University of Sussex students have declared an “indefinite rent strike”, in protest at rent prices for what they call “dilapidated and unsanitary conditions” in off-campus university accommodation.
Supported by the Brighton branch of ACORN renters’ union, over a third of the 110 residents of Kings Road Hall are involved in the action to withhold rent until repairs are carried out and tenants are compensated for disruption caused by ongoing building work. Up to 43 students are prepared to join the strike, with 29 participants confirmed.
The strike comes just days after it emerged that the University had awarded the last Vice-Chancellor, Professor Michael Farthing, a £230,000 leaving bonus. Duncan Michie, ACORN organiser and third year Sussex chemistry student said:
“If they can spare the hundreds of thousands of pounds for university bosses, they can spare at least as much to compensate students enduring squalid housing conditions.”
A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “All of the University’s managed accommodation, whether it is on campus or in the city, meets our quality standards. We regularly check all of our properties and ask that our students report any maintenance requirements so they can be rectified quickly. Whilst we are already addressing some temporary issues, we don’t recognise all of the claims that have been put forward – but we are in active discussions with the Students’ Union and directly with our students about these.”
The decision to strike comes after a petition was handed to Sussex House on 20 November, citing issues including mice infestations, mould, interference from construction work, and damaged appliances. The University told The Badger at the time it “received the petition and is considering the points that have been raised and will respond back to the students involved by the 8th December, as requested. After that stage, we would, of course, be very happy to discuss our response and recommendations with the Badger. At Sussex, we want all of our students to have the very best experience possible. Whether our students are housed in campus accommodation or in University housing in the city, it’s important that they have access to good quality facilities and we will be continuing to work with the Students’ Union and directly with our students to make sure that this is the case.”
The petition also included the demands reiterated today by rent strikers:
– Immediate and total repair of all maintenance issues reported by tenants
– Compensation of £100 per month for the duration of construction works
– Provision of a free travel card for every resident given the increased need to commute to the main campus
– Compensation for all expenses incurred by tenants owing to accommodation faults
Laura Stevens, a first year International Relations student and Kings Road resident said:
“When I came to Brighton I was so excited to live in a great city. This accommodation has been a horrible shock. Universities shouldn’t rent out halls that are in such bad condition. I just want a flat without mice and black mould that I can afford – it’s not too much to ask”.
The rent for a Kings Road room is £126.61 per week, the fifth cheapest offered by the University (after East Slope, Park Houses, Park Village and an off-campus Lewes Study Lodge).
While the University has acknowledged the disruption and offered £35 per month in compensation, students choosing to strike have rejected this as “insulting, given the continuous and highly negative impact on our quality of life”.
Strikers claim that “the absence of meaningful intervention by the University” has led students to conclude they have “no choice but to take action themselves” and state they will withhold rental payments until their demands – described by one participant as “reasonable and proportionate” – are met in full.
The strike comes amidst a wave of rising concern amongst students over the cost and quality of university accommodation, with recent rent strikes at UCL securing compensation from the University, as well as rent freezes on lower-cost accommodation.
A spokesperson for ACORN Brighton cited concerns over landlord behaviour, saying: “As members of ACORN renters’ union, we stand in full support of the thousands of students and renters getting organised around the country. We will no longer be exploited.”
The Kings Road strikers have warned the University that if their demands are not met “immediately, the campaign will escalate”. Jack Carpentiere, a first year criminology and sociology student and rent striker, said: “We will not back down until we get what we deserve.”
With other student halls across the university already considering rent strikes over similar grievances, Ethan Richold, first year student and rent striker, said: “Our movement will only escalate as we reach out to more students who feel that the university is taking them for a ride.”