Digital handbook for new members

This is a guide for new members of the London Renters Union. It's an intro to how renters can organise together and win

1. Welcome to London Renters Union

London Renters Union launched in 2018. We had over 2000 members at the beginning of this year, and membership has grown to around 3000 in recent weeks as renters come together to address the urgent rent crisis caused by coronavirus and the government’s failure to protect renters. Our response to the crisis is based on the strong foundations of our existing values, aims, strategy and structure of branches based in local communities, which are all outlined below. 

This page is particularly aimed at newer members of LRU to give you the information you need on how the union works and our response to the current crisis so that you can get involved in organising. If you are not yet a member, we encourage you to join the union here.

Our aims

We want to transform the housing system so that everyone has access to an affordable, secure and decent home. We want a future where we have more free time because housing is cheaper, where working-class people and migrants aren’t pushed to the fringes, and where no-one has to suffer evictions or homelessness.

Click to read our aims in full ⬇️

London Renters Union is a social movement union that aims to: 

Transform the housing system. In the short to medium term, we want to fundamentally alter the balance of power between renters and landlords and make the private rented sector a viable place to live. More broadly, we want a housing system in which everyone has access to an affordable, secure and decent home and in which homes are held in common rather than being treated like financial assets and in which we don’t have to pay rent to private landlords anymore. 

Realise a future where London is a place for everyone. We want a city where migrants can easily find and live in decent homes, where we have more free time, where working class people aren’t pushed to the fringes, and where no-one has to suffer evictions or homelessness.

Build a mass, democratic, members-led union that is truly representative of London’s rented sector and its diversity and that continuously works to challenge oppression both inside and outside of the union.

Create a radical mass community where we care for each other and that is a space of social solidarity that contributes towards broader transformational change in society.

See in full our demands of what we are fighting for agreed at All Member assemblies in July 2018 and June 2019.

What we’ve won so far

Through members organising around individual disputes and campaigning around collective issues we have already achieved a lot. We have:

  • Successfully won rent reductions from hundreds if not thousands of landlords through our model letter  to landlords during the coronavirus crisis. More than 25,000 people have accessed our Coronavirus resources. 
  • Worked with other organisations to push the government to announce a temporary ban on evictions during Covid-19 (see more below)
  • Forced over 50 landlords and letting agents into making repairs that they were previously refusing to do.
  • Stopped evictions through protests, pressure on landlords and councils, and sometimes physically standing in the way of bailiffs.
  • Won money back from letting agencies who have stolen deposits or refused to rent payments, including over £5000 taken from Mary, a member in Romford.
  • Pushed the government to scrap section 21 (“no-fault”) evictions, by joining together with housing campaign groups. We will keep up the pressure until this is enacted and we all have secure homes.
  • Made Natwest remove the ‘no DSS’ clause from their buy-to-let mortgages through co-ordinated action with other tenants unions across the UK.

Finally, following almost two years of pressure from LRU members living in Eros House, in March 2020 Lewisham Council took decisive action over the appaling, unsafe conditions in the block. They are now withholding payment to the owner’s agents until essential repair work is carried out.

Values


Our actions and how we organise are based on our shared values: We’re a union that belongs to its members. We’re a community of renters that looks after one another. We believe we can all learn something from everyone and take control of our lives. We recognise and challenge oppression and exploitation. Read our values in full here.

2. How we organise

 

Strategy

We build our power in 4 main ways: 

  1. Community: Renters are organising to grow a powerful community that fights for the changes we need to the housing system. We’re building vibrant branches across the city that are rooted in the places we’re organising in.
  2. Member solidarity: We take collective action against the landlords and estate agents that exploit us. Our approach is based on solidarity not charity. 
  3. Empowerment: We’re a member-led union that puts knowledge and skills in the hands of renters. We use participatory decision making. We uplift and centre those most impacted by the housing crisis.
  4. Mass campaigning: As we grow our base and develop mass support and participation, we can threaten and take mass action and leverage our collective power to win big changes. We agree our demands democratically based on our experiences as renters. 

Decision making

Consensus decision making: The union is controlled by every one of our members. Every single member has a say and we take decisions collectively and democratically. We aim to achieve consensus when making these decisions, you can read more about how this works. Members are encouraged to make proposals to their branches. See a proposal template here.

Our structure

Click the image to expand it

Click to read more about our structure ⬇️

Our constitution: The London Renters Union is a non-profit co-operative company that is owned jointly and equally by its members. The union is governed by a constitution and by a set of additional rules for how we work together. This web page is a summary of the most important things in those two documents. 

Branches: Branches are the local LRU spaces where members come together to build their collective power. We currently have three branches, in Newham and Leytonstone; Lewisham, and Hackney. During the coronavirus crisis branches remain the main unit of the union, providing a way for people to take part in the union and to be in touch with each other, with a big focus on phonebanking, as well as discussing how we can take collective action in the current crisis. Branches also still have a ‘member solidarity’ team (see below!) that keeps working on existing local disputes. 

Local groups: Local groups are small groups of LRU members working towards setting up a new branch that is rooted in the community. LRU groups currently exist in Tower Hamlets and Camden. If you live outside of boroughs that already have a group or branch, you are welcome to get in touch with your nearest branch or group to join them and learn how we work. If you want to advice or help to organise local renters in your area you can use this form to let us know.

Working groups: There are also 5 working groups made up of members from across London, to coordinate work that supports branches and groups to organise. These working groups are:

  • Outreach – reaching as many people and organisations as we can and developing branches to make sure they are representative of local communities. During coronavirus Outreach is focusing on organising mass phonebanking of members.
  • Member Solidarity– developing resources so we can get better at supporting each other to stand up to landlords and estate agents. Focusing on coordinating support for people who can’t pay their rent in full and developing eviction resistance teams.
  • Communications – making printed materials, managing our website and social media.
  • Education – creating and delivering trainings and resources.
  • Fundraising – writing funding applications, running fundraisers. 

All member assemblies: Every year we hold at least one all-member assembly, which is the highest decision making body of the union, and is an opportunity for us to learn from each other’s experiences and celebrate and build our community. 

Coordinating group: In between these assemblies, the Coordinating Group, made up of representatives of all of the branches, working groups and liberation caucuses, helps to coordinate the union’s collective work. During the coronavirus crisis, the Coordinating Group is meeting weekly rather than monthly.

Liberation caucuses: We know that our experiences as renters intersect with other aspects of our identity and power-relations based on these in different ways, including race, immigration status, gender, sexuality, disability and class.  We strive to make all parts of the union as representative as possible of all of London’s renters, and there is also provision in our rules for representation on the Coordinating Group from self-organising liberation caucuses within the union. If you’re interested in helping to form such a caucus please get in touch and the Coordinating Group will support you to make it happen. 

3. The Coronavirus rent crisis

The Coronavirus crisis means that many of us can’t pay our rent. Others are forced to carry on working even though they are sick, or worried about getting sick and passing it on to friends or family living in their household. Renters should feel able to prioritise buying food and staying healthy over paying their rent and should not have to get into debt to their landlord. We are working to organise people who cannot pay their rent or cannot pay in full. We are also committed to organising resistance to any evictions that take place during and after the Coronavirus crisis.

We’ve already won a temporary freeze of evictions. Now we’re demanding: 

  • Suspend Rent 
  • No rent debt!
  • Make the evictions ban permanent 
  • Introduce rent controls 

We are currently building a new website that will help us to collectively organise this resistance in the coming weeks- watch this space! In the meantime there is lots you can do to build renters power – see below.

We worked with other organisations to push the government to announce a temporary ban on evictions. Together as a union our members worked with MPs, journalists and political parties to help make this happen. We even got the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to back some of our demands after a letter we sent him was shared across social media. However, the announcements so far still leave renters unprotected and facing the threat of eviction and huge debts once lockdown ends. We’re fighting with other organisations to push for the government to introduce more measures to protect renters. We’re demanding the government suspends all rent payments. You can help with this by sharing LRU’s petition, already signed by over 100,000 people.

We are responding to thousands of messages from people who are unable to pay their rent in full, supporting people in blocks to organise collectively to make demands on their shared landlords, and we are also calling every single LRU member to check how they are and to talk about what we can do to organise together.

4. How we support each other with housing issues we face

We support each other to stand up to landlords and estate agents. Our approach is based on solidarity not charity. Together we’ve won repairs, got money back and improved the lives of scores of our members. We make demands and we take direct action and organise protests and pressure campaigns if we don’t get what we need.

Usually we do this organising at our physical branch meetings. During the Coronavirus pandemic, we’re calling members with housing issues to let them know about the resources and the latest info. Thousands of renters have already won a rent reduction using our template letter. Check out our Coronavirus info page.

If you’d like to request a phone call, please check out this page. You can volunteer to make phone calls using the form below.

While we’re struggling hard to support each other to win rent reductions from our landlords, we know that we can’t solve the Coronavirus rent crisis on a landlord by landlord basis. That’s why we’re organising collective action to put pressure on the government. Stay tuned for more details.

5.Ways you can get involved right now

  • Talk to people you know about the crisis and what we can do collectively as renters. Use and share our coronavirus resources: our page about our rights as renters during the Coronavirus crisis, including a model letter you can send to your landlord to ask for a rent suspension. Please share these with other people you know, the page also includes an invitation to join the union.
  • Sign and share our petition demanding a rent suspension.
  • Join our phonebanking sessions: this is the main activity that we’re asking members to get involved with from home right now. You can join our virtual phone banks, where we call other members of the union to find out what support they need and talk with them about collective action we can take together. If you haven’t done this before for LRU, you can attend a training first.
  • Get involved in the Member Solidarity Response Team, who are calling other LRU members who are asking for support and guidance during these challenging times. Again, full training is provided, including details on renters rights during the coronavirus crisis and case studies and practice scenarios. You don’t have to be a housing expert to join this team!
  • Join your nearest branch or local group. We currently have branches in Hackney, Lewisham, and Newham & Leytonstone, and local groups in Camden and Tower Hamlets.
  • Stay in touch: Join the union-wide WhatsApp bulletin for updates and check our calendar for upcoming (online) meetings and trainings.

Let us know how you can get involved

  • We will always do our very best to keep the information we hold about you safe and secure. We will never share your data with any third party without asking you first. By submitting this form, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.