They took over campus buildings at the universities of Manchester, Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam and Nottingham on Thursday evening.
The action follows occupations last year in protest at students being recalled to university, only to be locked in their halls of residence, denied face-to-face teaching and kept under watch by police and security guards on campus.
In a joint statement, the occupiers told the Morning Star: “This escalation comes off the back of the largest British rent strike in 40 years where students, angry at collectively paying over £1 billion for empty rooms, withheld payments to their landlords.
“Some rent strikes — such as those at Manchester and Bristol — have been effective, resulting in rebates worth millions of pounds.
“However, many at other universities are still to see reasonable responses, while students in privately owned halls and flats have been offered very little.”
The students said that they have been “ignored by the government and university managements,” whom they accused of “putting their profits over staff and students’ wellbeing, gambling with public health” and ignoring expert health advice.
Zac Larkham from the Sheffield Hallam rent strike said: “Some students went without hot water all last term, have had raw sewage leak into their room and have found rats in their kitchens.”
The Sheffield Hallam occupiers also accused security staff of assault and sexual harassment, filming a security guard kneeling on a student’s back.
Manchester occupier Izzy Smitheman said: “We are occupying again because we’ve been consistently let down by management that refuses to put student and staff welfare over profit.”
Students in Manchester have organised a student-staff solidarity coalition with local members of the University and College Union (UCU).
Student Hannah Phillips of the coalition said: “Together, we’re uniting to fight against the uni management, who have consistently made decisions that affect us without transparency or input from staff or students, putting staff members’ jobs at risk with precarious contracts.”
The students’ demands include a £1,500 rent and tuition-fee rebate, no compulsory redundancies for staff and the removal of police from campus.
The University of Nottingham said it has not charged for unused accommodation since January and has made more than £1.75 million available to support students facing financial difficulties.
The University of Manchester said it is continuing to work closely with students to address their concerns.
Bosses at the two universities in Sheffield were asked to comment.