SQUASH NewsRound: December 2012

The NewsRound will be a fortnightly event, keeping tabs on articles being posted in MainStream Media (MSM) sources, as well as independent channels (eg IMC, SchNEWS) about squatting, the new law (s.144) and possible new legislation (eg commercial). If you spot any articles of interest, please let us know by emailing info@squashcampaign.org.

For the Period: 21st November – 15th December 2012

The Big Story: “Madeley Meets the Squatters” [ITV; 7th December]

Madeley Watch the documentary here

The big story this week has been the documentary done by Richard Madeley (of “Richard and Judy” day-time TV fame) who goes round interviewing squatters and people who hate squatters, taking a “balanced” Middle England view of the whole thing. The documentary seems to elicited a number of responses from the right-wing media (who hate it for not being hateful enough) and our side who view it as half-decent but misguided especially with regards its take on s.144 (Madeley seems think that it has made life safer for home-owners, but they had always been protected under DRO and PIO legislation). SQUASH will shortly be publishing its own official response to the documentary; meanwhile check the SQUASH blog for responses from a couple of Squashlings..and here is some of the right-wing coverage (feel the hate): Torygraph (zig heil) and Radio Times

Squatting: Reclaiming the Commons

Grow Heathrow

“Squatters are not home stealers” [Society Guardian, 3rd December]

An article by Steve Rose which examines a potted history of squatting and the global squatting movement (from South America to India), and examining its impact in the Netherlands and during the Anti-motorway Movement of the 1990’s in the UK. The article also covers the recent Grow Heathrow case and has interviews from SQUASH’s very own Reuben and Blake who highlight the effects the new law (s.144) is having homelessness and social injustice. While the article is in-depth and has some wide-ranging analysis, Steve Rose does make a couple of bloopers like claiming that: “Anti-squatters [working for Guardian Companies] usually pay a nominal rent, but forfeit basic property rights: prospective buyers can visit at any time and they can be evicted at a moment’s notice. So technically, anti-squatters are second-class citizens, not far removed from developing-world slum-dwellers.” (….ahahahahahaha).

Squatters vs Keylet Properties (Cardiff)

Bute Dock Hotel

Score: Squatters: 1 – Keylet: minus 1 chair

Lots going on in Cardiff, with the Bute Dock Hotel squatted in an action against Keylet (major estate agents and known property racketeers). Faced with a gang of bailiffs and security thugs, the squatters held firm, even while Keylet executives were threatening them with violence, including an interesting one, where they promised to send round a “Somali gang” to do them over. While right-wingers like Dr Cockrell and Weatherley like to claim squatting is organised by gangs, it is in fact the property developers who use gangs to intimidate squatters and vulnerable tenants. Big up the Cardiff massive!

“Squatters vs Keylet at the Bute Dock Hotel, Cardiff” [IMC Bristol, 23rd November] Communique from the Squatters [Bristol IMC] and “Squatters form Cardiff-wide Network” [Wales Online, 11th December]

Property Guardians, Camelot et al, on the Attack

Scamalot

Behind the scenes, Camelot and other property guardian companies are rooting for the criminalization of commercial property, since this will mean that they can move squatters and short-life housing co-operatives out of the picture as they privatise the use of empty buildings; big money has been seen on the horizon. The number of guardian companies has been mushrooming, especially with the lucrative rates paid by many London boroughs for their services. Licensees (they are not tenants) are generally young professionals interning or on low pay, as they work their way to the top of the corporate/ political ladder, saving for their mortgage deposits on the way; local authorities and corporates seem willing to pay good money to have these squeaky-clean robots in their empty buildings, rather than squatters and short-life co-operators. However a recent article in Nearly Legal (legal blog) points out some very interesting anomalies and unlawfulness of its dodgy tenancy contracts; legal-heads, this one’s for you. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? ” [Nearly Legal; 22nd November]

Also, keep an eye out for a new piece of academic research coming out at the end of January 2013, which will be the first assessment of guardian companies and their role in the housing market in the UK.

A personal anecdote: Its 1am and I’m in a late-night “space” that looks like a pseudo-squat (rustic furniture but no dirt to be seen anywhere) run by a guardian company; £5 on the door, £3.50 a pint, you can smoke anything inside, and enjoy the company of suited professionals and rich kids (blurgh!). I start chatting to a bloke and he tells me that he used to be a squatter, but now he manages a property for a guardian company; living there for free, he collects the rent and does some maintenance, taking in £2.5k a month with only £1k to rent the building and £0.5k on maintenance, leaving a lovely £1k a month clear cash profit. While squatters don’t claim housing benefit and put on benefit gigs to raise money for good causes (eg Rossport, Anti-fash, etc), property guardians are rinsing the taxpayer, licensees and punters, with cash going directly into their pockets (and likely paying no tax). Welcome to the great property scam.

Demo outside Foxtons

Outside Foxtons

“Islington Starbucks Uncut Action” [Rikki, IMC UK, 9th December]

The bods from the nascent housing coalition (Housing for the 99%, DIGS, Eviction Resistance, et al) met up in Islington, North London to have a demonstration outside the offices of Foxtons, the gut-churning letting agents. They spoke about the issues faced by private tenants regarding forced evictions, rising rents, lost deposits and letting agent fees, and many of the issues faced by those in the private (and now more so public housing) market. Earlier SQUASH research calculated that landlords kept around £3.4 million in returnable deposits in 2010 in England and Wales [1], while letting agents took around £83 million in 2010 in non-returnable fees for activities as basic as arranging an interview for the prospective tenant [2]. In the meantime, Housing for the 99% are collecting private renting horror stories and messages to be included in a big Christmas card and kept on their growing list of dodgy landlords and letting agents. Please submit them via their blog:

Methodology: [1] Using Home’s (2009) figure of 2.6 million privately rented homes, and “Property Owner’s Survey 2009” – Deposits and Additional Fees (78% of landlords require deposits). Assume that the average rent in England and Wales is £800 (which use lower end of the spectrum, with the 2011 RRPI rent average of £1,244 from Rentright.co.uk), and one month rent as deposit as standard, which amounts to £1.6 billion held with landlords as deposits. Applying, of which 67% are returned in full, 24% returned in part (assumed at 50%), and 9% not returned at all., therefore it is estimated that a total of £1,087,008,000 of tenant deposits are held back in 2010.
[2] Using ”Property Owner’s Survey”(above), which states that 41% of those who charge deposits, also charge fees, of which 62% are non-returnable administration fees. Thus assuming the average fee 0f £100 (http://www.hiddenfees.co.uk/house-rental-hidden-fees.html), thus £83,148,000 may have been charged in 2010.

Protest as UCL attempt to convert the Carpenter Estate into Student Accommodation

Carpenters

University College London (UCL), one of the top UK universities in terms of wealth and status, is currently attempting to violently evict 300 tenants from the Carpenter Estates in East London (with more to come for the 700 residents), so that they can turn the 1960’s towerblocks into lucrative student accommodation. The situation has been described as: ‘Social housing replaced by student housing funds run by private wealth managers, education no longer about capabilities and learning but merely a means by which to create returns from a relationship of debt.’ Residents and students joined forces to protect outside UCL on the 28th November, and Wilkins Garden Room in the University was occupied by a number of the demonstrators (which is still in occupation at the time of writing). UCL’s asset managers and money-mad executives were not happy, but are still going ahead with their nice little earner in partnership with Labour’s Newham Council; get down there and show some solidarity with those facing imminent eviction.

Full Story at: Bloomsbury Fightback

Website for the on-going Carpenter’s resistance HERE : Support the occupation! Stop UCL throwing people out of their homes!