Activists from the controversial renters’ group Acorn have picketed the headquarters of a national rental firm in a dispute over a refund for a university student who had to leave her accommodation during the spring lockdown.
The issue surrounds Rebecca Wallace, a Coventry University student, who returned home to Northern Ireland following government advice.
A statement from Acorn, reproduced in the local press, claims: “Despite the flat being empty from March (and the keys returned in June) Prime Student Living ignored Rebecca’s pleas for a rent reduction. In the end, Prime Student Living not only demanded the full rent amount but threatened Rebecca by claiming that they’d already sent her details to a debt collection company.
“Rebecca relented and paid £2,141.33 to cover the period from April 28 to August 28, borrowing money from her parents in order to do so.
“Prime Student Living’s harsh actions make them stand out amongst other student accommodation providers. UNITE Students, the largest provider in the country, allowed all of their students to exit their contracts early, and Coventry University allowed all students in university-owned or managed accommodation to exit their contracts early.”
In the Coventry Observer, the accommodation company’s statement says: “We appreciate that COVID-19 is causing concerns and difficulties across the United Kingdom student population. However, the overwhelming majority of Prime Student Living tenants in Coventry have accepted the circumstances, paid for and taken up their tenancies, and have been continuing their university studies through online distance learning from their rooms.
“Speaking in general terms, if a Prime Student Living contract is agreed and signed by a tenant, and the accommodation is available, then the tenant is contractually bound to pay fees regardless of whether or not the tenant occupies the property. The tenancy agreement, as agreed and signed, does not contain any clauses allowing premature termination of a contract.
“The form of contract in question is no different from hundreds of thousands of standard student accommodation contracts currently operating across the country, whether with Prime Student Living or other providers.”
The Acorn group has undertaken direct action against agents and landlords in a number of cities in recent years.