Residents at Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson halls have been withholding over £100,000 in rent as a protest against a lack of management response to cockroach and rodent infestations, unsafe and insecure infrastructure, repeated water and hot water outages, and many other problems besides. The halls house 778 students from SOAS university, and are owned and run by Sanctuary Students. Over 150 residents from both halls withheld their final instalment of rent of at least £769.08 each, which was due to be paid on Thursday 23rd April. Following compensation offers, the Residents’ Council, which represents residents of the halls within SOAS Students’ Union, called an end to the rent strike and residents have paid their final instalments of rent.
During negotiations, Sanctuary Students agreed to meet our demands by making a full and unreserved apology to residents, holding regular open meetings with residents, and attending monthly meetings with the Students’ Union, the Residents’ Council and SOAS, with published minutes, and to publish the minutes of any other meetings between Sanctuary and SOAS. However, Sanctuary Students failed to meet the demand for compensation for residents, instead offering to set aside £1,500 to reinvest in the Dinwiddy estate, this works out to about £3 per resident and does not include any improvements to Paul Robeson House. The Residents’ Council called this offer “insulting” and the rent strike continued.
Following further negotiations, Sanctuary Students made an offer of £40 to each Paul Robeson resident and £90 to each Dinwiddy resident and agreed to consider individual claims for compensation. Residents taking part in the rent strike voted overwhelmingly to reject this offer. The rent strike continued, while residents also put in individual claims for compensation. Sanctuary Students have awarded compensation to residents who made individual claims, who have been awarded between £70-£360 additional compensation, on top of the £40/£90 compensation awarded to all residents. The appeals process has now been concluded with all those contesting their individual award recieving additional compensation.
Although we believe that these sums of compensation are insufficient as they do not fully compensate residents for the unacceptable and uninhabitable conditions in halls this year, residents have made fantastic achievements. Sanctuary Students has repeatedly attempted to victimise and intimidate residents taking part in the rent strike – attempts which we have been able to resist. We believe this is a victory for SOAS residents and for the tenants’ rights movement more broadly.
Sanctuary Students had ignored residents’ complaints since they moved-in in September, and had ignored countless attempts by the SOAS Students’ Union and Residents' Council to establish a working relationship with Sanctuary Students whereby issues could have been addressed. The rent strike has brought about changes to increase transparency and enable residents to hold Sanctuary Students to account over living conditions. More significantly, it has showed Sanctuary Students that they cannot get away with ignoring and mistreating residents, and has pressured them to pay compensation, when they had initially insisted that no compensation would be offered at all.
This is not the end of the struggle in Dinwiddy and Paul Robeson halls. We will be continuing to campaign and organise to ensure that Sanctuary Students provide liveable conditions for students, uphold their contractual obligations by delivering all of the services stated in their contracts, treat residents fairly and respectfully, and work with the Students’ Union and Residents Council to resolve issues. We hope the rent strike has served as an example of the effectiveness and importance of rent strikes as a tactic for tenants to campaign against extortionate rents and unacceptable living conditions. We also hope this has shown Sanctuary Students and other housing providers and landlords that they cannot get away with exploiting and swindling tenants. We can, and should, collectively organise against landlords and housing providers and WE CAN WIN!!!
Students at Union College London (UCL) University have also been conducting a rent strike in their halls, Campbell House and Hawkridge House, which are owned by the University. UCL are now attempting to victimise students who are taking part in the strike by threatening to prevent students from re-enrolling on courses or preventing them from graduating, which we strongly condemn. We send our full support and solidarity to striking residents in these halls and we hope they will win their demands to reduce the extortionate rents, which enable the university to make millions of pounds of profit from their students. Please show your support by signing this petition and liking the Facebook Page
To SOAS students and staff as well as other organisations and individuals who have supported us or signed our petition – thank you. And to every one of the rent strikers who stayed strong in the face of victimisation – well done, thank you and congratulations!
Residents’ Council and SOAS Students’ Union