LUSU has confirmed that the tenants of its student letting company will still be expected to pay rent next term. This is whilst the LUSU sabbs continue to lobby the University to offer its tenants the option of cancelling their contracts early.
As universities across the UK, including Lancaster, announced their closure next term due to the coronavirus pandemic, students have been requesting early release from their accommodation contracts, so that they don't end up paying for housing that they are not living in. The pandemic has also had a devastating effect on many low-paid workers' (especially student workers') personal finances, as income they relied on to pay their rent vanishes.
LUSU's statement said it would not be financially possible to waive rents, and if tenants didn't pay up, it would have 'a disastrous effect on the Union’s ability to provide services for all students':
This is not a decision we have taken lightly. However, once a property is let through LUSU Living, Living is required to pay the property owner regardless of whether the tenants pay their rent to Living. If rents are not paid on 20 April then Living would be left with a £900,000 loss of income when property owners are due to be paid in early May.
LUSU Living is a private letting company run by LUSU, and all its profits are donated directly to LUSU itself. Last financial year, LUSU Living made over £250,000 in profit, and over £370,000 the year before. The company directors are LUSU's President, VP Union Development, Chief Executive, and Financial Controller. The director position reserved for VP Union Development is currently vacant following the resignation of Hannah Prydderch.
However, there may yet be some hope for LUSU Living tenants. LUSU Living has requested all its property owners to waive third term rent, so in some cases they may have done so, or at least offered rent deductions, but there are no guarantees. The statement says that LUSU 'will inform tenants of their options where this is the case.' The statement also included the vague commitment: 'We are also exploring other ways to support our tenants and will provide an update as soon as possible.'
The rationale of LUSU running a letting agency, is seemingly (as well as making money), to offer students the option to rent from a more reliable and ethical landlord than most. But in reality, LUSU Living has been hit with criticisms and complaints as frequently as any other student landlord. Rather than being guided by what its tenants want, LUSU Living seems happy as long as its property owners are collecting their rent. If now, amidst a global health emergency, LUSU is unable to exert influence over its property owners to defend students facing unprecedented financial hardship, then what is the point?
This is not the first time LUSU Living has courted controversy this academic year. At the start of the year, they were forced to cancel their marketing deal with the owners of Caton Court, after serious safety failings were uncovered when students had moved in before construction work on the site had been completed.
In October's AGM, students passed a motion which declared the beliefs that: '[LUSU] has a poor track record on issues of housing. Housing is a right and not a privilege. Affordability is essential to ensuring everybody can access higher education and not be pushed into poverty whilst studying. Students have the right to maximum input on the rent-setting process of the University and their Union.' At the moment, students have no input into LUSU Living's rent-setting process, and the student-led Budget Committee, also voted for by the AGM, has yet to be established.
Much like LUSU's recently-announced cuts to college sports funding, and the Sugarhouse sale, irrespective of the merits of the individual decision, the undemocratic decision-making processes and lack of financial transparency behind LUSU's refusal to cancel third term rent leaves a lot to be desired. These are the issues students would have debated upon in the Constitutional Convention, triggering an overhaul in they way their students' union is run. If only LUSU had ever bothered to set it up...