London Student

Former UCL student takes UoL to court over poor accommodation

A former UCL student is taking legal action against the University of London (UoL) over poor accommodation at Garden Halls.

Tianze Zhang, an international student at UCL’s Law Faculty, was allocated a room at Garden Halls for academic year 2016/2017, but quickly noticed that living conditions were far below expected.

Speaking to London Student, Zhang detailed the long list of issues residents had with the building and its management. These included persistent construction noise, a lack of heating or hot water and inadequate compensation for those whom, at the beginning of the 2016 academic year, were forced to find alternative accommodation due to delays in the development. One source in the complaint document mentions the use of toxic chemicals, such as formaldehyde, in public spaces, leaving strong smells and presenting obvious danger.

Zhang also had his bike stolen from the supposedly ‘secure’ lobby area due to a lack of security personnel and missed an essay deadline due to wifi network failure.

Having already paid rent in advance, a group of seven students (including Zhang) filed a letter of complaint to Garden Halls in October 2016, requesting £1000 compensation per signatory due to the ongoing problems.

After a further 34 students joined the action, University College London Union (UCLU) meet with the group and told them a claim would be submitted against UoL on their behalf. Months later, UCLU stopped responding to their emails and to date it does not appear as if any claim was made.

Garden Halls Residence on Cartwright Gardens | Credit: Google Street View

In mid-May, the ongoing problems with the halls forced Zhang to move out and seek alternative accommodation. He also brought a claim in the small claims tribunal at the county court at Central London for £1000 compensation.

Zhang told London Student that since bringing the claim, UoL’s solicitors have employed a variety of disconcerting tactics to combat it. In particular they have used semantic language to trick him into accepting facts that he disputes, continually refusing to meet with him and providing the court with a 300 page evidence folder just weeks before the trial date. This has led to a scramble to find competing evidence from the international students involved, who are now scattered across the globe.

It will make it right for the past, and make it better for future students.

Zhang expressed surprise at the vigour that UoL has approached the legal challenge, when they hadn’t allocated sufficient resources to the residents of Garden Halls. He said that UoL recently hired a further two solicitors for the case.

If Zhang manages to succeed in this case, it could open the door for similarly inclined claims. UoL faces widespread backlash from residents who argue they suffered as a result of construction delays and chaotic corner-cutting that led to them receiving far less than they were promised, or were paying for.

The court date was set for the 26th January, however due to visa issues, Zhang will not be able to enter the UK at that time. The court date will be rescheduled.

UoL refused to comment on the specifics of Zhang’s case but told LS that they “are committed to providing all students with high quality accommodation and residential services and have consistently made good faith efforts to resolve this claim amicably.”

Zhang told London Student that when he thinks about his time at Garden Halls, he “just wants to lock the door of [his] room and sleep” but he will continue to fight the case. He said: “it will make it right for the past, and make it better for future students.”

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James Witherspoon

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