Residents from Newham, east London, have come together to protest against their landlord, Tando Property, which has a contract agreement with the local council to manage housing in the area.
The tenants, who are part of a community organisation called PEACH, created a video that they hope will prompt Newham council to take back control from Tando, which runs homes in Canning Town and Custom House. The video, posted on Facebook on 2 February, has received over 100,000 views and over 2,300 shares.
In the video, one local resident said that their accommodation was infected with cockroaches, and that for months Tando refused to contact pest control: "I had them in my kids' ears, my soups, and my fridge and this was hell for me."
Tando disputes the claims in the video. Upon being contacted by BuzzFeed News, the housing company offered to meet with tenants and councillors to "listen to their concerns and answer their questions, and dispel some of the false statements being made".
A spokesperson said: "We have seen the video and are sorry that the tenants’ experience of our service is not a positive one. However, it is important to state that we do not feel the video is a fair representation of our work in the area and indeed contains many inaccuracies.
"We conduct monthly tenant satisfaction surveys and the results are generally very good. Newham Council also has vigorous monitoring methods."
They went on: "We have a robust complaints process in place to deal with the kind of issues highlighted, but in the past six months we have received no formal complaints from tenants in Canning Town or Custom House. We advise anyone with a question or complaint to contact us."
BuzzFeed News has, however, been told of three complaints from residents in the last few weeks. Tando said it was "looking into" the claims, but declined to comment further.
Jihene Bouaziz, 43, a single mother of two children, told us that she has been living in a maisonette in Custom House for six years under a Tando contract, which she describes as "frustrating".
"I have lived here for six years and I have faced the same problem... I've been struggling with the hot water and boiler. I have to boil the kettle to bathe. Just last week they changed the boiler after six years," Bouaziz said.
She said when she calls Tando for help regarding her boiler, "sometimes they ... hang up, sometimes they don't even come [or] they never finish the job". She added: "I tell them, 'Please, I have kids.'"
Bouaziz lives with her two sons, aged 11 and 8. “My kids say, 'Mummy, I am cold.' We use the electric heater but it costs a lot more."
She said she was pleased that the video on Facebook had reached so many people. "It's very nice that people are listening to our situations even if there are no solutions. It just means a lot," she said.
Despite the difficulties Bouaziz is facing with Tando, she said she was glad she found PEACH. "I don't feel alone and I have so much support at PEACH. I thought it was only me who had this problem; some people have problems with their ceiling and so many other things." She added: "We need the council to break this contract."
Samantha Napa, a 27-year-old single mother of two, told BuzzFeed News that she has lived in a maisonette in Custom House for five years under a Tando contract. She said the worst thing about living there was the inconsistency in the rent.
"The rent fluctuates a lot. My rent is £226 a week (£906 a month). I always call up Tando every 25th of the month and I ask them what my short fee is and ask what housing benefit has paid," she said. "Sometimes I end up paying £200, sometimes I pay £400."
Napa said when she asks Tando why the amount has changed, they often "blame it on housing benefit but I don't think that is true".
Napa said she hadn't been aware that she was under a rolling contract with Tando until she joined PEACH. "When I found out that really shocked me, that any given time they can give a section 21 [an eviction notice] and then you don't have a leg to stand on, which they have done to some residents I know."
A Tando spokesperson said: "In the past 12 months, the only letters sent to tenants were standard letters relating to rent arrears. As a last resort – and only after numerous attempts to contact residents in arrears – a letter is sent informing them that they may be evicted if they do not contact us to put in place a payment plan based on the tenants' circumstances."
Napa lives with her 7-year-old son and 11-month-old daughter. "There's no security and I don't know what's going to happen next. We are not their priority, my kids are my priority. They are not for us and they don't care if we get evicted out." This, she said, was why she got involved with PEACH's video: "We have rights and we have a voice and that's why we want Newham council to break the contract with Tando."
"It's so nice to know you're not the only one in the situation," she said. "PEACH has given us a platform to discuss and uplight one another. I feel happy that the video has reached many on Facebook and I feel like we are going somewhere."
The spokesperson for Tando said: "We were awarded the contract through a competitive process to refurbish and let these properties by the borough of Newham, and have saved the council significant sums of money, whilst enabling local families in need of housing to remain in the borough rather than be housed elsewhere. The agreement was recently extended until such time as the regeneration plans commence."
A spokesperson for Newham council said: “The arrangement in Custom House has been in place since June 2011 and was introduced to ensure properties which were empty because of future redevelopment proposals were used to provide temporary homes."
They went on: "The contract with Tando has a number of important benefits for the council. It brings more properties into meanwhile use so we are able to offer temporary homes to those who need them. Tando carries out all improvements and repairs at no cost to the council and revenue from Tando as part of the contract is used to reinvest in and improve council services.
"We take complaints by our residents very seriously and work closely with Tando to resolve any issues. We have not received any recent complaints regarding the service Tando delivers in Custom House."
And they added: "We would urge any residents who feel their complaints are not being dealt with by Tando to contact us so we can investigate further. All tenants have previously been informed of how they can report issues to the council and we closely monitor the service Tando delivers, regularly visiting households they manage to check on the service. We have also been in touch with representatives from PEACH and will be meeting with them soon to discuss their issues.”
Victoria Sanusi is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Victoria Sanusi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.