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Queen Mary University of London rent strike
via Instagram/@rentstrikeqmul

Speaking to the rent striker students fighting ‘targeted’ evictions

Students at Queen Mary University of London say that the university is using ‘minor rule breaches’ as an excuse to evict protesters

Students at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) are pushing back against “disproportionate and excessive” evictions of students from halls, amid ongoing UK-wide university rent strikes. Since September last year, Queen Mary has evicted 20 students for what strike organisers call “minor rule breaches” that are being used “as an excuse to evict students on rent strike”.

“This has put me in an extremely precarious situation,” Felix*, one of the evicted students, tells Dazed. “During my hearing with QMUL, I explained that I am 19 and I also have no family home to go to in the UK. This has forced me to find alternative housing and has caused a lot of distress.”

Felix has been a vocal organiser for the QMUL Rent Strike Campaign, taking part in meetings and negotiations. “Because of this, management is aware of who I am,” they say. “Especially given the massive rent strike banner that has been hanging outside of my window since October.”

Felix adds that they were given less than 24 hours notice before attending a meeting in which they could state their case for the offense, and didn’t have time to find representation. “During the meeting, I questioned the overly punitive nature of the punishment for my offence,” they say. “I had not harassed anyone or broken any COVID rules. I offered to pay a fine or have a less extreme punishment than eviction, but QMUL were extremely dismissive and adamant that I will be evicted first time.”

Felix was given 28 days notice to leave halls, and has struggled to devote adequate time to studies while navigation the eviction and appeals process. As a key QMUL Rent Strike organiser, they’ve also spent time helping other evicted students.

A statement from QMUL Rent Strike adds that students have been given insufficient support following their eviction, waiting weeks for help with applying to COVID hardship funds, and in some cases being made homeless. The statement also notes that QMUL evicted a disproportionate number of students (111) between 2017 and 2019, when compared with other London universities.

“Only very occasionally do we have such significant issues with a resident that we have to issue a Notice to Quit,” a spokesperson for the university tells Dazed. “However, when students endanger their own lives, and the lives of others, for example by disabling fire safety equipment or repeatedly breaching coronavirus regulations, we have no option but to request that they leave.”

“Students are only ever asked to leave as result of serious breaches of their contracts,” the spokesperson claims. “No students have been issued Notices to Quit as a result of their participation in the rent strike.”

Over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, students across the UK have organised the biggest university rent strikes in decades, protesting disorganised lockdowns, poor living conditions, and a lack of resources and support from university management. The universities, they add, lured them back to campuses with the promise of face-to-face teaching, only to treat them as “cash cows”. 

“Many students are angry, upset and frustrated at the University’s lack of willingness to tackle poor accommodation, the mental health crisis, security on campus and other issues affecting us,” a student at the University of Sussex told Dazed last month. “Daily, we see more people sign up to the rent strike with many citing the University’s failures.”

Despite the fact that they’ve caused distress among students, the QMUL evictions are “a critical part” of this year’s rent strike movement, says Felix. “They have shown the need for cross-campus solidarity and unity for students experiencing some of the most draconian and hostile effects of the marketised higher education system during the pandemic.”

“The astronomical rate of evictions makes QMUL notorious and unique, however it has been empowering for all 20+ of us that have been evicted to see the show of support from members of the public.” Among those that have publicly shown support via social media are the cross-university actions groups Rent Strike Now, NUS, UCU, and Pause or Pay UK, as well as London Renters Union and Labour MP Apsana Begum.

Following the evictions, those involved in the rent strike network aim to create eviction resources for students that need them. At Queen Mary specifically, activists have demanded a halt to all evictions currently taking place, the immediate rehousing of all evicted students, and the adoption of eviction mitigation measures in line with current government protections for tenants.

Earlier this week (April 7) they also staged a banner drop calling for an end to the evictions, and students have shared their own signs in solidarity across social media. Students, university staff, and supporters can call on QMUL management, including president Colin Bailey, to meet the demands here.

*Names have been changed