Rent strike at Sussex University

Students have announced an indefinite rent strike at the institution’s Kings Road halls today following revelations that new vice chancellor Michael Farthing got a £230,000 “golden hello” — cash they say could have been spent fixing up decaying accommodation.

The group of around 30 are members of tenants’ union Acorn, which has been campaigning for renovations to be made on the block, and report major issues around broken appliances, pests, lack of basic utility services and pollution from works outside. The decision comes off the back of a victory at the same block on December 5th, when a resident linked to Acorn won a campaign to have fixes made to their flat.

Acorn organiser and third year Sussex chemistry student Duncan Michie 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.

Residents report the majority of the £502 p/m flats in the block suffer from rodent infestations, many of its kitchen appliances, showers and toilets are non-functional, some flats have gone without hot water for weeks and other basic services are in need of urgent repair. Constant construction work linked to a two-year redevelopment scheme frequently renders rooms uninhabitable due to noise and dust pollution, forcing students to vacate their rooms during working hours.

Students also complain that owing to scaffolding surrounding the building, their access to privacy and daylight is frequently curtailed. 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.

While the university has acknowledged the severity of disruption and offered £35 per month in compensation, students have rejected this as “insulting, given the continuous and highly negative impact on our quality of life.”

Despite repeated promises to make repairs, an absence of meaningful intervention by university bosses 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:

  • 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 into the main campus
  • Compensation for all expenses incurred by tenants owing to accommodation faults

The strike comes amidst a wave of rising anger amongst students over high rents for low-quality university accommodation, with recent rent strikes at UCL securing millions in compensation. A spokesperson for Acorn Brighton said:

Britain has thousands of dodgy landlords, who make their money by renting poor quality accomodation for extortionate prices. Sadly, the managers of the University of Sussex are no different. 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.”

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.

Whist 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.

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 are taking them for a ride.”

A protest has been organised to kick the strike off in earnest on December 14th outside Sussex House.


Pic: Residents at Kings Hall Road vote to begin the rent strike, courtesy Acorn Brighton