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Renters win ‘David versus Goliath’ battle with billionaire landlord after evictions over organising

RENTERS have won nearly £19,000 in “a David versus Goliath” legal battle with their billionaire landlord, who evicted them during the pandemic after they organised for fair rent and maintenance.

Four members of Somerford Grove Renters (SGR) received a First Tier tribunal award for eight months’ worth of rent from John Christodoulou on Wednesday.

The renters lived in a flat owned by the billionaire and were evicted earlier this year in what the campaigners have called retaliation for organising during the pandemic.

Mr Christodoulou is currently listed at 82nd on the Sunday Times Rich List.

At the start of the pandemic, SGR wrote to the lettings agent that represents Mr Christodoulou, Tower Quay, asking for a rent reduction.

In their response, the campaigners claim Tower Quay told the tenants to use unspent lunch money and holiday savings to pay the rent in full.

SGR’s open letter to the agent garnered over 500 signatures and they held a demonstration outside Mr Christodoulou’s five star hotel, the Canary Wharf Riverside Plaza, with speeches made by Labour MP Apsana Begum, the London Renters Union (LRU) and Momentum.

The campaign also received support from Labour MPs John McDonnell, Zarah Sultana and Diane Abbott.

Lead SGR organiser Marc Sutton said: “After a year of campaigning and fighting we are thrilled to have achieved such a major win, the first of many more to come. 

“People doubted that we had a chance against such a rich and powerful landlord. It’s a David versus Goliath battle.

“But we’ve found strength through the community and solidarity that we’ve built together.”

LRU member Moritz Herle said: “By getting organised and taking action together, LRU members at Somerford Grove have helped keep each other safe during the pandemic and won this significant financial victory.

“The message to landlords is clear: if you try to bully us out of our rights to affordable and safe housing during a pandemic, we’ll do everything we can to hold you to account.”

Mr Herle called on the government to keep its promise that no renter will be forced out of their home during the pandemic by introducing a permanent evictions ban and cancelling rent debt.

Momentum co-chairman Andrew Scattergood said: “Throughout this pandemic, the wealth of billionaires has skyrocketed as working people have suffered. But this victory is proof that we can fight back.

“It’s time for workers and renters to get organised and start taking on this parasitic ruling class. We’ve had enough of exploitation.”

SGR said they will be filing approximately 50 additional cases for tenants in the block, representing around half a million pounds in claims.

Tower Quay and Mr Christodoulou’s property company Yianis Group were approached for comment.

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