Hundreds of students are refusing to pay next term's rent installment to Lancaster University. Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, most students have left Lancaster, and many students have also lost jobs, and the incomes they rely on to afford rent. As a result, many UK universities have waived students' rent, but so far Lancaster University management have refused to.
The University's governing body, Council, is due to make a final decision on waiving rent when it meets this Friday, the same day students' next rent payments are due. Most other landlords in Lancaster have not agreed to tenants' calls for a rent waiver, including the students' union-owned letting agency. A notable exception is scandal-hit Aparto, the operators of Caton Court, who have announced that any tenants who have moved out due to the pandemic will no longer be asked to pay rent.
In recent weeks, there have been successful rent strikes in Surrey and Plymouth, where student activists have forced their universities to change their rent policies. There are currently ongoing student rent strikes in London, Bristol, Sussex, and Warwick against private landlords and universities. There have been two major rent strikes in Lancaster University history, firstly in 1974-5, and again in 1992.
In addition to the rent strike, about a thousand students, staff, and members of the community have signed an open letter to Lancaster's interim vice-chancellor, Professor Steve Bradley, asking that all rent in University-managed accommodation is waived. Professor Bradley has yet to make a public response.
The letter says: 'Student renters, particularly those living in on-campus accommodation, are in a precarious situation following the outbreak of COVID-19. Large groups of students have been forced to vacate their accommodation to return home due to this pandemic. Others have lost jobs, income and face uncertainty for the future.'
The campaign was launched last week by student members of ACORN, a tenant and community union. At the LUSU AGM in October, hundreds of students voted for a motion which made it students’ union policy to support ACORN and assist student rent strikes. However, it took the LUSU sabbatical officers more than a week to publicly support the rent strike, which they did in a social media post earlier today. The rent strike has also been backed by the three Labour councillors representing University and Scotforth Rural Ward on Lancaster City Council.
ACORN Lancaster and Morecambe’s Communications Officer David Murphy said: 'This pandemic has meant that a lot of uncertainty has been added to the lives of students, with things such as teaching, assessments and accommodation being thrown up into the air. We believe that Lancaster University needs to put the interests of its students first and cancel rents for the third term of the academic year for all university-managed accommodation. We are extremely pleased with the massive response to this campaign, and the fact that so many students are willing to withhold their rent shows how big of an issue this is to students in the university. ACORN is here for the community in these uncertain times, through both our COVID-19 aid networks and supporting renters nationally. For a united working class, join us!'
Lancaster students who want to join the rent strike can sign up here: https://forms.gle/YkZ3igu6c8bgqiX86