Tamara Hopewell-Barreda reports on the RENTS Campaign that calls for a higher standard of UCL student accommodation
Following the general dissatisfaction with UCL accommodation, the Ifor Evans Assembly has come up with a RENTS Campaign, supported and voted for by students. The campaign follows a particularly bad weekend at Max Rayne and Ifor Evans as students were left without hot water for over 48 hours.
Going to university is a big part of many people’s lives which can come with lows and highs, those at the Ifor Evans Halls assembly felt that the poor conditions of UCL accommodation did anything but make the move easier and less stressful.
Maisie Harrison (UCLU Student Halls Representative) put the campaign, which was the outcome of the meeting into simple terms:
Reverse the rent hike
Equal standards: we get what we pay for
No unjust fines: accountability and direct student influence
Transparency in spending
Sustainable investment for students, not profit
Although the issues that were raised were primarily from Ifor Evans and Max Rayne, Maisie Harrison has highlighted that some, if not all, will affect every student in UCL accommodation in some way.
Students are demanding that they be given accommodation worthy of the price that they are paying
Although grants for students have only risen by 1% for 2014 to 2015, the price of UCL accommodation has risen faster than the rate of inflation, meaning that it is now the most expensive in the country. Student loans often do not cover accommodation prices with students left in negative every week before even taking into account food and other living costs.
Given the low standard of some UCL accommodation, many students choose to go into private halls, which is no longer necessarily more expensive than those offered by UCL.
This point leads to the second demand that highlights the great disparity of the standards of accommodation. While some students may feel that they are getting what they paid for others have rooms without desks.
Students, quite rightly so, are demanding that they be given accommodation and furniture worthy of the price that they are paying.
As many students will know, the university can often be quick to charge for damage or if a student is seen to not be meeting the standards set out in the tenancy agreement. However, many feel that accountability should work both ways. Currently, UCL seems all too happy to have double standards.
The university should record the state in which the student receives the room so that the student is fined accordingly to any damage that they may have done. Likewise, the university should reimburse students if accommodation and facilities are not what was promised, as they are letting down their side of the tenancy agreement.
The problems with the water and heating at Max Rayne and Ifor Evans halls raises the question of where student’s money is going, if not to provide basic necessities. Students are asking for there to be transparency in spending so they know where the money they put in goes in terms of their accommodation, particularly as standards are falling.
Many also took part in UCL’s Student Switch Off campaign, and although the winning halls may win Ben and Jerry’s ice cream they also want to see the actual outcome reflected in the electricity bills.
There is a high turnover of students, each year their contracts last from autumn to just before summer leading to a high turnover of maintenance reports. These reports show that students are repeatedly raising the same issues. Most of these issues are either completely ignored or fixed in the short term.
Many problems that are dealt with are neither cost effective nor sustainable. For example, many of the bathrooms that were refurbished over the summer have already started to fall apart. This means that the maintenance team has to deal with these problems due to the low standard of original work before having to tend to other problems.
It is not only the physical conditions of the residences that meant that care for students is sub par. Disabled access for students and visitors alike is terrible, both inside and out of the flats. Female students have also reported that they have received inappropriate comments from sub-contracted staff. Both situations are unacceptable.
The RENTS campaign is asking for UCLU Liberation Officers and UCL Residences to work together to implement and maintain a ‘safe spaces’ policy. This should exist throughout UCL accommodation so that students can feel safe and cared for in and around the buildings which they should proudly call their home.
Featured image credit: Sam Kuper