23/10/2015 05:43 BST | Updated 19/10/2016 06:12 BST

The Trials, Tribulations, and Triumphs of a UCL Rent Striker


Student life in halls, what does that make you think of? Unclean kitchens, communal showers, bedrooms riddled with empty bottles of alcohol... basically, some type of juvenile hotbed microcosm. What does not come to mind is a rat infested halls that, during third term (the term when we have those slightly important things called EXAMS), there were demolition works going on in the building next-door; disturbing the silence of halls with diggers, sledge-hammers and cranes at a deafening 90 decibels from dawn till dusk, every day.

We had been warned by UCL when we accepted the offer of accommodation at Campbell House West that there would be construction works in the building next door to the halls, at some point during the year. But nothing could have been further from the truth.

The first two terms went by with relative ease. We had to deal with the odd rat or mouse in our kitchen and bedroom every now and then, but we just brushed that off. This is what students have to deal with after all? But then third term came around, and the so called 'construction works' began.

Now, if you were to look up the definitions of demolition works, and construction works, you might find some slightly opposing meanings. They are in fact completely opposite processes, and due to that they have quite different preconceptions in the brain. When we were told there would be construction works, we thought that would be fine. Yet when we discovered that it was demolition works our moods were not so accepting. I mean between 80 to 95 decibels throughout all of the rooms is not something you would experience during construction works - just for reference, a Boeing 737 has a decibel reading of 90.

So the works began in the Easter Holidays equating to us, as residents, being unable to study/sleep/procrastinate/do anything in our rooms during the hours of 08:00-18:00. Considering the fact we were paying £168 a week in rent (£9 a week more than what the previous year's residents paid), for a room that essentially became a place we could only inhabit during the hours of the evening it all felt a bit ridiculous; and one of the things of 'student life' that you cannot put up with.

We complained to UCL for several weeks. Nothing materialised - unsurprisingly. Enough was enough. We had already been of the mindset of striking since we first moved back in during the Easter holidays, but now we felt it was about time we OFFICIALLY started the rent strike. We started a petition and began getting London newspapers interested.

Within a week The Evening Standard were interested in our story, and we had received over 60 signatures from residents on a complaint letter that outlined the problems at Campbell House West: the vermin, the demolition works, and the fact that we were paying £9 a week more than the previous year's residents for worse conditions. It was at this point that I met with William Wilson, Head of Student Accommodation at UCL, in order to try and find a solution before the press release came out - a last attempt at an amicable resolution.

But of course when we met he was uncooperative, unapologetic and unfriendly to be frank. Even when I provided him with the evidence of the decibel readings throughout the halls, there was still no action taken. So the strike continued, and articles were published in The Evening Standard and The Guardian.

Then came the comical threat from UCL of academic sanctions - we were told we would not be allowed to resume our studies in September if we continued to strike - it being comical due to its illegality. This threat was quickly withdrawn and reluctant apologies were made to all strikers who were threatened. UCL were seriously clutching at straws now.

Now, six months after the strike began, we finally have what we deserve. We didn't let UCL walk all over us despite their significant resources. We made ourselves heard and as a result, we are now being compensated for our full third term's worth of rent - £1,638 each.

The true prize though, is that through our actions we have created a better future for UCL students, current or prospective. UCL can no longer take liberties and give none in return, and students will feel now that despite the odds, if you stand up for what is right, justice will prevail.