Edinburgh There’s nothing like good old fashion, benefit campaigns to light the fire under organizing drives, and it seems that the Edinburgh Private Tenants Action Group (EPTAG) has a number of great handles to choose from in moving to accelerate the growth and power of the organization. Later today I’m joining a half-dozen of the EPTAG activists for a couple of hours of doorknocking training and then putting flesh to the wood on the doors, targeting a list of 100 tenants where we are starting a mini-drive to move them into action. With all of the handles they have, it seems like it should be like shooting fish in a barrel.
First, there’s the matter of certain fees that are being charged to this group of tenants by the leasing agency (letting agency, as they call it) for the large landlord, which is ironically a giant cooperative enterprise with many far flung operations called Scottish Mid. These fees for certain basic services add up to more than 100 pounds (roughly $150), and there is no question that they have been outlawed by the National Government, yet by either habit or design, many real estate leasing companies around the city continue to collect them as routine, leaving tenants in private housing no choice but to pay. The EPTAG task is straightforward. Introduce the organization, explain the fees and the plan to get a refund from the agency, enroll members into the organization and the fight, and away they go by setting a meeting, filling out the forms, taking action, and then inevitably collecting a 100 pound reward for their collective action. Sweet!
Perhaps an even larger organizing handle looming within EPTAG’s reach has to do with rental deposits, that can be quite hefty for first and last month’s rent and so forth. Deposits are legal certainly, but in Scotland they have to be held, essentially in trust, by a 3rd party to ensure that when a tenant leaves the property there is a fair settlement and refund of the deposit when appropriate after the 3rd party satisfies everyone that the terms of the lease have been met. Not surprising to anyone who has ever been a tenant and certainly predictable for anyone who has ever organized tenants, surveys in Edinburgh indicate that perhaps only one-third of the local private landlords are actually turning over the deposits to a third party, while the vast majority are just pretending it is business as usual and hanging on to the money.
There’s a kicker though that creates a great organizing tool for EPTAG, not totally dissimilar to the kind of campaign that ACORN Italy has run in Rome and elsewhere. If the tenant determines that the landlord is holding the deposit and not turning it over as required and moves to initiate that transfer, when successful the tenant collects a refund of three times the level of the initial deposit. Jon Black, one of the EPTAG leaders and one of our ACORNistas, as they sometimes jokingly call themselves, collected over 800 pounds or $1200 in exactly that way, all of which indicates to me and excitingly to EPTAG increasingly, that there are not only rights that have to be won, but gold in those hills for sustaining and expanding the organization.
All of this is just a warmup, since there will undoubtedly be a laundry list of issues that tenants have with their landlords, which will keep the members active and organizing, while EPTAG and hopefully the emerging ACORN Scotland, keep pulling more benefits for our members out of our organizing bag of goodies. And, building power, too? It doesn’t get much better than this!