Hundreds of students are planning not to pay rent next term in a bid to get rents reduced and more support, a union says.
The Sussex Renters Union – part of the wider student union – is calling on all students to withhold rent after Christmas, which could lead to millions of pounds of lost income for the University of Sussex.
Some students say they feel they have been “abandoned” by the university, left isolated in badly maintained accommodation.
The union is calling on the university to cut rents by 40% and allow students to end tenancies with no penalties. Rents for a room in a Falmer campus hall range from £95 to £167.50 a week.
However, the university says hundreds of its staff have been working “tirelessly” to help students during the pandemic, which has been difficult for nearly everyone.
Emma, a first year student at the University of Sussex, said: “The conditions in my accommodation have been appalling. I came to Sussex because they seemed to care, but I feel like I’ve been abandoned, isolated and completely alone.
“It is my first year away from home and my mental health has collapsed, this is widespread across the university community.
“They promised in-person teaching, they promised a chance to socialise, they promised a decent quality of life and they lied.
“Our VC who’s on a six figure salary doesn’t care. How bad would it have to get for students before they took notice? Sewage flooding into bathrooms and showers, to just basic heating not working in the winter.
“You wait days, sometimes weeks, for maintenance to sort out these issues, it’s no wonder you feel discarded by the university.”
The union is also calling on the university to join students in lobbying the national government for greater financial support for students, no covid-related job losses and no disciplinary action for strikers.
And it wants the university to negotiate a partial refund for the autumn term’s rent.
A university spokesman said: “The university engages each week with the Students’ Union on a wide range of matters and we continue to do so.
“We are extremely disappointed that the Students’ Union is encouraging students to engage in a rent strike at a time when our staff right across the university continue to do all they can to ensure that our students education can continue during this very challenging time.
“We know this term, as a result of the pandemic, has been difficult for students, and everyone in nearly every corner of society.
“Hundreds of university staff such as porters, cleaners, receptionists, delivery staff and so many of our student services teams behind the scenes have been working tirelessly to ensure that living on campus has been possible during the pandemic in a covid-safe way.
“We continue to do that now, we will continue right through the Christmas break so our students who need to stay on campus can do so, and we will be ready when everyone returns in January.
“Whilst day-to-day maintenance is commonplace on a residential campus of 5,000 rooms, these are managed in a timely fashion, as per our commitment to students in their tenancy agreements.
“If an issue is not addressed in a way that meets our high standards we work closely with students to provide them access to alternative accommodation or facilities, although this is rare as any issues are swiftly taken in hand.
“The university has been offering all students on campus who need to self-isolate a comprehensive package of support including money for purchasing food plus free laundry and cleaning supplies.
“This includes students who need to self-isolate because of having Covid-19 symptoms and those who have been in close contact with a covid-19 positive case.
“Students who are covid-19 positive also get a hot meal delivered to them.
“The university has been highlighted in the sector for the way it is managing cases of covid on campus, both in terms of its tracing system and self-isolation support package.”