By Benjamin Salmon, Deputy News Editor
Strike organisers still 'hope to get Digs around the negotiating table.'
A rent strike has been called against Digs, the Bristol-based student lettings agency, in protest at their insistence on rent being paid in full and on time despite the worsening coronavirus outbreak.
Digs sent out an email to all tenants on Thursday 26 March reminding them of their obligation to pay their rent, saying: ‘This payment is due regardless of when your student loans come in and the current situation with COVID-19.
‘We are expecting full rent to be paid in line with your tenancy agreement.’
In response, several students have initiated a rent strike against Digs, with payment due on April 1.
The initial strike pledge form, which sought 50 signatures to make the strike legal, lambasted Digs for their decision: ‘We as Digs tenants are disgusted by the email we have been sent and Digs' heartless response to the current pandemic and the financial hardship a lot of us living in their properties are facing.
‘Our student loans do not come in until 20th April leaving us having to pay rent without what is the main source of income for most of us.
‘Furthermore, most of us are unable to work or have been laid off from work due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, meaning that many of us simply do not have the funds to pay rent, or if we pay rent we will be unable to afford to continue living at University for the remainder of the term.’
The strike comes as several Bristol-based lettings agencies, such as Penlane Ltd, said they would be halving rent payments for the foreseeable future, assessed on a month-by-month basis.
One of those taking part in the strike, Alex Winter, said they will struggle to make payment after they became ill from the virus earlier this month.
‘I had to begin self-isolation 3 weeks ago due to becoming ill. My only source of income is my job, which I work on weekends, which I was no longer able to attend due to having coronavirus symptoms’, Alex said.
‘I received an email from Digs stating that their office will be closing and they will not be providing services during this time; in other words, the staff at Digs were to no longer attend their office and be off work for the foreseeable future. However, my rent does not change.
‘Whilst everyone else who has a job will be receiving less pay (or none at all) the landlords and the letting agents will be capitalising by essentially having paid holiday.
‘I will struggle to pay rent due to not working, and need a bit of leniency. However, Digs is adamant I pay my rent on the 1 April despite my circumstances (and the circumstances of the entire nation).
‘I hope that the Government will limit the amount landlords may charge tenants, but in the meantime, all we can do is prevent these bullies from taking all our savings whilst we're sick at home.
‘I am very confident in this strike - it will not only expose Digs' awful practices but will provide tenants with what they deserve; to be treated like humans.’
A spokesperson for Bristol, Cut The Rent, the strike organiser which campaigns for tenant rights, said of the strike: ‘We’re hoping to get Digs around the negotiating table to discuss cancelling the final rent payment. We do not feel that it is fair for Digs to be charging people during this pandemic, and especially those who are unable to pay their rent and have had to move out of the property.
‘Over the next few days we are going be reaching out to more Digs tenants to grow the rent strike further, we are already at over 100 sign ups but want to grow this even more.
‘We will also be getting in contact with external groups such as the community union ACORN and the national RENT STRIKE collective for their solidarity and support to get more strength behind our campaign.
‘We are looking forward to negotiating with Digs and moving forward soon regarding the final rent payment.’
Digs has been approached for comment.
Featured image credit: Facebook / Ruth Day
Are you taking part in the rent strike against Digs? Let us know!