Enter into a disagreement though, and it’s 30 working days of to and fro until the DPS makes a decision. How many people have time to take photos in case of when they move in and move out? Not very many. And once you’ve left the building you can’t then gain evidence that the owner or Agent is lying through their teeth.
It is a warped system.
For years, action groups, charities and, dare I say it, Jeremy Corbyn himself have campaigned for improvements and legislation to protect the rights of Tenants. But very few have made it through parliament.
In fact, the last bill that went up for consideration was outvoted by 312 Tory ministers (and none from other parties).
It is this self serving attitude that is yet another reason why this out of touch party should not be allowed to be the decision makers.
The very fact that May couldn’t give a few scant minutes to speak to the victims says it all. Yes, they would have shouted at her, they would have been angry. Quite right too- they’ve just lost their homes and everything they owned down to negligence and poor planning. Did they not deserve that outlet? This is the Political figurehead of our country, and she hid. She took the cowards route.
That suddenly there are unsubstantiated stories relating to the owner of the fridge said to have started the blaze tells you that clearly the party machine is in full whirl to stop blame going where it should and corporate Manslaughter charges being brought against those who damn well deserve them.
This latest showing of May’s ineptitude, her lack of care for the many again, now with the people living in these substandard hell holes due to a lack of money, and previously with the electorate giving her a strong message that we don’t want her mandate, not to mention the people of Northern Ireland and their now shaky peace treaty, its time for her to resign. In fact, the time for her to bow out was last Friday.
May those affected in the blaze find peace and strength, and my prayers go out to those who lost their lives.
And this time, please, will lessons really be learned.