Mold, mice & construction: Students v. London School of Exploitation

by Sidney Webb House Group Action

Mold, mice & construction: Students v. London School of Exploitation

by Sidney Webb House Group Action
Sidney Webb House Group Action
We are a group of 215+ postgraduate students fighting against the negligence and indifference shown by LSE and Unite Students in the face of deteriorating living conditions at our hall of residence.
on 01st August 2017
pledged by 268 people
Sidney Webb House Group Action
We are a group of 215+ postgraduate students fighting against the negligence and indifference shown by LSE and Unite Students in the face of deteriorating living conditions at our hall of residence.

Case summary

Help postgraduate students seek justice and redress grievances resulting from breaches of tenancy contract by our university, the London School of Economics and Political Science, and halls management company, Unite Students. During the 10 months of living in Sidney Webb House, student residents suffered from health crises, distraction and distress from the following:

  • Severe rodent infestations
  • Widespread black mould in bathrooms and bedrooms
  • Non-functional ventilation systems
  • Inadequate heating during winter months 
  • Lack of hot water for extended periods of time
  • Elevators out of order for up to 37 days
  • Noisy construction works during revision and exam period
  • Systemic year-long maintenance failures

We are an organised group of 215+ postgraduate students at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) who lived at Sidney Webb House, an LSE hall of residence managed by Unite Students. We are represented by a dedicated committee of 8 students. 

Deteriorating conditions at Sidney Webb House

From September 2016 through June 2017, 455 MSc and PhD LSE students lived at Sidney Webb House. During this period, the management of the residence was under the responsibility of Unite Students of Unite Group. Both the LSE and Unite Students' websites highlighted that living in this residence would be conducive to a healthy, academic lifestyle.   

Living conditions and quality of life rapidly deteriorated during our time at Sidney Webb House and reached unacceptably low levels, in recurrent and systemic violation of our licence contract. The mental and physical health, academic performance and overall well-being of the student residents was significantly impacted. Rodent infestations were rife, while breakdown of essential facilities such as drinking water, water heating, bedroom heating, elevator service, and cooking facilities were systemically ignored, delayed, and/or not resolved. 

Entire blocks of en suite rooms had non-functional ventilation systems for 10 months, while bathrooms were severely contaminated with mould.  Because of the extremely poor living conditions, many students fell ill. Some were diagnosed with upper respiratory tract infections and one resident underwent an open surgical procedure due to skin infection. Many had allergic reactions from the poor ventilation and mould exposure, in line with those detailed by the WHO and UK Building Regulations.

Construction hits during final exam prep period

To add insult to injury, in late March, when students were busy preparing for their cumulative final examinations, a noisy construction project invaded the residence. Students were not consulted and no effective steps were taken to mitigate disturbance. Unite Students' contractors carried out the disruptive construction over a 7-week period, with only a 1-week pause due to student protests, after which noisy construction resumed as before. Students' ability to prepare for their exams and their personal well-being were seriously impacted during this period, leading to psychological distress and physical illness.

The Complaint Procedure and next steps

Facing these unacceptable breaches of contract and UK law on the part of Unite Students and LSE, students initiated the Complaints Procedure set out in the student's residential licence. Subsequently, student representatives formed the Sidney Webb House Group Action Committee to liason collaboratively with LSE and Unite Students.  Student residents presented both parties a document of residents' grievances on 19 April 2017 and a letter of demand to follow on 12 May 2017. Despite the diligence and persistence of student residents, LSE failed to provide a formal response to our letter of demand before the expiration of our contract on 24 June, 2017. While Unite Students manages the property, the licence contract is signed between the student and LSE, leaving the school legally liable for breaches.

After exhausting all the steps in the Complaints Procedure, students were forced to proceed with legal action to demand compensation for the losses caused by the breaches of our licence contracts and UK law. Edwin Coe LLP's David Greene has agreed to represent us in the dispute. This highly skilled and widely acclaimed attorney was recognised as the “Group Action Litigation Lawyer of the Year” in 2016. As a first step, Mr. David Greene will arrange for an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) with the LSE. If the ADR process fails, litigation will be instigated against the LSE. 

Reaching our initial amount of 5,000 GBP will allow us to move forward with the case and cover basic legal fees for Edwin Coe LLP. As this is an all-or-nothing campaign, the initial amount is a bare minimum for a successful launch to the legal process. If we do not earn our baseline amount within 30 days, no credit cards will be charged. Funds earned above 5,000 GBP will be used for the also-necessary hire of independent contractors for mould analyses and surveyor fees to support the case.

What we're trying to achieve

The outcome of this case against the LSE will have wider implications for other students and tenants in the UK. It will reduce the risk and extent of financial exploitation faced by vulnerable students, particularly international students, who have no other choice but to trust their university to provide them with decent accommodation that meets basic living standards. A successful legal precedent will ensure that Universities and the companies they hire are mindful of providing their students with accommodations that are conducive to decent living and learning. 

The London School of Economics and Political Science is renowned for its academic rigour, and most of us are full-time students who have left behind jobs, incurring huge debts to fulfill our dreams of achieving a better education. We came here to study law, human rights, governance and economics, and we sincerely wish that this could have remained our primary concern. Due to the health challenges provoked by substandard conditions at Sidney Webb House, not all students will graduate on time and will be forced to incur additional expenses to take missed exams next year. 

Through this crowdfunding effort, we will be able to cover the basic legal expenses needed to achieve justice for the physical, psychological, and monetary distresses suffered. We believe that with your support, we can prevent future students from having their academic experiences and health damaged by substandard housing conditions like those found at Sidney Webb House.  

We extend our sincerest gratitude to you, in advance, for supporting our fight for justice.

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