COVID-19 rent strike rock SOAS halls as rules refuse residents respite

Students at SOAS’s Dinwiddy House and Paul Robeson House said on Wednesday that they will withhold rent until the need to pay for rooms they are not using during the COVID-19 pandemic is dropped.

According to the SOAS Students’ Union over 200 residents signed up to join the boycott. If this rent strike holds the landlord could be set back over £300,000.

Residents began protesting two weeks ago at SOAS’s King’s Cross accommodation, home to over 700 students. LSE renters now also appears to have taken up their demands, as scores have signing the SOAS protest letter.

Students are angry that they are unable to end their licence agreements early in the face of the pandemic. Especially since many have already followed SOAS’s advice to return home.

“Extraordinary circumstances”

In an open letter to their landlord students demand that they offer residents a “no-penalty release of contract.” Ten further demands include protections for international students forced to leave the UK, left-behind possessions and residents stranded in London.

They argue, consequently, that the “extraordinary circumstances” of the pandemic “allows for no business to continue as usual.” Given this crisis, they say “It is unethical that we are forced to pay rent … when it is clear that most of us will no longer be able to make use of the previously provided student accommodation.”

A spokesperson for Sanctuary Students – the company that runs Dinwiddy House – said: “We continue to house a significant number of national and international students in our properties. Without our accommodation these students may become homeless.”

They admitted that “our decision to terminate contracts early will be disappointing.” However, they claimed that “we have been informed by the Universities Minister that students will still be receiving their tuition fee and maintenance payments for term three as scheduled.”

In response to this residents said they are “very disappointed” by the management reaction.

Formal complaint over possessions

Separately, the Dinwiddy House site management confirmed to London Student that one resident’s possessions had been removed for their quarters due to “a misunderstanding.” They said staff had restored the items and that they are in contact with the affected student. She has since made a formal complaint.

A Sanctuary Students press officer emphasises by email to London Student that the company “has never used bailiffs.”

Photo credit: Umezo KAMATA, under CC BY-SA 3.0.

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