Multimillion-pound rental firm demands thousands from homeless asylum seeker

by James Ivens, East London Socialist Party

A property firm with turnover in the millions is pursuing a campaigning asylum seeker for thousands through the courts. We say: Defend Lawanya – fight for tenants’ rights!

Lawanya

Last August, Latha Lawanya Ramajeyam found herself unable to make rent on her room due to the legal costs of her asylum case. She duly informed her property management, City Rooms, that she couldn’t continue her contract and would leave.

Unfortunately, tenancy laws are weighted in landlords’ and letting agents’ favour. Because her contract had no ‘break clause’, City Rooms is demanding several months of unpaid rent. With interest and costs, that’s £2,850 – and rising.

City Rooms – the trading name of Oliver Walton Ltd – last year filed a turnover of almost £21 million for 2019, with reserves above £978,000. Its total profit was just shy of £895,000, with shareholders receiving £850,000 dividends.

Penniless

Meanwhile, Lawanya is penniless and couch surfing. She has offered her security deposit in full – but has nothing else to her name. City Rooms should face facts and set the balance aside.

And all this during the pandemic! The Financial Conduct Authority granted property owners the right to mortgage holidays. The government compelled councils to pull all the homeless off the streets. Tenant evictions were suspended. What possible justification is there for this claim?

Some rental firms may imagine migrant and asylum-seeker tenants more pliable due to their isolation and legal status. But despite her poverty, Lawanya is not alone.

Campaigner

Lawanya is an organiser for the Refugee Rights and Tamil Solidarity campaigns, and a member of the Socialist Party. The working class has an important tradition of defending its organisers from bullying and persecution, to prevent the boss class decapitating our movement.

We are therefore asking trade union branches to pass resolutions joining Lawanya’s defence. We will also be contacting City Rooms tenants to get organised to fight their own problems – which appear numerous according to online complaints.

And the Socialist Party will stand as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in this May’s elections on a programme to solve the housing crisis. For mass building of council homes and democratic rent caps. Secure tenancies for all, and the right to leave without extortionate debt claims!