A group of 25 artists who have been renting studios and a project space in south London for almost a decade have been given just seven days notice to vacate the premises by their landlord.
Renewal Group sent a letter to the tenants of Zona Mista on 3 February reminding them their lease ran out on 24 November. Since then, Selena Rook, the firm’s estate manager writes, “we have been in negotiations seeking to agree terms for a new lease, but unfortunately it has not been possible to reach agreement on terms that are acceptable”. The firm claims the artists have been occupying the building “under a tenancy at will”, an agreement that “allows for immediate termination at any time by either party”.
A spokesperson for Renewal says it has found a new tenant who wishes to move in on 10 February—“therefore we now require possession of the premises in advance of that date”. There are wider plans to redevelop the area known as New Bermondsey to include three residential towers, a new tube station and auditorium.
Writing in response, the artists of Zona Mista—who have in the past organised exhibitions by artists including Laure Prouvost, Patrick Goddard, Issy Wood, Guy Oliver, Bernd Oppl, Zadie Xa and Elizabeth Price—describe the eviction as “a terrible shock”. They note that, since November, they have “engaged in negotiations regarding a rent increase for a new three-year lease” and that there was “no indication” that there were discussions to rent the space to a third party “with a view to turfing us out”.
According to one of the artists, Renewal had asked for a 68% increase in rent, and the group had countered with an offer of a 22% rise. Negotiations then tailed off and communication with their landlord became patchy, the artists say. The group has launched a petition to emphasise the “cultural significance” of the building and achieve the most amicable solution possible.
The group also refutes that they have been occupying the building under a “tenancy at will” since November, pointing out there was never a written agreement to that end, as had been the case in 2017 when the lease was being renegotiated. Instead, they believed the three-month notice terms of the lease would roll on until a solution was found. Rent has been paid up until 25 February.
Crucially, the seven-day notice period now puts the artists “on this chaotic, crisis footing”. They write: “It is a senseless and gratuitously violent thing to do to ask us to pack up ten years of accumulated possessions, equipment and output on such short notice. It is incredibly difficult for any small business to survive in London in the current climate, and this action will cause us the maximum possible harm.”
Finding emergency storage and working space, as well as moving costs, is likely to put many out of business. “It also means it is highly likely that the collective will now be smashed up and dispersed, with no time to explore possibilities for continuing to work as a group or for providing continuity of provision to the local community,” they say.
The group is now asking Renewal and the new commercial occupier to reconsider their position “so that the lives and livelihoods of 25 people are not needlessly destroyed in the most traumatic and expensive way possible in the middle of a cost of living crisis”.