Many of Manchester’s estimated 99,000 students are concerned about the increasing common stories of landlords forcing people to live in inadequate conditions and letting agents refusing to communicate with tenants.
The ACORN union is standing up to private landlords on behalf of tenants, fighting housing poverty and the exploitation of tenants. “ACORN is a tenants union, by members for members” said Rachel Twaites, a member defence coordinator of ACORN Manchester. “We focus on community organising, opposed to something like Shelter which offers legal advice.”
Although the group aims to help tenants from all sections of society, Rachel highlighted that university students are particularly vulnerable to evasive landlords. “Something we’ve been finding with a number of people we’ve been in contact with is that many don’t know their rights which is a big problem for them…University tenants don’t realise that landlords have a duty to provide a standard, you don’t have to pay for it.”
In October, ACORN Manchester helped a group of students in Withington who were having problems regarding the legal standard of a rented property. With a broken central heating system, this house of eight had reached the point that they “could see [their] breath in bedrooms.” Jack Sutcliffe told us how ACORN helped the group “draft an official letter from them [ACORN] outlining our 13 demands.
“ACORN works by quickly escalating its course of action and the next step after the letter was to visit their [the letting agent’s] offices. However, in our case one of the directors of the letting agencey responded the next morning asking if we could meet.”
ACORN helped this group of students achieve all 13 of their demands, which alongside fixing the central heating issue included replacing expired flooring, a halt to “unfair late fees”, and the provision of contact details for their landlord.
Twaites mentioned a few key things to be aware of when searching for accommodation. “Always look to make sure you have got all your paperwork. There are certain amounts of paperwork that have to be given to you with your contract. When signing your contract, they should give you a package with a few different pieces of paperwork.” Rushed viewings also presented as a key area to be cautious with. Twaites suggested to “give yourself plenty of time and space, and be very clear on how much this is going to cost.”
As well as their advice and services for students, Twaites discussed ACORN’s Universal Credit Campaign: “a number of our other branches across the UK have started doing it and have successfully got councils to agree to not evict any tenants on Universal Credit.”
Whilst many students use social media to raise awareness about dodgy landlords, students can get involved with the ACORN tenants union, as it is a community based organisation. “If you just sign up to our Facebook, if you are not willing to start actively organising, but would like to support us. We always advertise things like door-knocking, stalls in towns to talk about what [ACORN] is doing. If you actively want to help we have got all sorts of positions like communications, or even more active roles like member defence which would be more case work.”
ACORN is “a community based organisation, not an advice service” that offers help to tenants fighting against private landlords. Ultimately, as described by Sutcliffe, “what is clear is that ACORN will do all they can with the resources they have to help those having issues with landlords/letting agents.”
If you are looking for additional housing advice, head to the Students’ Union ‘Advice Service’ webpage.