Last week I visited Dinwiddy House on Pentonville Road – a residential block housing around 800 students from SOAS, University of London. The accommodation is managed by a company called Sanctuary Students.
Having contacted me to raise concerns about poor conditions in the block, including infestations of rats, mice and cockroaches, a number of students invited me to visit them and discuss their concerns in detail.
The students explained that, since they moved in at the start of the current academic year (October 2014), their accommodation has been in an almost continual state of disrepair. They explained that there have been problems with damp and mould in their rooms and frequent disruption to their hot water supply. Disabled students have been particularly severely affected, as the accessible lift has been broken for extended periods, while the ramp which allows wheelchair users to access the building has been removed, without notice, for days at a time.
Around 150 students have now withheld their final term’s rent in order to protest what they described as the failure of Sanctuary Students to take action to resolve these ongoing issues. Faced with this rent strike, the company sent representatives to meet with students last week. While a number of the students’ demands have now been met, the company is refusing to offer them compensation.
It is deeply concerning that these students, who should be focussing on their studies and preparing for their exams, have spent the better part of a year pushing their landlord to meet its obligations. They pay a lot of rent and should be living in decent accommodation.
It is simply unacceptable that the students have been effectively abandoned by this company and forced to live in unsanitary – and often hazardous – conditions.
Sanctuary Students have a responsibility to their tenants to ensure that decent standards are met and that any problems are swiftly resolved. I have today written to the Housing Ombudsman, urging them to investigate, and I will continue to pursue this case with a view to ensuring that current residents are adequately compensated for their difficulties and that students in future years do not face the same problems.