Greater Manchester Tenants Union: two years of successful campaigning and fighting for housing rights

More than two fifths (45%) of private tenants in England have experienced illegal behavior by a landlord or letting agent. Greater Manchester Tenants Union (GMTU) have spent the past two years fighting for tenants’ rights so that everyone has access to affordable, safe and decent housing.

GMTU is a democratic, member-driven union that works across Greater Manchester‘s ten boroughs to tackle the failing housing system that people struggle with. The union organizes and represents its members in the private and social rental sector and fights for safe, secure and affordable housing for all.

Originally a national organization called Tenants Union UK, the group decided the most impactful way to create change was to build community power at the local level and in 2020 became the Greater Manchester Tenants Union. Over the past two years, GMTU has grappled with skyrocketing rents, poor conditions and tenants forced out of their neighborhoods due to gentrification, slump and abusive landlords.

Through class action with its members, GMTU has won substantial payments from defaulting landlords, halted rent hikes and resisted evictions. The union has also been involved in a number of campaigns, such as “Block Block” in Hulme, a group of residents fighting to prevent the construction of a student housing block in their neighborhood, and a campaign to Save the Seven Sisters social homes in Rochdale.

GMTU has also partnered with Action on empty houses launch a new campaign calling for Airbnb regulations in England. They are calling for councils in England to have the power to block the conversion of homes to short-term rentals, most often as allowed by Airbnb. The campaign wants to see planning reforms, a licensing system and a “right to refuse” new registrations.

The syndicate consists of a network of branches including Stockport, Rochdale, Moss Side, Hulme and more recently Levenshulme & Longsight. It is funded by its members, who pay a monthly fee at a rate set by them. GMTU has also received grants from various donors including National FoundationFair Housing Futures Trial and Learn Fund and the New Economy Foundation.

The union is run by elected committee members, who are supported by a small team of staff. Kate Bradley, a member of the newly created Longsight & Levenshulme branch, says she was drawn to the union’s democratic member-led approach to organizing and the freedom it gives its members to work collectively for campaigns.

“I work in housing law at my day job, and I’m often horrified by the power imbalance between tenants and landlords. I don’t think the law alone can protect us from evictions, hardship and unlivable conditions in our homes, so I wanted to fight for better rights and conditions for tenants,” Kate said.

“We have an incredibly diverse community, but over the past few years we have seen long standing communities come under pressure due to rising prices in the area and the insistence of estate agents that Levenshulme is “booming” – something that tends to mean that they want to force prices up and poorer communities out.

Since the establishment of Kate’s branch in her area, they have taken on solidarity cases with members to stop rent increases, helped people with repairs and helped people understand their housing rights. They also held public events, including a ‘Know your rights session as well as contribute to a consultation on landlord licenses planned for the region.

Many tenants around Manchester have been touched by the resources and help that GMTU offers. GMTU member Callum Harrison told The Meteor he originally joined the union after learning how it helped a woman get her money back after she was wrongly accused of changing her tenancy.

“When I approached GMTU, it wasn’t to get help with my own situation, it was to get involved and learn how they help people,” Callum said.

However, after joining the union and speaking with other members about his housing situation, it became clear that he was also being treated unfairly. Callum received support from other members, which included writing a formal notice, which resulted in him receiving compensation and being given the opportunity to leave his lease early.

“I would say almost everyone is facing housing issues right now. If it’s not a rent increase, it’s a bad apartment or house or a bad landlord. Speaking to the folks at GMTU and the folks in my life, everyone has had issues with their home or apartment and landlord over the past five years. The housing market is clearly in trouble and there is so much that can be done to fix it. »

Callum’s advice to any new tenant is to carefully inspect the condition of the accommodation before signing a contract.

“If something goes wrong you want to make sure you have your back covered and even if there is nothing wrong with your apartment, join a union – you might need your back cover in the future .”

Although much more needs to be done in the housing sector, GMTU has given its members the feeling that they can have a say in their own living conditions, which tenants often find impossible when they try to solve problems on their own.

“We can only continue to strengthen the tenant movement and achieve real change if more tenants get involved in their organization,” Kate said. “No matter what type of tenant you are, we are always happy to welcome new members and you can get involved in a range of activities in any way that suits you.”

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Featured Image: Greater Manchester Tenants Union

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