Does my university have a rent strike group and how can I get involved?

If you can’t get your hair cut in Tier 4, you may as well get uni to cut your rent

Rent strikes are everywhere right now. There are 31 UK universities going on rent strike in January

As if students weren’t already fed up enough with the government, Boris’ announcement that returns to university will be delayed until at least 25th January has got more people refusing to pay rent than ever before. 

But what is a rent strike, how can I get involved, and how can I find out if my uni has one?

What is a rent strike?

A rent strike is literally just refusing to pay rent. The aim of a rent strike is to get universities to cut rent prices. Students have withheld rent in the past because they were unhappy with the cost, with the living conditions, or with building work on the premises.

Is there a rent strike group at my uni? 

Since the government’s announcement about the delayed return to universities, rent strike groups have been popping up all over Instagram. 

Here’s a full list of universities that are going on rent strike in January:

University of Brighton (@rentstrikebtn)

University of Bristol (@rentstrikebris)

Brunel University (@brunelstudentjustice)

University of Manchester (@uomrentstrike

Manchester Metropolitan (@mmurentstrike)

University of Nottingham (@nottsunirentstrike)

University of Lancaster (@lancrentstrike)

University of Leeds (@cuttherentlds)

University of Liverpool (@moorfieldrentstrike

University of Sheffield (Sheffield Cut the Rent on Facebook)

Sheffield Hallam (@shu.rentstrike)

University of Sussex (@sussexrentersunion)

University of Essex (@uoerentstrike)

Goldsmiths (@goldrentstrike)

KCL (@kcl_rentstrike)

UCL (@cuttherentucl

Queen Mary (@qmprotest)

LSE (@lserentstrike)

University of Oxford (@rentstrikeoxford

University of Cambridge (@rentstrikecambridge)

UEA (@uearentstrike2020)

Plymouth (@plymouthrentstrike)

Edinburgh (@rentjusticeedi)

Portsmouth (@portsrentstrike)

Newcastle (ncl_rentstrike

UAL (@dundeestudentaction

University of Warwick (@rentstrikewarwick)

University of York (@yorkstudentsolidaritynetwork)

If your university is on this list, you can get connected and learn more about rent strikes by following their page and looking at the resources they post. 

Can I start my own group if my uni doesn’t have one already? 

Yes! If your university doesn’t have a rent strike group but you want to start one, there are loads of great resources from the main Rent Strike network on Instagram (@rentstrikenow). 

The network has hosted several rounds of Zoom training with contributions from experienced rent strikers and lawyers. They provide tips and guidance on how to start your own group, and get as many students interested in joining your movement as possible. 

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A post shared by RENT STRIKE (@rentstrikenow)

They’ve also produced this handbook about organising strikes during the pandemic. It explains how to maintain outreach during times of national lockdown and even goes through case studies of rent strikers across the country. It’s mainly aimed at students in university halls, but also has some practical information for students in private accommodation. 

What might our rent strike involve? 

If you’re looking to start a rent strike group at your university, you’ll likely start by creating an Instagram with aesthetic promo. But if you wanted advice on the steps to take when it comes to lobbying the uni, here are some of the most common ways students in the UK have been rent-striking recently:

1. Withhold rent 

The defining trademark of any rent strike is to actually not pay your rent. A successful rent strike will get a huge number of students pledging to withhold rent for the term. For example, at Cambridge, 500 students pledged to not pay rent in December, and Manchester freshers set out to withhold £300k in rent last term. The aim of withholding rent is to get rent rates cut for future terms.

2. Protest 

Protests may be harder to organise due to social distancing restrictions, but Manchester students managed it back in November. Without holding large and possibly unsafe protests, your rent strike group can still mobilise people and bring them together for online meetings and discussions.

rent strike

(credit: @rentstrikebris on Instagram)

3. Flash occupation

This is when a group of students take over an area of university property. The more people involved in this the better. Students at Manchester occupied the Owens Park Tower after the university erected fences around student halls in November. The aim of the occupation was to get university leaders to meet with the rent strike group to discuss demands. 

In the past, students have also camped outside university buildings to get their demands met. Occupations are usually used to get the university’s attention or retaliate against unpopular restrictions to do with accommodation.

There’s loads more: 

The rent strike network has a section on their website where they’ve usefully ranked the effectiveness and risk levels of each action. 

Can I be punished for going on rent strike?

While there is certainly power in numbers, it’s important to remember that there are potential implications to withholding rent. The NUS published legal advice for students in England and Wales in 2017, which says: “A rent strike, or withholding rent, has no basis in law. There is no legal right to withhold rent even when a landlord has failed to carry out repairs or when the rent is very high or unaffordable. At times it can be a powerful tactic to try and encourage change but it should be remembered that withholding rent can be a risky tactic.” 

These are some of the implications that the NUS has said can result from rent strikes: 

1. Possession proceedings 

Landlords can claim for possession where rent has not been paid. If a landlord can prove that rent has been overdue for at least eight weeks, they can make a claim without needing to prove that the amount due is “unreasonably high.” 

2. County court judgement 

Proceedings for unpaid rent might lead to a county court judgement that can be issued for online. A court could decide to send bailiffs to your address, seize funds from your bank account or take sums from your employer, even for part time work. This judgement would then be linked to your credit history and would be visible to future landlords, banks and employers. 

Other secondary legal consequences include legal fees and negative implications for present or future visa applications.  

What if I live in university halls?

If your accommodation is owned by your university, the university is technically your landlord. So you still run all the same risks. However, universities are yet to impose disciplinary procedures of this kind on their striking students. Some university halls are owned by private firms like Unite, so it’s worth checking this before you move forward.

The Rent Strike network said: “Why no one was evicted (or saw any of the above things happen to them) in any of the rent strikes that have happened in university accommodation in the last few years has little to do with law It has everything to do with the political strength of their campaign, the number of students on strike and the extent to which strikers had a hold on the university’s image. 

“No uni wants to get bad press after evicting struggling students.We know it’s a risky tactic, and it’s worth knowing the possible consequences of such a campaign. You want to be ready for the worst. But we have incredibly strong political arguments and the potential to build a huge movement that goes with it.”

Remember that NUS guidance only applies to students in England and Wales. In Scotland, the University of Edinburgh is calling on students to consider withholding rent because of a new Coronavirus Scotland Act which means you will now receive three to six months notice before a landlord can apply for an eviction order. 

If you’re looking for more information about rent strikes, you can read the full  NUS guideline document, or check out the Rent Strike Network’s website.

Rent Strike have been contacted for comment

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