Help me push for better rights for private tenants by telling me your experiences in the London rental market.
My toilet is broken again. It is embarrassing but, as an Assembly Member and a private tenant, being the 'broken toilet lady' at least proves that I know first-hand the housing problems faced by the average Londoner.
The last time this happened was a few months ago after the Evening Standard visited for an interview and I handed the reporter my bucket when she needed to use the bathroom at the end of our interview.
The same problem has occurred every few months since I moved into my flat three years ago, so here I am again with the bucket at the ready and all I can do is call the landlords, beg them to replace the whole cistern, and then wait for it to break again after their terrible plumber comes round and puts in whatever temporary fix he always does.
Buckets aside, I am very well off. Compared with many London renters living in even more expensive, run-down and sometimes dangerous homes, my toilet problems are tiny. Recently Generation Rent asked private renters to tweet pictures of their flats with their rental costs with the hashtag #VentYourRent, and showed that even at monthly rents of more than £1,000 you can't guarantee you won't be living amongst damp, mice or worse.
Many tenants daren't complain for fear of retaliatory evictions which, though now outlawed, continue to be a risk when 'no fault' notices to leave can still be issued.
Private renters in the overheated uneven playing field of London's market don't just have problems with landlords and maintenance. Letting agents charge tenants 'holding deposits' and fees for all kinds of paperwork that need paying every time the contract is renewed, while mortgage providers prohibit even well-intentioned buy-to-let landlords from offering contracts longer than a year.
All this means that, in the election for Mayor, my most popular policy by an absolute mile was the plan to set up and fund a London Renters Union, funded by but independent of the GLA. Some kind of representation for renters on a whole range of policies is sorely needed, and a number of groups have already sprung up aiming to help improve their rights and with the same idea of expanding and linking up their work into a more formal union.
There are different ways this might work, which is why my manifesto didn't say exactly what it would do but promised instead to: "support renters' organisations by helping to establish a London Renters Union with core costs and office space funded by City Hall but with the union operating entirely independently of the GLA, which it will also need to lobby and influence."
Sadly I am not Mayor, but I was elected on 5 May to the London Assembly, and now I want to develop these ideas further.
I want to start by listening to private tenants, gathering data on the problems they experience and finding out their views on how a renters union could help.
So, if you are or ever have been a private renter in London join me today and help me make progress towards better renters' rights in London.
I've launched a simple, quick online survey today so that you can:
• Tell me what problems you have had with rent costs and contracts
• Put my toilet problems in perspective with details of your maintenance disasters
• Help me identify the most problematic letting agents for future investigation
Find the survey here: Big Renters Survey
This work is the first step on a road City Hall should have taken a long time ago. Other cities do much more to promote and improve their private rented sector with controls on costs, landlord registration schemes and much better security of tenure and standards of living.
As a private tenant I'll be taking the three minutes needed to take part myself, and then as an Assembly Member I'll be taking the findings to the highest level and making a top priority out of getting something done.Suggest a correction