SOAS COVID-19 rent strike to stop third term halls fees

Residents at Dinwiddy House – a SOAS Halls of Residence – have organised to withhold their rent payments if third-term halls fees are not dropped.  

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, SOAS, like other colleges, has moved all teaching online and closed its campus facilities. However, hundreds of halls residents, returning to their parental homes, feel forgotten and trapped in their licence agreements.

According to Oscar Ward, the SOAS Students’ Union Accommodation Officer, ‘150 to 200’ residents at Dinwiddy House will leave without paying their rent in the third term. This is more than half of the students housed there.

Standard weekly rents at Dinwiddy start at £171.69 in 38-week contracts. A rent strike of this size would leave hundreds of thousands of pounds of fees unpaid.

Ward said: ‘The management are still trying to get people to pay for the rent and especially the third term instalment.’

He explained that management at SOAS’s halls, which is outsourced to Sanctuary Students, still expect students to find replacement residents if they want to be absolved of their contracts.

The problem is, he explained, ‘no one wants to move in, everyone wants to move out.’ He pointed out, ‘there’s no reason for students who aren’t from London to be in London.’

Students in halls, who are not tenants but licensees, are also worried that they are not covered by the government’s emergency protections for renters.

In reaction to this, students organised to collectively move out and boycott their third term rent payments.

Ward said the Dinwiddy House licence agreement makes provision for dissolving the contract in emergency circumstances and that the COVID-19 epidemic is such an emergency.

Student Union Support

An email from SOAS SU Co-president Valeria Racu to residents this week has advised them to ‘not worry about your legal obligations, or the money you need to pay, just go!’ Further, it encouraged them to ‘not worry about finding a replacement tenant’. It also tells students that they ‘don’t have to leave … a forwarding address.’

Upbeat, Ward described how residents are ‘leading a great campaign’ and that ‘it’s a really great bit of activism’, in response to a national crisis.

Separately, at UCL, senior management announced this week that rent for students leaving halls before third term will be dropped.

SOAS and Sanctuary Students have been contacted for comment.

Photo credit: Ian Holton, under CC BY 2.0.

Opinion Editor. Cambridge History PhD student.

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