King & Chasemore Lettings have returned a Sussex international student’s holding deposit, following a series of anarchist-led pickets outside its Brighton branches.

One anarchist said: “This is not just an individual’s victory. Any tenant who feels they have been ripped off can now point to this case and ask their landlord or agency if they would like to face a similar solidarity campaign”.

The aggrieved tenant thanked the anarchists for their support, saying they made her “feel less alone”. She told The Badger: “It was not just about my case anymore. It became everyone’s case”.

King & Chasemore did not reply when asked whether their repayment of the withheld sum was an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, saying that “they do not comment on the details of individual cases”.

Fu Li, 22 (real name withheld), took her problem to Solidarity Federation, an anarcho-syndicalist group, after King & Chasemore terminated her tenancy before the start of term and refused to return half of her holding deposit (£325).

The first half was returned three months ago in what was described as a “good will offer”. King & Chasemore’s Regional Support Manager told Li that this partial pay out was “generous and more than fair”. The estate agent claimed that Li provided “misleading and incorrect information”. A clause in her contract said they could withhold her entire deposit in such an instance.

They say she planned to sub-let the room, and that she had not made that plain when she paid the deposit. However, Li rejects these allegations. She told The Badger that she never planned to sub-let the room, and that an employee of the Norfolk Square branch terminated her tenancy based on a phone conversation which he misunderstood.

The employee refused to accept that he had made an error, writing in an email to Li: “The reason your application is unable to proceed is not down to a misunderstanding, as you eagerly put in your email. The reason your application is unable to proceed is because you lied about having a guarantor, intended to move more people in to the property than agreed (sub-letting) and withheld information that was pertinent to the application”.

The employee was found by an internal investigation to have displayed a professional attitude throughout his handling of Li’s case. However, Li claims she is still suffering psychologically from her dealings with this particular employee, and broke down in tears while giving a comment to The Badger.

Additionally, Li claims that undue pressure was put on her to pay the deposit in the first place. She alleges that an employee stressed “somebody else would be viewing the property in ten minutes”. In the end, according to Li, she paid the deposit before she had even been sent the terms of the contract.

Solidarity Federation (Sol Fed), the anarcho-syndicalist group whose help Li enlisted, started the campaign against the estate agent with a 15-person picket outside the Norfolk Square branch on 21 November.

Attendants bore banners and syndicalist-coloured flags. Leaflets detailing Li’s grievances were crammed into the hands of passers-by.

Among the anarchists stood SU Activities Officer Lyndsay Burtonshaw, who told The Badger: “I enjoy helping people when they need it”. According to Burtonshaw, international students too often fall prey to estate agents. She said: “The Union has been pressuring the University to act as guarantor for students like Li who might not have one in the country, but also for students whose low-income parents don’t qualify”.

The next weekend, the anarchists redoubled their efforts, picketing both the Norfolk Square branch and the Kemptown branch.

The campaign concluded on the 1 December, when King & Chasemore paid out the withheld £325 to Li.

Peter, 39, Sol Fed member and University employee (real name withheld) said: “The success of this campaign shows what can be achieved when ordinary people stick together”.

And Li, when asked whether she would be joining Sol Fed on future pickets, said: “I wish for this never to happen to anyone again, and one way to ensure that is by spreading awareness that it is not normal, just because it happens to many others. It is not okay. And we can fight back. We have to”.

King & Chasemore commented: “Our priority is to make sure that all our customers receive a satisfactory, transparent and fair service and that their individual needs are taken care of. If we receive a complaint, it is acknowledged and dealt with through our strict complaints procedure.

“In this case, we followed our complaints procedure and investigated all elements of the complaint made by the applicant. We have refunded the applicant in full and can confirm that all parties involved are satisfied with the outcome”.

Troubled tenants can get in contact with Sol Fed. Email brighton@solfed.org.uk or call 07790607310

Mark Tovey 

 

 

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