Today we met with ‘Zed’ of Zed and Co letting agents (he’s never told us, or anyone else who asks, his real name). ACORN members picketed his office in Bedminster last Saturday as the first action of our BS3 group, demanding that he display all fees in accordance with the law. It might seem a minor fault, but I know many of us will be used to the feeling of never quite knowing how much is going to cost to live somewhere, and the feeling of paying a last-minute fee you weren’t expecting just because the agent knows you’re desperate.
After making a scene outside his shop (which was closed, presumably in anticipation), we arranged to meet on neutral territory in a coffee shop to discuss how he could meet our demands. Or, so we thought – when, 15 minutes after our agreed time of meeting, we phoned him, he asked us to come to his shop instead. We refused and he then met us in the cafe.
His tone was mostly amiable to begin with, as he opted for the “why didn’t you just come in and ask nicely?” and “I just do it so other companies can’t see my fees” lines. Our response was to point out that this was not only exploitative but illegal, and that he had no choice but to comply with the law. We also demanded that he sign a pledge agreeing to abide by the same law.
He had already displayed the fees in his shop window by the time we met, and as he later showed us (having convinced us to accompany him to his office), on his website. He was eager to show these to us and evidently very fearful of any further ACORN actions. He repeatedly said that he would make whatever changes we thought were necessary and that he “wanted no more trouble”. I count that as example number 36,482 of direct action giving ordinary people power over the ‘powerful’. He wouldn’t have been so obliging if we had just popped into the shop and asked like he suggested.
He then refused to sign the piece of paper pledging to obey the law, and consistently tried to change the topic – by talking about his diverse set of tenants, repeating his offers to do whatever we liked, and other bizarre anecdotes. The main reason he didn’t want to sign it (as far as we could tell) was that it would be more public evidence that ACORN had forced his hand in complying with the law.
Eventually, we left his office, unconvinced that this man cared a jot about his tenants, but happy that he had met our main demands and with the winning start to our organising in BS3.