College Students Organize Rent Strike Amid Covid-19 Pandemic

One University of London student recently told the story of how he and 200 other fellow students are currently involved in a rent strike due to their inability to afford housing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

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The Covid-19 pandemic has taken it’s obvious toll on countless citizens around the world. The economic impact has been devastating and caused millions to lose their jobs, be kicked out of their homes, or differ their schooling. One University of London student recently spoke with The Guardian to tell the story of how he and 200 other fellow students are currently involved in a massive rent strike due to their inability to afford housing amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tomasz Jabłonśki recalled working at a pub to journalist Alfie Packham, who helped write Jabłonśki’s story as a first person narrative for the Guardian. Working at the pub gave him just enough money to afford rent during his first year studying social anthropology at Soas University of London. He also was receiving some financial assistance from his family; who live in Poland. 

When the coronavirus lockdown began at the end of March, Jabłonśki was put on furlough by the university and he returned home to quarantine with his family. Sanctuary Students is the housing company responsible for renting units to university students. The company, according to Jabłonśki, is still demanding that he, along with the other 200 student tenants of Jabłonśki’s building, continue to pay rent despite not even living in the apartment space during lockdown.

“I rented from the student housing company Sanctuary Students, who are demanding that I pay during lockdown, even though I don’t use the facilities and left the room completely empty,” Jabłonśki claims.

Jabłonśki went on to discuss how he knows about numerous other student housing companies that are offering his friends, who attend other universities in Europe, a pass on paying their rent until this pandemic is over and they know they’ll be returning to school. Now, he and 200 other University of London students are making their voices heard. 

According to Jabłonśki, throughout the past two months Sanctuary Students have been treating him and the other tenants as if they’re “using the pandemic to get away with not paying rent, and not like people who just left their accommodations to be with their families and loved ones due to a deadly virus.”

He also claims that a majority of the group is in the same unemployment position he’s in; like millions of others as well. Enduring a worldwide pandemic, furloughing from their University, and outrageous demands from their housing company has sparked a real frustration in this group of young students, fueling their desire to stand in solidarity with each other until they’re all released from their rental contracts. However, this solidarity came at a hefty price for Jabłonśki specifically after being one of the most outspoken members of the group. 

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“I received a letter from a debt collection company asking me to pay the outstanding debt of £1,735.69 in seven days, threatening me that if not, they would take more direct action against me.”

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After receiving this letter, Jabłonśki contacted his school’s students union and they told him that they would contact their lawyers to figure out the easiest way to approach the matter. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for universities to get involved with housing conflicts anywhere in the world if that housing is through a third-party/is off-campus. Jabłonśki also contacted the debt collector directly, and informed them that he is currently involved in a strike and if they want to negotiate his debt further, they could contact the student union. 

The groups most recent move involved writing an open letter, signed by hundreds of students and more, to Sanctuary Students demanding a pause in rental payments, they’re currently still waiting for a response. 

So far, Sanctuary Students has only released a statement through a spokesperson in which they claim to never using debt collectors for any rental disagreements during the Covid-19 timeline. 

“This recovery activity [using debt collectors] has been suspended during these unprecedented times and we would encourage any students with financial concerns to contact us as we are happy to discuss further flexible payment options,” the spokesperson went on. 

For now, Jabłonśki and the rest of the tenants are anxiously waiting for a response, especially considering many of them don’t know if they’re even going to return to the UK next year due to the coronavirus. If one thing’s for sure, Jabłonśki claims that they’re all “standing firm” in their fight and will continue to not pay rent until a resolution is met.