Another student’s exam season has been disrupted by a ceiling collapse in UCL halls of residence.
Larissa, who lives in Langton Close, discovered her ceiling had collapsed when she came home on Tuesday night. Earlier in the term, she reported a leak to maintenance, and assumed it was fixed after a new ceiling tile was fitted. But now, it seems that may not have been the case.
“When I came home and saw the ceiling had collapsed, there was water dripping from a pipe where the tile was onto the carpet,” Larissa said. “I assume the water had just leaked onto the tile so much that it got saturated and collapsed.”
She reported the collapse the following morning, and UCL maintenance staff have now put a temporary tile in her ceiling, and seem to have fixed the leak.
In Campbell House, first-year student Maxime’s ceiling collapsed on to his bed on April 22nd. Had he been in bed at the time, he could have been seriously injured – but fortunately, he was not.
Like Larissa, Maxime had reported a leak in February, which was investigated at the time. However Maxime says this cannot have been dealt with properly.
“The leak in February was not a first: it was a recurrence. Another leak happened the year before, for there were marks on the ceiling when I first arrived in September.” The collapse was inevitable, he said, as it was a “recurring problem” that UCL did not fix effectively.
Campaigners from UCL, Cut The Rent added in a public statement that this was not the first time a ceiling had collapsed at Campbell House, and that more rooms could be at risk due to damp and vibrations from UCL’s nearby construction site.
They cite this breach of safety regulations is proof that UCL management fail to prioritise students’ welfare in halls and accommodation.
The ceiling collapse is not the first time Larissa has had problems with her student accommodation. At the beginning of term one, when she lived in the basement of the building, she once returned home to find her room was flooded, and “stank of mould”. She then requested to move rooms, but is not sure whether UCL ever determined the cause. “I assumed my room wasn’t really habitable because of this problem but they’ve since moved two more people in there.”
She has also had problems with water full of what she thought was sewage seeping into her kitchen, across the floor and even through the cupboards, and rising in her sink. This turned out to be because of food waste stuck in the pipes – something Larissa thinks should have been noticed earlier on.
UCL’s justification for their 56% rent increase in the last five years, and their significant profit margins, has consistently been that they plough all of their profits back into residences. But Larissa doesn’t believe Langton Close is seeing the benefits. “I feel sorry for the people that work here because it clearly isn’t their fault that money isn’t being reinvested back into Langton yet they get all of the blame from the residents.”
The UCL Student Barometer survey consistently reveals that accommodation and living costs are students’ primary areas of dissatisfaction – well above academic concerns. In the last five years, rents at UCL have increased by 56%, due to the closure of some less expensive halls and a significant increase in prices of all halls. Larissa pays £157.57 per week for her single room in Langton Close, while Maxime pays £174.58 in Campbell House.
UCL’s statement of safety policy acknowledges a “statutory obligation to manage its work in such a way as to minimise health and safety risks to its staff, students and others”.
Larissa will make an official complaint to UCL about the collapse, while Maxime has already done so.
UCL rent strike organiser David Dahlborn said, “Nobody should ever have to go through a single one of the things Larissa faced in the first place, but she’s weathered the lot.” He hoped that her speaking out would encourage others to do the same.
The collapses coincide with the escalation of the strike, in which around 750 students – 15% of halls residents – are withholding rent for term three. They’re likely to be bad for UCL’s image, as the university has insisted its management aims to provide good-quality accommodation despite incidents like this, and despite known notorious cockroach infestations in Max Rayne House.