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This report reviews the evidence on tenant participation and activism in the Private Rented Sector (PRS). It looks at UK and international sources of academic and non-academic evidence to explore how tenant activism works and what its impacts are in different contexts. We define participation and activism as any activity in which tenants come together to collectively tackle a housing problem. This review found that the outcomes stimulated by activism are non-linear, iterative and take time to become apparent. Despite the diversity and relative transience of the PRS tenants in the UK, effective collective action is possible, has improved the housing conditions of many tenants and has empowered many more. The most effective tenant organisations focus on building their assets and creating new opportunities for influence at the same time as trying to deliver improvements in housing conditions or policy. However, there remain significant challenges for tenants in the PRS, particularly the need to protect and enforce existing rights, a responsibility which currently falls heavily on tenants and tenant-activists. The paper concludes that landlords and letting agents need to recognise the value of sharing power with tenants – genuinely involving tenants in decision-making can help to sustain tenancies and maintain landlord income. Further, policy makers can support improvements in the PRS by ensuring that tenant activism is facilitated and that the voices of tenants are heard. A more empowered tenant-base in the PRS would be protective of tenants’ housing conditions and quality of life.
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Tenant participation in the
private rented sector
A review of existing evidence
Dr Lisa Garnham (Glasgow Centre for Population Health) and Dr Steve Rolfe (University of Stirling)
16 December 2019
About the authors
Dr Lisa Garnham is a Publich Health Specialist at the Glasgow Centre for Population Health (GCPH). Lisa’s background
is in health geography, especially the role of place in the relationship between socio-political change and public
Dr Steve Rolfe is a Research Fellow in Housing Studies at the University of Stirling. Steve’s research interests focus
on housing outcomes for vulnerable households, the health impacts of housing, and the policy and practice of
community participation
This review was generously funded by the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE).
It was carried out in partnership with TPAS Scotland, Generation Rent, Shelter, Supporting Communities NI, Housing
Rights NI, the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, the Housing Quality Network, Tai Pawb and the Scottish
Association of Landlords. We would like to thank all of the partners for their help in shaping the initial scope of the
research and for reviewing drafts of this report.
We would also like to extend a special thanks to those who took part in the CaCHE ‘Resident Voice Workshop’ in
June 2019, which involved a range of stakeholders from housing organisations from across the UK. Participants were
extremely helpful in shaping the focus on the second stage of this review.
Executive summary ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 4
Introduction ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 6
Methodology ........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................ 8
Theory of change ............................................................................................................................................................................................................................. 10
Empowerment ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................... 12
Case Studies .........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................15
Case study A: Eviction Resistance (London, UK) ...............................................................................................................................................15
Case Study B: Private Tenants Forum (Northern Ireland) .............................................................................................................................17
Case study C: Living Rent (Scotland) .......................................................................................................................................................................19
Case Study D: Oak Park Tenants Association (California, USA) ................................................................................................................. 21
Case studies – summary ..............................................................................................................................................................................................................23
Conclusions and implications ...................................................................................................................................................................................................25
References .............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................26
Appendix A: Acedmic search details .....................................................................................................................................................................................28
Appendix B: Literature review form .......................................................................................................................................................................................30
Appendix C: Grey literature sources .......................................................................................................................................................................................31
Executive summary
This report reviews the evidence on tenant participation and
activism in the Private Rented Sector (PRS). It looks at UK and
international sources of academic and non-academic evidence
to explore how tenant activism works and what its impacts are
in dierent contexts. We dene participation and activism as any
activity in which tenants come together to collectively tackle a
housing problem.
Understanding activism in the PRS, including how it can protect and enhance tenants’ experiences, is particularly
important because the sector has grown substantially over the past decade or so in all parts of the UK. Perhaps most
notably, it is now drawing in more low-income households with fewer protections than social housing.
In contrast to social housing, there is currently no legislative requirement for landlords to engage with PRS tenants
and most tenant participation in the PRS is bottom-up activism, which is driven and directed by tenants themselves.
There is also little research into tenant activism in the PRS, particularly when compared with activism in social housing.
The small but diverse evidence base that does exist demonstrates that:
l Activism is stimulated by a range of issues, including the poor physical condition or high cost of housing, a lack
of available or suitable housing, poor treatment by landlords, and the repossession, removal, or destruction of
suitable housing.
l Activism is built on assets, including skills, money and networks, which may come from tenants themselves or
from supportive partners. These assets intersect with opportunities, such as media interest, public consultations,
the chance to purchase land or buildings, or political interest in PRS housing.
l Activism encompasses a wide variety of tactics, including occupations of empty properties, petitions, street
campaigns, public protests, lobbying of political leaders, and mediation and legal action. The most eective
campaigns tend to utilise multiple approaches.
Overall, the outcomes stimulated by activism are non-linear, iterative and take time to become apparent. This makes it
dicult to draw rm conclusions about the ecacy of activism in the PRS. What is clear is that:
l Transient and/or vulnerable PRS populations may nd the sustained eort required for successful activism
particularly challenging and activist groups need to consider the demands on their members to avoid burn-out.
l Activism which focuses primarily on mitigating the impacts of individual housing crises is very important and
highly protective for those households, but has limited potential to improve conditions across the PRS long-term.
l Activism geared towards policy change needs to consider strategies for ensuring that policy improvements are
eectively implemented, both through adequate enforcement and support for tenants to exercise their (new)
l The most eective activist groups work as much on empowering members and other tenants as they do on
achieving immediate campaign goals – driving a positive spiral of empowerment. Empowerment is inherently
dicult to measure or t into a linear ‘cause-and-eect’ model of understanding.
l For tenants in the UK’s PRS to be signicantly more empowered than they are today, the power that landlords hold
need to be more equitably shared with tenants. This includes the power to make decisions about housing. Whilst
signicant dierences between parts of the UK in terms of PRS regulation have emerged since devolution, none of
the constituent nations has yet legislated for tenant participation or shared decision making.
l It is not clear whether or how legislative change may be eective in ensuring that power is better shared between
landlords and tenants. Improving the underlying relationships between PRS tenants’ and landlords is likely to be
essential in empowering PRS tenants.
The main conclusions of this review are that:
l There is a paucity of research evidence relating to tenant activism in the PRS, which needs to be addressed by
academia and other bodies with an interest in the wellbeing of PRS tenants. There is a particular lack of research
into how PRS tenants might be better supported and empowered within the various legislative contexts of the
countries of the UK.
l Despite the diversity and relative transience of the PRS tenants in the UK, eective collective action is possible, has
improved the housing conditions of many tenants and has empowered many more.
l There remain signicant challenges for tenants in the PRS, particularly those on a low income. Many of the
challenges revolve around the need to protect and enforce the rights that tenants already have under existing
legislation, a responsibility which currently falls heavily on tenants and tenant-activists.
l Landlords and letting agents should recognise the value of sharing power with tenants – genuinely involving
tenants in decision-making can help to sustain tenancies and maintain landlord income, as well as supporting
tenants’ quality of life, health and wellbeing.
l Policy makers could support improvements in the PRS most eectively by ensuring that tenant activism is
facilitated and that the voices of tenants are heard. A more empowered tenant-base in the PRS would be
protective of tenants’ housing conditions and quality of life.
This report describes the ndings of a review into the existing evidence on tenant participation and activism in the
Private Rented Sector (PRS) from a range of academic and non-academic sources. It sets out to assess how tenant
participation in the PRS is initiated, how it develops and what its impacts are, for whom and in what circumstances.
The aim is to review and present this evidence in a way that will be practical and useful for tenants in the PRS and
those working to support them, as well as policy makers and academics in search of evidence on this topic. This
report is primarily aimed at a UK audience, although we hope this review will be of wider interest.
For the purposes of this review, we dene participation and activism as any activity in which tenants come together
to collectively tackle a housing problem. In some instances, the problem may be being experienced by an individual
in the group (e.g. threat of eviction), but the action is a collective eort to support that individual. More commonly,
however, activism collectively addresses a problem experienced by many tenants simultaneously, some of whom are
typically not part of the activist group. Activism therefore has the potential to benet not only those who engage
in it, but also their peers, either locally, nationally or internationally. By dening activism in this way, we are explicitly
excluding actions taken by individual tenants to improve only their own housing situation. In contrast to the current
situation in social housing in the UK, most tenant participation in the PRS is bottom-up activism driven by tenants
themselves, rather than top-down engagement of tenants by housing providers (1).
While this review covers tenant participation and engagement across the PRS, it particularly focuses on tenants at the
lower end of the housing market. Although more auent households still make up a signicant proportion of PRS
tenants, they typically have far greater opportunities to secure or improve their housing situation, by virtue of their
greater purchasing power. Lower income households are at much greater risk of experiencing a lack of power and
autonomy in their housing situation. This cohort are especially important to consider given the recent substantial
growth in lower income tenants in the PRS in the UK (2).
The PRS has grown substantially across the UK in the last two decades, showing a 63% increase to 4.5 million
households in the ten years to 2017 (3). In England and Northern Ireland the PRS is now larger than the social housing
sector, making it the second most common tenure after owner occupation (4) and accounting for around 1 in 5
households (3). In Scotland, where the social housing sector is signicantly larger, the PRS has nevertheless trebled
as a proportion of households since 1999, accounting for 1 in 6 households by 2017 (3). The rate of increase has been
slightly less steep in Wales (5, 6), with the PRS growing by around 50% in the ten years from 2007, so that by 2017 just
under 1 in 7 households were living in the PRS (3). This substantial growth is one factor driving policy developments
in recent years, which aim to strengthen tenants’ rights and living conditions in the PRS, particularly in Scotland and
Alongside this overall growth in the scale of the sector, there have been some signicant changes in the types of
households in PRS tenancies. In particular, the parallel stagnation of the social housing sector has led to substantial
increases in the number of low-income households, older tenants and households with children, many of whom are
also staying in the sector for much longer periods than the traditional stereotype of the PRS as a transitional tenure (2).
This dramatic increase in low-income households in PRS has been especially strong over the past ten years and can
be seen across the entire working age group. It has occurred throughout the UK, but is particularly strong in Northern
Ireland and the south of England. The proportion of children in poor households living in the PRS shows similar
patterns of growth and is especially strong for under 5s (7).
Despite this substantial growth and change in tenant composition, there is currently no legislative requirement for
PRS landlords to involve tenants in decision-making or service development, contrasting strongly with the legal
framework which underpins tenant participation in social housing in each of the nations of the UK. Perhaps as a result
of this, there has been a resurgence in tenants’ rights organisations/movements in recent years, which have employed
a range of strategies to protect and enhance tenant’s living conditions, with varying degrees of success.
Whilst there is an established literature regarding tenant participation in social housing that critically explores
dierent forms of participation and their implications for landlords and tenants (1, 8-14), there is minimal evidence
regarding tenant participation in the PRS in the UK. Gathering a broader and deeper understanding of the ways in
which approaches to tenant participation and activism have been (in)eective, and bringing them together to assess
what works for whom and in what circumstances, will further knowledge and understanding of appropriate tenant
participation strategies within the PRS. This is set against the background of an increasingly diverse PRS in the UK, a
spectrum in which some landlords take an overtly socially responsible role (15,16), while others seek only to maximise
prot margins, whatever the implications for tenants.
This report does not set out to review and describe how to ‘do’ activism in the PRS – there are already a wealth of
excellent housing and non-housing resources available for that e.g. (17). Instead, it seeks to explore what work has
been undertaken in the PRS by activists (in so much as it has been documented) with a view to bringing this work
together to understand what works, for whom and in what circumstances. The hope is this will inspire tenants,
activists and the organisations who support them to develop new approaches to longstanding problems, as well as
guide landlords and policy makers in the most eective ways to support (particularly, marginalised) tenants within the
PRS to take more eective control of their housing conditions.
This review takes a Realist Synthesis approach that considers existing evidence in the relatively narrow eld of tenant
participation in the PRS, as well as broader work from related elds, including tenant participation in social housing
and more general theories of empowerment.
Fig.1 below summarises the literature returned from our search of the evidence on tenant participation in the PRS,
which looked at English-language sources published between 2000 and 2018 (see Appendix A for the key words and
databases used in the academic literature search). These limits were set to ensure that the scope of the review was
manageable and relevant to the contemporary PRS landscape. This process yielded eight relevant academic papers
(see Appendix A for full details), which were recorded using a form (see Appendix B) designed to identify the key
environmental conditions and triggers of tenant participation and activism, the main activities engaged in, as well as
primary and secondary outcomes.
This was complemented by a search of non-academic sources. We conducted a series of online searches, as well
as asking partners to provide additional suggestions and to distribute our request for written evidence (narratives,
case studies, numerical data, etc.) to their networks across the PRS. This, alongside reference tracing, yielded a total
of 12 websites of interest, as well as 14 separate documents that described tenant activism and/or its outcomes (see
Appendix C for full details). These grey literature sources are more UK-focused than the academic literature, reecting
the make-up of our partner network. Each of these sources were also reviewed and summarised using the form in
Appendix B.
Fig.1: Methodology
Search of 7 academic literature
databases with key words
7174 returned articles
21 potentially relevant papers
after scanning titles and abstracts
8 relevant papers after full read
Canvas partners and their
contacts for reports, etc.
12 websites and 14 documents of
Draft theory of change model
The analysis of these sources was undertaken in three, iterative stages. In the rst stage, evidence from both academic
and non-academic sources were synthesised into a draft theory of change model, which identied a range of triggers
for activism and participation, activities undertaken and housing, policy and other outcomes (both positive and
negative). Academic sources contributed more towards the range of longer-term outcomes in this model, whilst non-
academic sources provided more detail on the specic activities undertaken and the political and other opportunities
that this activism sought to take advantage of. These latter sources were also more contemporary and relevant to
the current political climate and housing market of the UK, although they tended to be less rigorous in identifying
precisely which activities had resulted in which outcomes.
This theory of change model was presented at the CaCHE ‘Resident Voice Workshop’ in June 2019, which involved
a range of stakeholders from housing organisations from across the UK. The aim of this discussion was to identify
which elements of the model would be of most value for tenant activists, landlords, housing organisations and policy
makers. Participants highlighted the challenges of attributing particular housing and policy outcomes to particular
instances of activism and, therefore, the lack of certainty with which statements about causality can be made.
On the basis of this feedback, the second stage of our analysis focused on developing our understanding of the
‘empowerment cycle’ at the core of the theory of change model, by drawing on a wider literature beyond the specic
eld of tenant participation and activism in the PRS.
In the third and nal stage of the analysis, we returned to our original sources on tenant participation in the PRS and
reviewed the evidence again in the light of the wider literature on empowerment. We developed four representative
case studies to illustrate the diversity of approaches to tenant participation and empowerment, the range of positive
and negative outcomes generated, and the important role of context in shaping impacts. This report outlines the
ndings of each of these three stages of analysis in turn (the theory of change model, the cycle of empowerment and
the four case studies), before concluding with implications of the ndings for tenants, tenants’ organisations, landlords
and policy makers.
Theory of change
The rst stage of our review suggested that tenant participation and activism impacts upon housing and policy
outcomes through the mechanisms described in Fig.2 below. The process begins with a key problem or ‘trigger’ that
prompts tenants to begin to try to inuence their housing conditions. This is typically the poor physical condition
(18, 19), or high cost of housing (20, 21) (and often these two in combination), but could also be a lack of available
and suitable housing (22), poor treatment by a landlord (18), or the repossession, removal, or destruction of suitable
housing (19, 23-25).
Fig.2: Theory of Change Model
This triggers an iterative process of activism, which begins with tenants coming together to identify and build upon
their collective assets. These might include communication or practical skills held by participants (20, 24), money
(either in the withholding of payments such as rent or in the pooling of monetary resources to fund activities) (18, 20),
or pre-existing connections and networks, either with other tenants (20) or with those in positions of power (18, 19).
These assets intersect with opportunities that arise in the wider environment, which might include media interest (18),
public consultation processes (20), the opportunity to purchase land or buildings (24), or political interest (20).
Together, these assets and opportunities are used to develop appropriate activities or actions to be taken by the
group in order to further their cause. This could include a wide range of activities, such as the occupation of empty
properties (22), petitions, street campaigns and public protests (23), targeted discussions with political leaders or
inuencers (19-21, 23, 26), mediation (23), or legal action against specic landlords (18, 22, 24). Whilst these actions
typically progress the group towards their goal, they rarely result in the desired outcome immediately. However,
they often enable the group to build further assets (e.g. political allies, public favour) and/or to generate further
opportunities (e.g. pushing politicians to engage with the subject), which, in turn, provide a basis for further, often
dierent, actions and further progress towards the end goal.
As such, eective activism does not simply consist of short-lived activities that utilise a discrete reservoir of assets
at any given time, but is a progressive, iterative process that involves the building of assets, through a series of
cumulative activities over a long period of time. As it progresses, this process secures increasing power for tenants,
so that they are able to inuence housing and policy outcomes to the desired degree, in order to reach their goal.
This cycle of increasing empowerment is, of course, not guaranteed in all circumstances, since other key players in
the process may resist that empowerment and seek to undermine any gains (18, 23, 25). Furthermore, activists may
lose assets (27), fail to take eective advantage of opportunities, or nd that opportunities disappear, which can
undermine both the process of empowerment and potential housing outcomes. Indeed, in some instances, these
kinds of issues may lead to unintended, negative housing or other outcomes, including eviction and personal stress.
Finally, it is worth considering the diversity of potential outcomes from activism and whether they accrue to those
participating in activism or to a wider group. Activists themselves often experience deeper, more numerous and/
or entirely dierent outcomes from the wider population. On one hand, individual activists may be severely
disadvantaged by their participation, e.g. by being evicted from their homes (20), being prosecuted (22), or by
experiencing stress, anxiety and frustration (25, 27). On the other, there may be a host of positive personal outcomes,
which might include improved condence (25), new or improved skills (27), or improved housing conditions (18, 24).
These individual outcomes can vary substantially across those involved in just one activist movement and at least
some are likely to result regardless of whether collective gains in empowerment or housing or policy outcomes
are achieved. As such, it could be argued that there is no linear process of Housing Problem -> Activism -> Housing
and Policy Outcomes, as outcomes from the process of activism are often not coherent, uniformly positive or easily
attributable to a single action. The theory of change model in Fig.2 therefore acknowledges the complex and often
non-linear processes involved in tenant participation and activism.
Against this background, the small but diverse body of evidence currently available on tenant participation in the PRS
does not permit us to come to rm conclusions about the most (or, indeed, the least) eective forms of participation
and activism in specic contexts within the PRS. However, this model does emphasise the processes of tenant
empowerment, which appear to underlie all of the examples of eective activism described within the available
literature. The next section of this report therefore focuses on this central cycle of tenant empowerment, drawing on
wider sources of evidence to elucidate processes which build assets, harness opportunities and engage people in
Outside of the literature on tenant participation in the PRS, there is an extensive literature on empowerment and, in
particular, tenant empowerment in the social rented sector. We found Suszynska’s (28) ladder of tenant participation
to be a useful and easily transferable framework within which to understand tenant empowerment in the PRS. This
draws heavily on Arnstein’s (29) original conception of the ladder of participation and is shown in Fig.3 below.
Tenants have opportunity to inuence
some decisions
Tenants have the right to make independent
decisions on a lot of housing issues
Tenants have a genuine opportunity to
make decisions
Landlord seeks tenants’ opinion when
making decisions
Landlord explains decisions to tenants
Landlord informs tenants about
decisions made
Fig.3: ‘Levels of tenant participation according to H. Ward, compiled by the authors on the basis of
(Ward 1992, p.153)’ in Suszynska (2015).
Although this ladder is entitled ‘levels of tenant participation’, we would argue that, in this context, it is more useful
to think about it as a ladder of tenant empowerment: as tenants move up the ladder, they are increasingly able to
inuence and control their own housing. This includes access to housing, as well as the full benecial use of it.
Participation, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean that tenants will secure the advantages described in this
ladder, as this also requires landlords to cede some power to tenants. It is successful tenant activism, underpinned by
the use of collective assets and taking advantage of intermittent opportunities, which secures this co-operation and
progression. This may work through the enactment of new housing policy, which compels landlords to cede power
to tenants, or through successful mediation and relationship-building with landlords. This in turn, secures housing
and other positive outcomes for tenants, although ongoing tenant participation is required to maintain any power
acquired. It should also be noted that we would extend this ladder downwards by at least one rung, to include a
baseline at which a landlord ignores tenants and their needs.
This notion of a ladder of empowerment can be usefully combined with the theory of change model derived
from the literature in Fig.2 above, to create a more holistic model that encompasses activism, empowerment and
outcomes, as shown in Fig.4 below. In so doing, the cycle of tenant activism at the core of the model might be
better conceptualised as a spiral. Where activism is able to productively build on assets and opportunities, this can
move tenants up the ladder of empowerment, enabling them to gain more control over their housing. Equally,
where activism fails, assets are lost, or opportunities disappear, the spiral may reverse, causing tenants to lose control
over their housing situation. This notion of ‘spiralling up’ or ‘spiralling down’ draws on the wider literature around
empowerment, particularly that by Emery and Flora (30).
Fig.4: The ladder of empowerment and cycle of activism in a housing context
Tenant makes independent decisions
Tenant makes decisions
Tenant inuences some decisions
Tenant’s opinion sought
Tenant receives
Housing problems
Housing outcomes
Non-housing outcomes
Cycle of activism
While complex, this approach to understanding and appraising tenant activism in terms of empowerment outcomes
has a number advantages over a linear model focussed primarily on housing or policy outcomes. First, it recognises
that gains are relative to local housing conditions, cultures and practices in the PRS. Moving from, for example,
‘landlord informs tenants about decisions made’ to ‘landlord explains decisions to tenants’ may not materially change
housing conditions. However, it is likely to improve (if not entirely resolve) tenants’ understanding and sense of control
over their housing situation, whatever that may be. While not resulting in measurable improvements in the condition
of a particular property or properties, this may nevertheless be a signicant and hard-won gain for some tenants in
some contexts in the PRS and pave the way for future material improvements.
Ladder of empowerment
Moreover, this ladder provides a more aspirational and preventative approach to understanding how housing
problems might be tackled collectively by tenants. Whilst changes in policy or material housing conditions are
obviously central to any assessment of the gains of tenant participation and activism, there are a much wider range
of positive (and negative) outcomes related to tenant empowerment, which do not fall into these categories. While
these may be more dicult to quantify, their impacts may be more enduring than one-o material improvements
in a limited number of properties, as well as having a more immediate impact on tenants than changes to housing
policy. Understanding tenant activism as an iterative process of progression towards greater empowerment for
tenants recognises a much wider range of potential ‘successful’ outcomes, which lay the groundwork for longer-term,
sustainable improvements in the housing situations of (particularly, vulnerable) PRS tenants.
In exploring the ways in which tenant activism may enable a spiralling up of the ladder of tenant empowerment in
dierent contexts, it is worth remembering that more auent tenants in the PRS are much more likely to already
have the power to make decisions about their housing, using their income to ‘shop around’ and achieve what they
need. Generally speaking, therefore, it is those with little choice in the housing market who nd themselves at the
foot of this ladder and stand to gain the most from activism that successfully empowers tenants (2). It is therefore
also important to consider whether the power activism generates for tenants is distributed equitably, for example
across incomes, genders, ethnicities, ages, disabilities and household types, so as to avoid exacerbating already deep
inequalities in access to housing.
Case studies
This section details four case studies selected from the reviewed literature on tenant participation in the PRS.
While these do not (and could not) represent the full diversity of the evidence base, they have been selected to
demonstrate key themes that cut across the literature, in terms of the change that is possible, as well as the wide
variety of activities, assets and opportunities used to attain outcomes.
Case study A: Eviction Resistance (London, UK)
Eviction Resistance establish and train local networks of tenants to delay evictions using non-violent direct action. The
aim is to buy time for tenants facing eviction to enable them to negotiate with their landlord, organise somewhere
else to live and cope with the mental health impacts of their situation. Their approach is underlain by a tenant’s
fundamental right to housing, regardless of their nancial or legal situation. Eviction Resistance is a member of Radical
Housing Network, an umbrella organisation of over 30 activist groups from across London’s housing sectors.
Housing problem
The primary housing problem addressed by this group is (imminent) eviction, though this is typically underlain by
poor housing quality and a lack of repair, high housing costs, low or interrupted income for the tenant, or tenants’
health diculties. Tenants have typically sought assistance from elsewhere before coming to the group, but the
support on oer has been either too generic or too focussed on the legal process of eviction.
Activism and Empowerment
By the time tenants reach the attention of the group, they are often in acute and immediate need. They are very
much at the bottom of the empowerment ladder, as their need to be housed is being ignored/actively resisted by
their landlord.
The group’s core assets are their ability to communicate well and be physically present, en masse, at the eviction
address for a number of hours on the appropriate day. Skills in supporting tenants’ emotional needs, dealing with
media attention and dealing appropriately with face-to-face challenges from both bailis and police are key to the
success of the group’s aims. Appointing separate, experienced, skilled and available people to handle each of these
tasks is important, as is reecting on successes as well as failures in developing skills and techniques. The Radical
Housing Network, of which Eviction Resistance is a part, are likely to be key to building these assets, through sharing
wider learning and experience.
Where the group is successful, the primary housing outcome is the delay of a tenant’s eviction and the immediate
prevention of homelessness. Non-housing outcomes include practical and emotional support in coping with
the eviction process, as well a sense of self-value and usefulness for activists in resisting other tenants’ attempted
evictions. In some cases, this process may open up a dialogue between a tenant and landlord, allowing longstanding
issues with the property or tenancy to be reduced or resolved.
There are therefore a wide range of ways in which Eviction Resistance works to empower tenants. Where a dialogue
is opened with a landlord, or the tenant is able to use the eviction delay to move to a property with a more sensitive
landlord, that tenant may move ‘up’ the ladder of empowerment and have greater inuence over their housing
situation going forward.
Through the process of being supported by and becoming part of Eviction Resistance, tenants also have an
opportunity to realise their own power and draw upon that in future tenancies. This is likely to be especially important
where their move is to a(nother) property in which they have a low level of power and control, owing to their
marginalised position within the housing market.
Eviction Resistance’s ability to draw on a range of mediation, emotional support and media management skills, often
at very short notice, can generate signicant outcomes in relation to tenants’ immediate housing situation and ability
to cope. These are clearly crucial for the tenants concerned.
However, there are questions about the extent to which such activism can generate collective improvements in
tenants’ empowerment over the long term. If tenants ultimately leave their tenancy, whether they are evicted or use
the delay to nd an alternative tenancy, that tenancy (with all its attendant issues) remains for another potentially
vulnerable tenant to take up. While it could be argued that sustained and repeated resistance to eviction may
eventually dissuade landlords from pursuing it, there is nevertheless a signicant emotional cost paid by tenants
subject to eviction.
Wilde, M. (2017). “Embryonic alternatives to London’s housing crisis.” Anthropology Today 33(5): 16-19
Eviction Resistance website:
Radical Housing Network website:
Case study B: Private Tenants Forum (Northern Ireland)
The Private Tenants Forum was established in 2012 by Housing Rights, a charity oering housing advice and advocacy
across Northern Ireland’s housing sectors. It was funded by the Oak Foundation. The aim was to provide a space in
which private rented sector tenants could share their experiences and views and be supported to actively inuence
housing policy and legislation in Northern Ireland. Over its three-year lifetime, the Forum had no more than 20
members at any given time, but was more typically attended by 5-10 individuals.
Housing problems
The Forum was established because Housing Rights recognised there was a lack of tenant voice in housing policy-
making and campaigning in Northern Ireland. All members were invited to volunteer on the Forum due to their
experiences of housing problems when living in the PRS, including unaordability of the sector (especially in the
charging of up-front fees), poor housing quality, and dishonesty and irresponsibility on the part of landlords, all of
which were underlain by a considerable lack of regulation in the sector.
Many members were at the foot of the empowerment ladder on joining the Forum, having approached Housing
Rights for advice and support with their various housing problems (with varying degrees of success). The Forum
provided an opportunity to discuss potential solutions to these problems, not at an individual level, but for tenants
across the sector.
The Forum was funded, led and directed by sta at Housing Rights and members were engaged in eld research, the
design of information about rights and responsibilities for tenants in the PRS and the development of a manifesto for
policy makers. This direction was a vital asset, without which the establishment and continuation of the Forum would
not have been possible.
Members faced a number of challenges, including diculty establishing a set of agreed priorities for the PRS, owing
to the great diversity of both membership of the Forum and members’ experiences, as well as the transitory nature
of tenancies in the sector. Furthermore, sta at Housing Rights faced challenges in recruiting and retaining members.
Overall, there was some debate about whether the Forum should be tenant-led to a greater degree, how such an
enterprise could be supported and what it might be able to achieve.
Members of the Forum reported various benets from taking part, including an enhancement of their skills, feeling
more informed, feeling more able to challenge poor practices in the PRS in future and feeling they had made a
valuable contribution in sharing their experiences and opinions. This experience clearly moved those individuals up
the ladder of empowerment.
Moreover, the Forum’s research prompted NI Trading Standards to discuss improvements to lettings contracts with
PRS lettings agencies, and their information about rights and responsibilities for tenants was shared by organisations
across the sector. The research was also used as evidence in legal challenges to lettings agencies. This inuence is
therefore likely to have curbed some of the poorest practices in the sector, particularly the charging of ‘up-front’ fees,
and provided vital information to tenants, incrementally moving a much larger number of tenants up the ladder of
Finally, the Forum’s development of a policy Agenda for Action in the PRS had the potential to have signicant
impacts in housing legislation in Northern Ireland, giving tenants the opportunity to inuence decisions with a
wide-ranging impact. However, although a government department produced proposals to regulate the PRS, based
partly on input from the Forum, the suspension of the Northern Irish government has meant that these are yet to be
progressed and the political opportunity to impact more deeply across a much wider population of private renters
has stalled. The Forum itself was suspended partly as a result of this situation, but also because the funding for the
project came to an end, although Housing Rights have recently secured new funding for similar work that will involve
some of the Forum’s original members.
Participation in the Private Tenants’ Forum has empowered those taking part, by providing them with some inuence
over letting agencies’ practices and by improving their condence to challenge poor housing conditions. Moreover,
their information campaign about living in the PRS has increased the likelihood that a wider cohort of tenants will be
better informed about their tenancies.
However, the lack of political opportunity to inuence wider policy decisions about the PRS in Northern Ireland has
inhibited further impacts. Once the key asset of guidance and support from Housing Rights ended, the Forum largely
dissolved, raising important questions about how a group not founded by tenants themselves might become self-
sustaining over the longer term.
Bridging the Gap Final report – Private Tenants’ Forum - March 2015
Private Tenants Forum. Agenda for Action. Northern Ireland, Housing Rights Service
Housing Rights Northern Ireland. (2018). Housing Rights Professional Resource on: Letting Fees in the Private Rented
Sector. Belfast, Housing Rights.
Telephone conversation with Murray Watt, Community Development, Information and Policy Ocer @ Supporting
Communities NI –17-04-19
Telephone conversation with Janet Hunter, Director, Housing Rights NI –24-04-19
Case study C: Living Rent (Scotland)
Living Rent was founded in 2014 by ACORN, the Nation Union of Students and Edinburgh Private Tenant’s Group, with
the aim of inuencing ongoing policy reform in Scotland’s private rented sector. It is a community union for tenants,
run and primarily funded by its membership, but also receives some charitable grants.
Housing problems
Living Rent is primarily concerned with the high levels of rent and other costs charged to tenants, including the rate of
ination of these costs, as well as poor housing quality. Insecurity of tenure tends to prevent tenants from addressing
these problems in their own tenancies and an increasing proportion of the population living in the PRS has meant this
problem has become an increasingly widespread issue in recent years.
Living Rent formed in response to a signicant political opportunity to inuence a Scottish Government consultation
and legislative process designed to better regulate the PRS in Scotland. Members set out to inuence this process by
engaging with and discussing housing problems and solutions with Members of the Scottish Parliament, as well as
raising public support through a variety of campaigns. These included street stalls, social media, door-knocking and
petitions, which in turn put further pressure on government to listen to the input of Living Rent.
Key assets included aliations with established organisations and unions, which gave the campaign credibility with
both the public and politicians alike, as well as training from ACORN, which allowed the group to draw on established
methods and a wealth of experience.
Alongside this, Living Rent has established a number of local branches across Scotland focussed on local housing
issues, including the provision of advice and peer support for members subject to unreasonable practices by
landlords. These smaller scale activities empower those taking part to directly defend their rights, pushing for better
quality and more aordable housing. Branches can come together to discuss, debate and propose solutions for
longstanding issues and work together, drawing on their local and organisation-wide assets, to improve their housing
Living Rent argue that rent controls and greater security of tenure must go hand-in-hand in any new legislation. As a
result of their campaign and consultation with other stakeholders in Scotland’s PRS, the Scottish Government brought
in new legislation in 2016 that ended xed term tenancies, reduced the grounds for eviction – including the removal
of ‘no fault’ evictions – and introduced the ability for Local Authorities to intervene in rent levels in areas it deemed to
be under ‘rent pressure’. The legislation also introduced a new Tribunal structure in which disputes between tenants
and landlords will be mediated.
In theory, this new legislation should empower tenants across Scotland to push back against poor housing conditions
and unreasonable charges, with signicantly less threat to their tenancy, as a result moving them incrementally up
the ladder of empowerment. However, Living Rent recognise that, on the whole, PRS tenants are still vulnerable and
far from fully empowered by this legislative change. This is particularly the case with regards to rent controls, which
require local authority action and have not, as yet, been implemented anywhere in Scotland due to the challenging
nature of the process. The campaign for legislative change therefore continues, alongside practical support for
tenants experiencing the poorest conditions in the PRS.
Living Rent relies upon the involvement and active contribution of members, both monetarily and in terms of their
time, knowledge and skills, to operate eectively – this, alongside its links to other supporting organisations, are its
key assets. Now that the initial political opportunity of public consultation on PRS legislation has passed, Living Rent
is using these assets to establish local branches around core, local issues, still reaching tenants collectively, but at a
smaller scale.
This local work is especially important in realising the benets of the Scotland’s new PRS legislation. While it does
much to protect tenants from the poorest PRS conditions and experiences, it is only by tenants exercising their new
rights that they will be more empowered and have greater control over their housing conditions. Many tenants are
likely to require support in order to do this.
Saunders, E., Samuels, K. and Statham, D. Rebuilding a Scottish Housing Movement: A Scottish Union of Tenants, Social
Policy, Summer 2016, pp.46-50.
Living Rent website:
Case Study D: Oak Park Tenants Association (California, USA)
The tenants of Oak Park Apartments, Oakland, California were primarily migrants with low paid and insecure
employment opportunities, facing discrimination in the housing market. Tenants came from a range of ethnic
minority backgrounds and spoke a variety of languages. While there were strong and signicant social ties within
ethnic groups in the block, relations across groups were often strained. Oak Park Tenants Association was a multi-
ethnic group, brought together by volunteers of Oak Park Ministries, who were also resident in the block. They initially
oered support to families in need of immigration and legal advice and English language skill development.
Housing problems
The Association was formed in the late 1990s after members recognised that they faced common problems and
concerns around the quality of the housing, which was very poor, and the way they were treated by the building’s
owners. They also saw that there was a lack of awareness among tenants about their housing rights and a reluctance
to challenge landlords, particularly if this involved appealing to authorities.
To begin with, tenants were very much at the base of the empowerment ladder, their concerns being ignored by their
landlord – indeed, many residents were afraid to raise any complaints with the landlord at all. It was the key asset of
the Oak Park Ministries volunteers, and Harbor House Urban Christian Ministry, which supported them, that enabled
Oak Park Tenants Association to form. Brought together by Ministry volunteers, tenants got to know their neighbours
and formed relationships across ethnic groups. This provided the trust and familiarity that was needed to work
collaboratively, despite their diversity.
A second key asset was the provision of free legal advice and support. When mediation with the landlord was
unsuccessful, the Association decided to sue the landlord. A local legal assistance centre provided contact with
a lawyer who agreed to take on the case on a ‘no-win-no-fee’ basis, although this was bolstered by Oak Park
Association members convincing the majority of tenants in the block to join the case.
In a sense the landlords themselves provided an opportunity for the Association to secure this support by raising
rents after mediation failed, making it easier for members to persuade other tenants to join the action. Successfully
harnessed media attention and local government support, aided by activists’ personal connections, added to
the pressure on the landlords. Although the landlords led for bankruptcy, the Association agreed a settlement
that saw the building improved to a minimum standard and converted to aordable housing, as well as nancial
compensation for those tenants who took part in the suit.
Overall, the outcome of this activism was signicant movement up the ladder of empowerment for Oak Park tenants.
However, the Association’s case against the landlord went on for almost four years, during which time many individual
tenants moved away from the building, either because they could no longer tolerate the (deteriorating) conditions, or
because they found better opportunities elsewhere. As such, the housing outcomes of this activism were very much
for the future collective of Oak Park tenants.
This case highlights the pivotal importance of legal expertise as a key asset, without which tenants’ eorts would not
have been successful. It also demonstrates the way in which tenants can work through dierences in language and
culture, come together around a common need and achieve an outcome for collective benet.
Nevertheless, the core outcome of this activism resulted in these tenancies being removed from the PRS, as they are
now owned and managed by the not-for-prot East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation, for the benet of the
local community. As such, although tenants elevated themselves from the very bottom of the ladder to somewhere
nearer the top, this high level of empowerment necessitated a move out of the PRS.
Jeung, R. (2006). Faith-based multiethnic tenant organizing: the Oak Park story. Religion and social justice for
immigrants. P. Hondagneu-Sotelo. New Jersey, Rutgers University Press: 59-73.
East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation website:
Case studies - summary
These four case studies demonstrate that activism can describe a wide range of activities, from those which aim to
reach policy-makers (e.g. political lobbying and media work), to those which aim to confront or open up a dialogue
with landlords and letting agents (e.g. petitioning, picketing, mediation), to those which provide one-to-one
protection of and support for tenants in need (e.g. emotional support, tailored advice). In particular, they demonstrate
that activism that combines multiple, complementary approaches across this spectrum can be highly eective in
spiralling PRS tenants up the ladder of empowerment.
Eective activism relies upon the continuous and eective development and employment of relevant assets in order
to reach desired goals. While the necessary assets clearly depend on the context in which the activism is taking
place, all four of these case studies demonstrate that the involvement of people who are motivated, have rst-hand
experience of the issues, and are freely willing to give up their time to support others are key. Eviction Resistance
and Oak Park Tenants Association, in particular, demonstrate how much time and emotional investment can be
demanded of activists, particularly when the specic problem being addressed includes their own, current home.
All four cases also demonstrate how crucial specic skills, such as political lobbying, media handling and legal
expertise can be in tackling certain problems. These assets may be possessed by activists themselves, as in the cases
of Eviction Resistance and Living Rent, and/or ‘borrowed’ from those outside the group, as shown by Oak Park Tenants
Association and the Private Tenants Forum. The latter case, however, demonstrates how fragile activism can be when
assets are primarily generated from outside, as this can make it dicult for tenants to take ownership of and carry
forward the process of activism once these assets are diverted elsewhere.
The centrality of strong relationships and their role in building trust and setting mutually agreed goals is also clear
from these case studies. Pre-existing relationships, as well as the ability to build new ones, are therefore important
assets for any activist group to possess. In the case of Oak Park Tenants Association, it was necessary to build trust
among tenants for a number of years before activism could get underway, while Living Rent demonstrates how
important external relationships can be in securing political power. It is these relationships that allow any activist
group to mobilise their assets eectively in the face of new opportunities.
In terms of opportunities, both Living Rent and the Private Tenants Forum demonstrate the potential potency
of activism directed at pre-existing political opportunities, as well as their fragility. Meanwhile, Oak Park Tenants
Association demonstrates how eective, albeit labour intensive, it can be for activists to generate their own
opportunities for inuence. Eviction Resistance, Oak Park Tenants Association and Living Rent illustrate the value in
generating and harnessing media interest, as a means of creating political opportunities to inuence decision-making
by authorities at both the local and national scale.
Finally, in terms of empowerment, these case studies highlight the signicant diversity in both who is empowered by
tenant activism and to what degree. Living Rent’s activism had important impacts across the whole of Scotland’s PRS.
Oak Park Tenants Association, on the other hand, empowered a much smaller number of tenants, although they were
arguably empowered to a much greater degree. In comparing these two cases, there appears to be something of a
trade-o between how many tenants can be empowered and to what extent.
As such, it is important that the lessons learned from tenant activism in the PRS are documented and shared by
activists, to enable successful strategies to be adapted and employed elsewhere. While improvements in housing
policy are of central importance for PRS tenants as a whole, the case of the Private Tenants Forum demonstrates that
relying solely on this approach to tenant empowerment is unwise. As the case of Living Rent shows, these strategies
need to be complemented by broader tenant empowerment strategies that, at the very least, encourage tenants to
engage with any new rights that legislation provides and ensure that these are enforced.
All four of these case studies demonstrate that change, especially where it is large-scale or especially deep, takes
time to secure and is likely to require sustained eort on the part of activists. As demonstrated most clearly by the
case of Oak Park Tenants Association, the time it takes for the outcomes of activism to come to fruition may mean
that individual activists cease to personally benet (at least in terms of housing outcomes) from their involvement.
This is particularly true in the PRS, where tenants tend to be more transient than in social housing. Activism by
those who seek only to improve their own, individual housing outcomes is therefore unlikely to result in signicant
empowerment. It is also important to consider which groups are potentially being excluded from the empowerment
that activism can generate, as well as whose assets (in time, energy, nance, etc.) are being drawn upon to achieve
These case studies raise one nal question about how far it is possible to empower tenants in the PRS. The ladders
of tenant participation and empowerment in Figs.3 and 4 originate from analyses of social housing, where private
interests do not compete with those of tenants. Indeed, the case of Oak Park Tenants Association showed the most
dramatic improvements in tenant empowerment, but this resulted from tenancies being moved out of the PRS
altogether. In order for tenants remaining in the PRS to reach the top of the empowerment ladder and inuence or
make decisions about their housing, some of the power held by PRS landlords needs to be given up to tenants.
Such a shift in power, from landlords to tenants, would require a signicant improvement in the collective
relationships between (especially, vulnerable) tenants and landlords. Legislative control of abusive landlords is
certainly a foundation step toward this. But beyond this, it may be necessary for tenant activists to approach landlords
as a potential asset in moving PRS tenants up the ladder of empowerment, through building mutually respectful
relationships based on humanity and trust, in which power can be more equitably shared.
Whether such an approach is possible in an ‘open’ private market, where investors prioritise housing’s exchange and
asset value over its use value (33, 34), remains an open question (26). Where landlords are unwilling to cede this power,
there remain fundamental questions about how much tenants in the PRS can be empowered and what impacts this
is likely to have on housing outcomes, quality of life and health and wellbeing, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Returning to the model of tenant empowerment in Figure 4, this review may oer insights into the potential eects of
the dierent approaches being taken to PRS regulation across the devolved administrations of the UK. In terms of the
empowerment of individual tenants, legislative interventions such as the restriction of ‘no-fault evictions’ in Scotland
may go some way to increase security for tenants. However, evidence from Ireland (35) raises concerns about the
extent to which the most vulnerable tenants are able to exercise such rights.
Future legislative intervention must therefore consider how new rights will realistically be enforced in each of
the constituent countries of the UK and on whom the responsibility for doing so falls. Eective models of tenant
participation, and particularly the ways in which they might be replicated in the PRS within the UK’s various legislative
frameworks, is an area in which future research may prove useful. In considering the potential role of new legislation, it
would be useful to consider how tenants in various situations might be genuinely empowered by their participation,
including the role of government and landlords in generating that empowerment.
Conclusions and implications
This review has demonstrated that, across a range of dierent contexts, tenants in the PRS can and do collectively
employ their assets to take advantage of opportunities and empower themselves, resulting in both housing and
non-housing outcomes. For tenants and tenants’ organisations in the PRS, we hope this review provides inspiration,
an overview of common successes and challenges, as well as a potential framework against which to review previous
activism or plan next steps.
For those landlords and letting agents who are concerned about supporting tenants’ quality of life, we hope this
review demonstrates the importance of sharing power, not just in informing and seeking the opinion of tenants, but
in genuinely putting decision-making in their hands. This applies across both the private and social rented sectors.
Finally, this review holds a number of points for policy makers. Much of the tenant activism covered by this
review involves tenants working intensively to protect their basic rights to reasonable housing, either through an
improvement in legislation or through the enforcement of existing legal protections. More eective legislation and
enforcement that better protect tenants from sitting at the very foot of the empowerment ladder would not only
improve their housing and other outcomes, but would enable the energy expended by activists to be used to further
empower tenants in a more progressive way.
Moreover, it is clear from this review that there is an appetite for improved legislation, which goes beyond protecting
tenants from abuse by irresponsible landlords, to enhance their rights and empower them to shape and protect their
own housing outcomes in the PRS. In conducting this review, we have been mindful of the issue of who participates,
to what ends and for whom, yet we have resisted the assumption that more (and more active) participation by a more
diverse group of tenants is the (only) solution to the housing problems within the PRS.
While this review demonstrates that a wide variety of tenants in the PRS are willing and able to invest considerable
time and energy in activism, not all tenants are able to do so, nor should they be expected to do so in order to protect
their basic rights. If housing outcomes are to improve within the PRS, particularly for the most vulnerable households,
the responsibility to engage with activists sits equally with policy makers and landlords. It is only through generating
assets, in the form of relationships between landlords and tenants, as well as opportunities, in the form of processes
through which legislation and its enforcement can be shaped, that tenants in the PRS can move substantially up the
ladder of empowerment and enjoy decent quality housing and quality of life.
1. Preece J. Understanding appraoches to tenant participation in social housing: an evidence
review. UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence; 2019 29 July 2019.
2. Marsh A, Gibb K. The private rented sector in the UK : an overview of the policy and regulator y
landscape. UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence; 2019 25 July 2019.
3. Christiansen K, Lewis R. UK private rented sector: 2018. London: Oce for National Statistics; 2019.
4. MHCLG. English Housing Survey: healine report, 2016-17. London: Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government; 2018.
5. Scottish Government. Housing Statistics for Scotland 2018: Key Trends Summary. Edinburgh: Scottish Government; 2018.
6. Welsh Government. Dwelling Stock Estimates for Wales, 31 March 2017. Cardi: Welsh Government; 2018.
7. Poverty and Housing Tenure – Data Explorer. An ESRC data investment at https://ubdc-apps. and
8. Bradley Q. ‘Putting our mark on things’: The identity work of user participation in public services. Critical Social Policy. 2013;33(3):384-402.
9. McKee K. Sceptical, disorderly and paradoxical subjects: Problematising the ‘will to empower’ in
social housing governance. Housing, Theory and Society. 2011;28(1):1-18.
10. McKee K, Cooper V. The paradox of tenant empowerment: Regulatory and liberator y
possibilities. Housing, Theory and Society. 2008;25(2):132-46.
11. Hague C. The development and politics of tenant participation in British council housing. Housing Studies. 1990;5(4):242-56.
12. Flint J. The responsible tenant: Housing governance and the politics of behaviour. Housing Studies. 2004;19(6):893-909.
13. Simmons R, Birchall J. Tenant Participation and Social Housing in the UK: Applying a Theoretical Model. Housing Studies. 2007;22(4):573-95.
14. Hickman P. Approaches to Tenant Participation in the English Local Authority Sector. Housing Studies. 2006;21(2):209-25.
15. Shelter Scotland. Social models of letting agencies: scoping study. Shelter Scotland; 2015 November 2015.
16. Mullins D, Sacranie H, Pattison B. Social Lettings Agencies in the West Midlands. University of Birmingham; 2017 March 2017.
17. Bolton M. How to resist: turn protest to power. London: Bloomsbury Publishing; 2017.
18. Jeung R. Faith-based multiethnic tenant organizing: the Oak Park story. In: Hondagneu-Sotelo P, editor.
Religion and social justice for immigrants. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press; 2006. p. 59-73.
19. Generation Rent. Generation Rent: the national voice of private renters - Annual Report. 2018.
20. Saunders E, Samuels K, Statham D. Rebuilding a shattered housing movement: A Scottish union of tenants. Social Policy. 2016(Summer):46-50.
21. Lind BE, Stepan-Norris J. Mobilizing the Local: The Resource Types Behind the Los Angeles Tenants’ Rights Movement, 1976-1979. 2006.
22. Hoover J. The human right to housing and community empowerment: home occupation, eviction
defense and community land trusts. Third World Quarterly. 2015;36(6):1092-109.
23. Jae S. Dear landlord. Dissent. 2015(Winter):71-8.
24. Larson C. Keeping people in their homes: Boston’s anti-foreclosure movement. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations. 2012(34):45-60.
25. Wilde M. Embryonic alternatives to London’s housing crisis. Anthropology Today. 2017;33(5):16-9.
26. Baiocchi G, Brady M, Carlson HJ. Beyond the market: housing alternatives from the grassroots. Dissent. 2018(Fall):51-8.
27. Boyle F. ‘Bridging the Gap project and Housing Rights policy work - private rented sector and homelessness’,
Independent evaluation – nal report. Belfast: Fiona Boyle Associates; 2015 March 2015.
28. Suszynska K. Tenant particiation in social housing and stock management. Real Estate Management and Valuation. 2015;23(3):47-53.
29. Arnstein SR. A ladder of citizen participation. Journal of the American Planning Association. 1969;35(4):216-24.
30. Emery M, Flora C. Spiraling-Up: Mapping Community Transformation with Community Capitals
Framework. Journal of the Community Development Society. 2006;37(1):19-35.
31. Private Tenants’ Forum. Agenda for Action. Northern Ireland: Housing Rights Ser vice.
32. Housing Rights Northern Ireland. Housing Rights Professional Resource on: Letting
Fees in the Private Rented Sector. Belfast: Housing Rights; 2018.
33. Gray N. Afterword: the futures of housing activism. In: Gray N, editor. Rent and its Discontents: a
century of housing struggle. London: Rowman and Littleeld International; 2018.
34. Tobias J. Meet the rising new housing movement that wasnts to create homes for all. The Nation. 2018 June 18-25.
35. Moore, T. and Dunning, R. Regulation of the private rented sector in England using
lessons from Ireland. York: Joseph Rowntree Foundation; 2017.
Appendix A: Acedmic search details
Key words:
l ‘private rented sector’
l PRS
l renting
l tenan*
l letting
l landlord
(all joined by OR)
l Participation
l Engagement
l activis*
l action
l movement
(all joined by OR)
l SocINDEX – 484 returns, 20 potentially relevant papers
l Scopus –16 returns, 0 new relevant papers
l Web of Science – 5506 returns, ordered by relevance, scan of the rst 200, nothing new of relevance
l ASSIA –164 returns, 1 potentially relevant paper
l IBSS –770 returns, ordered by relevance, scan of the rst 200, nothing new of relevance
l Public Aairs Index -105 returns, 0 new relevant papers
l Public Science Complete –129 returns, 0 new relevant papers
l Papers referring explicitly/wholly to social housing
l Papers about public participation in planning without explicit reference to housing
l Papers on (private) renting of farmland and associated activism
l Movements/activism stemming from tenants’ organizations but not actually about housing issues
l Activism only by owners/co-op owners
l Anything about stock transfer
Final papers:
Jeung R. Faith-based multiethnic tenant organizing: the Oak Park story. In: Hondagneu-Sotelo P, editor. Religion and
social justice for immigrants. New Jersey: Rutgers University Press; 2006. p. 59-73.
Saunders E, Samuels K, Statham D. Rebuilding a shattered housing movement: A Scottish union of tenants. Social
Policy. 2016(Summer):46-50.
Lind BE, Stepan-Norris J. Mobilizing the Local: The Resource Types Behind the Los Angeles Tenants’ Rights Movement,
1976 -1979. 2 0 06.
Hoover J. The human right to housing and community empowerment: home occupation, eviction defense and
community land trusts. Third World Quarterly. 2015;36(6):1092-109.
Jae S. Dear landlord. Dissent. 2015(Winter):71-8.
Larson C. Keeping people in their homes: Boston’s anti-foreclosure movement. Humboldt Journal of Social Relations.
2012(34):45- 60.
Wilde M. Embryonic alternatives to London’s housing crisis. Anthropology Today. 2017;33(5):16-9.
Baiocchi G, Brady M, Carlson HJ. Beyond the market: housing alternatives from the grassroots. Dissent. 2018(Fall):51-8.
Tobias J. Meet the rising new housing movement that wasnts to create homes for all. The Nation. 2018 June 18-25.
Appendix B: Literature review form
Article ID (Endnote)
Date read
Brief description of study
Key theory of change
Qualitative Quantitative Mixed No of participants No of case studies
Description of methodology Caveats/comments
Wider context Participation & engagement Activism Outcomes
Other comments
Appendix C: Grey literature sources
London Renters Union:
Generation Rent (National Private Tenants Organisation Ltd) :
Living Rent (Scotland’s Tenants’ Union):
Radical Housing Network:
Shelter Scotland:
Weslo property management:
Housing Rights (NI):
Let down in Wales:
Edinburgh Tenants Federation:
Trust for London:
Private Tenants’ Forum: a response to the Private Rented Sector Review. Housing Rights: Jan 2016.
Private Tenants’ Forum: Agenda for Action. Housing Rights Service.
Private Tenants’ Forum: Bridging the Gap nal report. Housing Rights: March 2015.
Tenant Participation: making a dierence. Issue 020. Scottish Government: March 2019.
It’s Time for Rent Control – Londoners certainly think so. James Murray. Inside Housing: April 2019.
Generation Rent: the national voice of private renters – annual report 2018.
Views and experiences of tenants in the Private Rented Sector in Scotland. Housing Regeneration and Planning:
Research Findings no. 29/2009. Scottish Government: 2009.
Qualitative research to explore the implications for private rented sector tenants and landlords of longer term and
more secure tenancy options. Housing regeneration and planning. Scottish Government: Mar 2014.
Meeting the rising new housing movement that wants to create homes for all. Jimmy Tobias. The Nation: 24 May 2018.
Poll reveals ‘overwhelming support’ for rent controls across Scotland. Scottish Housing News: 11 April 2019.
Why I went viral on Twitter after talking about being evicted on Sky News. Kirsty Archer. The Guardian: 16 April 2019
Tenants’ union to protest against Edinburgh letting agent oering ‘sham’ holiday lets. Scottish Housing News: 16 May
Do you live in shoddy housing that costs a fortune? Time to join the renters’ union. Dan Sabbagh. The Guardian: 3 Jun
2018 .
ACORN – Ethical lettings campaign. People’s Health Trust – Active Communities case study.
... For example, in the uK the sector nearly doubled to 1 in 5 households in a decade (Ons, 2019), accompanied by increasing diversification in terms of tenants, housing growing numbers of low-income households, older households and families with children (soaita et al., 2020), although many renters aspire to be in other housing tenures . notably, the challenges experienced by tenants in lightly regulated markets are highlighted by the growth of organisations and movements representing tenants, taking action to resist problematic landlords and drive policy change (Garnham & Rolfe, 2019b). We therefore focus particularly on lightly regulated markets in our review, since the evidence regarding the role of landlord behaviour is likely to be strongest where tenants lack the protections of stronger regulation. ...
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The growth of the private rented sector (PRS) since the 2000s in countries with lightly regulated markets has led to significant questions over its ability to provide a homely environment for tenants. Much of the research in this area argues that legal frameworks, lack of regulation and financial motives of landlords are not conducive to the provision of homes which are secure, affordable, good quality and which offer tenants an opportunity to meet their health and wellbeing needs. this is despite legislative changes that seek to raise standards in the sector and promote greater professionalisation. this paper presents findings from an evidence review of research concerning home within the PRs across OecD countries. Rather than focusing on the experiences of tenants, it considers the impacts of landlord and letting agent behaviours on tenants' ability to make their rented house a home. We argue that landlords and letting agents can play a positive role in helping their tenants create a home, and that this offers benefits for both landlords and renters.
Technical Report
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It is known that the private rented sector (PRS) accommodates an increasingly diverse range of households and plays a variety of roles in the housing market. This report is one of the first efforts to review qualitative studies that foreground tenants’ voices and experiences in the PRS. It reviews 69 publications that were conducted in the lightly regulated markets of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the UK and US and were published since 2000. The report examines how different groups (low- and middle-income households, younger and older people, families with children, students and migrants) experience the PRS and argues that there are endemic problems with affordability and insecurity that impact adversely on many tenants’ well-being, health and ability to create a sense of home. Spatial inequalities are also identified, whereby the poorest tenants are increasingly concentrated in more marginal and undesirable locations, including in unconventional forms of housing such as residential caravan parks or makeshift dwellings. The report aims to learning from international experiences and complements our previous qualitative work on the housing experiences of low-income private tenants aged 20-35 and 35-54 in the UK.
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The aim of this paper is to present the concept, classification and significance of the involvement of tenants in the processes of managing council flats. Tenant participation is becoming an increasingly popular subject of research owing to numerous benefits in the field of social housing stock management, such as better adjustment of property managers’ services to tenants’ needs and preferences, or an increase in the efficiency and economics of management. However, the mobilization of tenants will be successful only if they can participate in the decision-making process in a relatively high degree. Our discussion focuses on social housing stock in Poland.
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New relationships between service users and the welfare state have emerged as a result of governmental strategies of public service reform in which participation has appeared as the cure for a putative welfare dependency. A new public has been invoked in technologies of governance which have conflated responsible citizenship with participation in the marketplace and have aimed to change the behaviour of welfare service users accordingly. This paper investigates the ability of welfare service users to resist, or amend, the disciplinary intentions of these discourses, to constitute counter-publics', and to formulate their own visions of public services. Drawing on research with English social housing tenants engaged in participation with their quasi-public landlords, and applying a theoretical framework based on the work of feminist and queer theorist Judith Butler, the paper explores the behavioural effects of participation on tenants and evidences their use of consumerist and communitarian discourses to construct alternative perceptions of a public', and re-imagine their relationship with public services.
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This paper uses the Community Capitals Framework (CCF) to look at community change from a systems perspective. We find that social capital—both bonding and bridging—is the critical resource that reversed the downward spiral of loss to an upward spiral of hope—a process we call “spiraling-up.” Focusing on the example of a change process implemented in Nebraska, HomeTown Competitiveness, we delineate the assets invested, created, and expanded by the project. We also apply the CCF to understanding the flow among the capitals and the impact of this flow on community capacity to initiate and sustain a process of change, particularly in building social capital.
The heated controversy over “citizen participation,” “citizen control,” and “maximum feasible involvement of the poor,” has been waged largely in terms of exacerbated rhetoric and misleading euphemisms. To encourage a more enlightened dialogue, a typology of citizen participation is offered using examples from three federal social programs: urban renewal, anti-poverty, and Model Cities. The typology, which is designed to be provocative, is arranged in a ladder pattern with each rung corresponding to the extent of citizens’ power in determining the plan and/or program.
One of the hallmarks of the austerity agenda in the UK has been the discursive prevalence of both scarcity and individual responsibility as justifications for drastic cuts to public services. In the context of London's housing crisis, cuts to welfare for low-income tenants have resulted in an alarming rise in evictions and homelessness within a wider context of displacement and gentrification in the city. This article explores how embryonic resistance to these processes, as well as to deeper histories of dispossession, is undertaken by housing activists through a set of ethical practices that promote collectivized care and mutual support among those faced with housing precarity. Although these emergent networks are fragile, it argues that a nascent housing movement in London offers some compelling glimpses of a more hopeful politics that may lie just beneath the surface of the present moment.
While high foreclosure rates devastate low-income communities throughout New England, a grassroots movement in Massachusetts works to keep tenants and owners of foreclosed properties in their homes. The combined efforts of legal services attorneys, neighborhood organizers and community developers empower local residents to combat post-foreclosure displacement and regain their voice in the political process. This inter-organizational network is dissected and each organization profiled.
On a bright San Francisco morning in the fall of 2000, an unlikely group emerged laughing from an ornate skyscraper.1 Among the three dozen assembled were undocumented residents from Mexico, a European American minister, Cambodian refugees, and a Taiwanese American city planner. They had just won almost one million dollars from their landlord in one of the largest legal settlements of its kind (DeFao 2000). In addition to winning monetary damages for forty-four households, the group's victory transformed the complex into brand new apartments that are held permanently at affordable rents. Overcoming obstacles of race and class, the Oak Park Tenants Association is a model of faith-based, multiethnic community organizing. This housing victory was unlikely because it involved primarily Latinos, some of whom avoid the government for documentation reasons, and Cambodians, who had been tortured by their government (Counts 1999a; Ochs and Payes 2003). Linguistic isolation prevented them from understanding the American legal system or fully integrating into this society (Bolivar et al. 2002). And because the tenants were on public assistance or worked as day laborers, they could not afford other housing if they were to be forced out. Despite these fears and structural barriers, the tenants organized against substandard living conditions that threatened their health and safety. Remarkably, these two ethnic groups joined together as a tenants association and remained united throughout the three-year struggle. The anomalous success of their efforts demonstrates the need for communities to build upon both the ethnic and religious social capital of low-income communities. Similarly, this case study demonstrates how faith-based organizers required both kinds of capital to bond the tenants and bridge them to outside resources.
Critics of human rights are hesitant to reject them outright for fear of undermining the work they may do in resisting oppression. This pragmatic justification is central to celebrations of human rights as well, but is it more than a failure to move beyond liberal hegemony? I argue that human rights have radical potential because the act of claiming such rights uses the ambiguous but universal identity of ‘humanity’ to make claims on the established terms of legitimate authority. The potential of human rights to fight for social change is examined by looking at the movement for a human right to housing in the USA. I explore how homeless individuals, public housing tenants and low-income urban residents realise their human right to housing through eviction defences, the occupation of ‘people-less’ homes, and attempts to remake the structure of home ownership through community land trusts.
Tenant participation is becoming an almost ubiquitous feature of the planning and provision of social housing. A range of opportunities has been (and is being) created by and for tenants to participate in the planning, provision and evaluation of housing services. Yet while local authorities and other social landlords may be keen to consult tenants, and tenants themselves often want to make their voices heard, there is a perennial problem in actually getting people involved. This paper provides a comprehensive framework for understanding this important question. It then reports on recent research that applies the framework in two different contexts: tenants' associations and tenant management organisations. The implications for housing policy and practice are discussed.