A man dressed in a suit and tie, mirrored sunglasses, false moustache and sheriff's badge poses outside DJ Alexander's offices with a megaphone

EPTAG's cops visit DJ Alexander

In a farcical move, letting agent DJ Alexander hired contractors to carry out unsafe work outside their offices at noon on Friday 20th July in an attempt to prevent a protest by Edinburgh Private Tenants’ Action Group (EPTAG).

More than 20 tenants – some of them in TV cop costumes inspired by the Beastie Boys’ Sabotage video – converged on DJ Alexander’s offices in Dundas Street to protest against illegal fees charged by the letting agent, and their bullying of tenants who complain about the fees.

A young woman wearing a high-vis vest stands outside the DJ Alexander offices, holding up a strip of yellow tape which reads "crime scene - do not enter"

Crime Scene

Under Scottish law (section 82 of the Rents (Scotland) Act 1984, to be precise), it is an offence for a landlord or letting agent to charge tenants for anything other than their rent and deposit, but because the law is not enforced, nearly all Edinburgh letting agents charge administration fees. DJ Alexander’s fees are the highest in the city, and include a non-refundable “cleaning fee” which is charged in place of a deposit, and they require the final month’s rent to be paid at the start of the tenancy, which is also illegal.

DJ Alexander tenant Jon Black recently tried to claim back £830 that he was forced to pay in order to obtain the lease for a flat. Shortly afterwards the proprietor, David Alexander, began harassing Mr Black, personally phoning him more than 30 times in two days and leaving numerous messages in an attempt to intimidate him. Speaking about the incident, Mr Black said: “In one of the phone calls, Mr Alexander threatened to give me notice to quit the flat if I pursued this. He wanted to throw me out of my flat just because I tried to stand up for my rights. I told him that as I hadn’t broken my contract, he had no legal grounds to ask me to leave, and I would be prepared to fight this in court if necessary.”

EPTAG decided that it was important to expose Mr Alexander’s behaviour, so that other tenants could be made aware of their rights in this situation. They decided to picket the DJ Alexander offices, but even though they didn’t announce their target in advance, staff at DJ Alexander had called in contractors to cut up paving slabs with an angle grinder and clean the area in front of the office with high pressure hoses. This was not part of any repair work, but simply a tactic to deter the protesters by creating a lot of noise and dust, so that it became unpleasant for anyone stand in that area. However, the protesters were determined not to let this put them off, and stayed outside the office with banners and flyers for over an hour.

The costumed TV cop poses as if speaking to the contractor cutting up paving slabs through his megaphone

"Please desist from your illegal slab cutting!"

Lothian and Borders police were eventually forced to stop one of the contractors, after a passing construction worker informed them that it was dangerous and illegal to cut the slabs without taking precautions to minimise the amount of dust produced. Stone dust is an irritant which affects the eyes and lungs of anyone exposed to it, and can be dangerous for people with existing medical conditions such as asthma. Repeated exposure over a period of months or years can cause permanent lung damage, leading to disability or death.

Senior staff from DJ Alexander stood outside the office supervising the contractors throughout the protest. The decision to call in cowboy workmen who disregard safety precautions had obviously been made by the company’s management, and raises questions over the standard of maintenance work carried out in their properties.

Exploitative business practises have become normalised in the private rental sector; those of us living in rented housing expect poor conditions, perpetually delayed repairs, condescending agency staff, and extortionate fees on top of our escalating rents. This shouldn’t be normal – there’s specific legislation that says you shouldn’t have to put up with this – but we have to start advocating for ourselves if we want things to get any better. If you live in Scotland and have been charged fees by your landlord or letting agent, you can claim your money back using the guides written by EPTAG and Shelter. I’ve done it, and would recommend it to anyone who is fed up of being used as a cash cow by the private lettings industry.

A group of protesters poses with banners which read "EPTAG" and "Tenancy fees are illegal: let's keep them that way"