Nearly 100 tenants on an historic housing estate hit in the pocket by the coronavirus pandemic have joined a union to demand rent reductions.
The 96 residents of Dorchester Court in Herne Hill joined the London Renters Union and have now written to their landlord Manaquel Ltd demanding reductions, as well as assurances there will be no evictions for rent arrears.
The income of many has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting lockdown.
But Manaquel – owned by property tycoon Heinrich Feldman, which is valued at £200million on the Sunday Times Rich List – has refused to offer any individual discounts.
Since the pandemic, tenants have been told by email that the company cannot afford to write off some of their rent.
They have also been sent letters telling them about plans to build penthouses on top of the existing buildings.
In addition, residents have repeatedly, over several years, asked the firm to make vital repairs to the blocks, with intermittent hot water and heating breakdowns, as well as mould and vermin.
But in 2015, the landlord applied for planning permission to add eight town houses and 16 penthouses to the buildings, claiming it needed to make money to pay for the repairs.
The London Renters Union is calling for Manaquel to enter into negotiations to agree a fair deal for their members.
The government has instructed landlords to show ‘compassion’. When the landlord insisted they would have to pay back all debt accrued in the future, they decided to negotiate as a group and support each other to get a fair deal.
Michelle, a member of the London Renters Union living at Dorchester Court, said: “I am furious with the landlord for refusing to take the safety and well-being of tenants seriously.
“How am I meant to afford to pay back the rent I owe in the future when the industry I work in has been decimated by the pandemic?
“The landlord wants us all to spend years in debt even though he is a millionaire. We deserve affordable homes that are in a good state of repair.”
The London Renters Union is calling for Manaquel to enter into negotiations to agree a fair deal for their members at Dorchester Court.
Labour councillor for Herne Hill ward, Jim Dixon, said: “What I am clear about is that the application needs as a minimum to have transparent, legally binding guarantees written into it about the refurbishment and restoration works that need to be done – their timing, quality and scope and much else.”
A spokseman for Manaquel said: “Dorchester Court is a superb estate and Manaquel Company are committed to revitalising the development back to its former glory.
“As part of its planning application it is pledging to ensure that all structural works to brickwork, balconies and windows are undertaken as a first priority. They have had continuous dialogue with DCRA over the past 15 years but have been continually thwarted by them .
“Manaquel Company have lodged a summary plan with the council that deals with rehousing tenants at Dorchester Court whilst works are undertaken.
“It is fully anticipated that the detail will be discussed and agreed with the council and residents further during the course of the application and if necessary detail secured by planning condition or legal obligation prior to works commencing.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of long leaseholders are trying to derail the proposals by making inaccurate statements.
“The costs of repair and refurbishment are closer to £10million. These costs have been exacerbated due to the fact that the building was listed.
“Manaquel have always regarded the planning application as a means of raising the funds required to restore the Estate to its former glory and has genuinely considered the development project as an enabling program for the good of the Estate and its occupants.
“The development will not provide the landlord with any windfall, as they have demonstrated to the local planning authority, contrary to what the tenants wish to believe . The development would in fact produce a long term benefit for the long leasees by also reducing their service charge liability.
“Throughout the pre-application planning process the freeholders have consulted with the tenants’ association and have made every attempt at each stage to address their many concerns.
“The general, continuous, persistent and ongoing resistance from these few long leasees has largely contributed to the protracted application, the increased costs of the repair to the building and the delay in being able to commence these much needed works, of which, ironically, they themselves now complain.
“Manaquel will continue to work with the local authority to ensure that all planning guidelines are met and that works at Dorchester Court can commence forthwith.
“The penthouses will be built quickly as modular high quality apartments on a block by block basis whilst the structural repairs are undertaken and the townhouses will be built last, as explained in the planning application documentation.
“Finally, the landlords are prepared to enter into a Section 106 agreement with the Local Authority, so as to guarantee that the penthouses and town houses which they apply to construct are built as part of an overall scheme which is sympathetic and in accordance with the character and appearance of the estate.
“We hope the above demonstrates our clients commitment to Dorchester Court and provides some clarity surrounding their view on the past and present.”
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