We can avert a crisis for student renters – but only if we act fast

Half a million students rent rooms in university halls or privately run Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA), and many more are in Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

A crisis is coming for them – fast. Action is needed from the higher education sector and Government now, as housing security becomes not just a social justice issue but an urgent public health one too.

Public health

The government has released initial advice on PBSA – but it’s inadequate. NUS wants to see further detail included to ensure all providers communicate clearly with their tenants:

  • Reassuring them that the provider is receiving up to date public health advice – and implementing it
  • What tenants must do about self-isolation and what support is available from the provider
  • What provision is being put in place for shared areas (whether that be gyms, cinema rooms, shared living rooms, shared kitchens etc)
  • What is happening regarding staffing, repairs, cleaning, inspections, viewings etc

Students with health conditions that make them more at risk to Coronavirus might wish to relocate to a more isolated part of their PBSA (such as a studio flat or en-suite room) – and if they want to this should be facilitated at no extra cost to the tenant.

It is also vital that students in HMOs have access to clear health information and advice – we can’t assume individual landlords are providing this. Information on what to do if a tenant or somebody in the shared household has symptoms can be found here and we want to see universities, local authorities and government do everything they can to ensure tenants have access to it. Government also needs to issue advice to landlords on the appropriateness of activities like repairs, cleaning, inspections, viewings etc.

Release from contract

There’s nothing in the government’s PBSA advice on contract obligations.

Given almost all face-to-face teaching has ceased and most physical facilities have closed, many students are eager to return to their family home. This may simply be because the academic year has practically ended, they wish to be with loved ones, they have health conditions that mean they may feel safer in their family home or because international students are navigating travel restrictions. In many cases the university is instructing/advising students to leave campus/their accommodation.

As such the Government must instruct all PBSA providers – both university owned and privately owned – to offer the option of a no-penalty release from contract to their tenants. If a student wishes to be released from their contract and rent has already been taken for forthcoming months, it must be refunded along with their deposit. We’re calling on all providers – university and private – to do this voluntarily now.

The business model of student accommodation is based on university physically occurring. The fact it has come to an end early this year is part of the risk that must be absorbed by accommodation providers – not by students. If providers can demonstrate they need government to support them to do this, then this should happen.

These issues will also be impacting on students stuck in tenancy contracts in HMOs, and government needs to instruct landlords to also offer their student tenants the option of a no-penalty early release from contract. Again, landlords can choose to do this right now. Their deposit will need to be returned as well. If this financially impacts on a buy-to-let landlord, they have access to a mortgage holiday.

Even worse

An anomaly within the private rented sector is that the majority of new and returning students sign tenancy contracts for PBSA and HMOs far in advance of them actually taking residence. NUS has raised this issue repeatedly as a form of pressure selling.

As a result swathes of students will have already signed tenancies and paid deposits for a property that they were supposed to occupy for the following academic year. Many of these contracts start in June.

It now looks increasingly likely that the usual mass migration of millions of students across the country between June and September to start or return to university will either be off the cards, or at the very least may look highly unwise from a Public Health perspective. And plenty of people are predicting a collapse in international numbers. Students will be tied into paying rent for unnecessary tenancies.

This is unacceptable – and government needs to instruct PBSA providers and landlords to also offer their student tenants the option of a no-penalty release from such contracts. They can do this voluntarily now. If this financially impacts on a buy-to-let landlord, they have access to a mortgage holiday. Deposits will also need to be released.

Need to remain/overstay a contract

On the flipside, many students need to remain in their current accommodation and even overstay their initial tenancy contracts as a result of Coronavirus. There are international students who cannot return home due to travel restrictions, and students who do not want to return to a family home because it may put a vulnerable member of their household at increased risk. Care leavers and estranged students may also have planned to move into new accommodation with other students from June. This may no longer be viable.

The government’s advice for PBSA providers is clear – they should operate a “non-eviction” policy if students have no alternative residence. But it’s only advice – and it is unclear how this is being communicated to PBSA providers, or how it’s going to be monitored or enforced. Advice regarding those students in private sector PBSA is particularly concerning – it says that the “hall manager” should “work through local partnerships” if they can’t accommodate – and if the university or college has a nomination agreement with the private halls provider, this relationship “should be leveraged to avoid evictions”.

Universities often have little or no relationship with the private sector PBSA providers housing their students. Government must communicate their advice clearly and directly to all PBSA providers, ensure it is mandatory and monitor it. In the meantime, universities need to establish those relationships ASAP.

Overstay

Many students in the wider private rented sector may also need to remain in their property and overstay their fixed-term tenancies. NUS is calling for the government to ban all evictions, for all renters, for the duration of the crisis – but in any event universities and SUs have to work together to ensure tenants have access to a trained housing adviser and/or legal advice. University of London Housing Services have useful FAQ on their website.

Remaining or overstaying

Whilst the student finance payment for 3rd term has been confirmed we know that for most students this won’t be enough to cover their likely extortionate rent – and many students don’t even support from student finance at all, and many don’t get a payment for term 3.

Students rely on savings, family income, private debt and wages to cover rent. Given that all these forms of income are at risk there is a significant issue with rent arrears coming. And students who need to remain past their initial contract will not have budgeted to do so.

Government advice on PBSA says there should be no evictions, but doesn’t mention rent arrears. Meanwhile plans regarding the wider private rented sector are supposed to ensure that renters will be able to build up arrears during the crisis without facing immediate eviction but suggests that at the end of this period, landlords and tenants work together to establish an affordable repayment plan – deferring a crisis until later down the line.

NUS is calling on government to subsidise, significantly reduce or waive entirely rents for students affected. The state has to step in – as it has in Australia.

Government intervention is going to be necessary but universities, PBSA providers and landlords can already act on many of these issues voluntarily now and they must. Coronavirus will do untold damage to the sector if we don’t act to stop student renters being thrown under the bus.

37 responses to “We can avert a crisis for student renters – but only if we act fast

  1. This is exactly the issue my son has. His HMO is completely empty, he has another lease starting in June for 20/21. He is now at home and I am on a low income. His fellow tenants have requested a waiver from the landlord but yet to receive a rrply

  2. I am in the same position. Have to pay until August 2020 even though university is closed. What can we do about this?

  3. A good first step might be to name those Universities that have not yet told students they are waiving rents. London South Bank University is one. There is much reputational risk at stake for institutions not playing fair by their students as the next intake consider their options.

  4. My Daughter is in exactly the same situation, in Lincoln – paying rent on a room she can’t travel to, or use. She is also unlikely to take up her new accommodation for the next academic year, at the start of her new arrangement, meaning she’ll pay over £2,000 in rent – for nothing. This is a shocking situation, punishing those that can least afford it, while the landlords get rich.

  5. Not only do I have to pay the £450pm rent for my daughter (she is in a 6 person) HMO until the end of June, but all 6 also have to pay £15.50 per week (yes, that’s £372 per month in total) for utilities until the end of June. The house has been empty for 2 weeks already. No utilities are being used but the company is keeping us all to the utilities contract. Shameful.

  6. I have twins who are second year students , both at home fro the past 2 weeks . I have received rent demands from both universities/landlords and i am paying utilities. My husband has chronic terminal lung disease, and i am in self isolation with coronavirus (caught working in a school , unfortunately).

    The Government needs to act to help us as we have one income and a house to run with 2 students who cannot work to support themselves.

  7. My sons contract with a Coventry landlord goes to 12th September…please all sign the petition is has less than 5000 signatures and need 1000

  8. How exactly will landlords get Rich? I’m a landlord, Barclays aren’t offering me a mortgage holiday. If I receive no income I will not even be able to pay my mortgage and will simply fall into debt. You seem, incorrectly, to think that Landlords are greedy, rich people. Not true

  9. Is there a petition I can sign for this? As I am in the same situation. I am a student who is studying in London but has had to moved out to self-isolate back at home with my family. I am still yet to pay rent for the next 5 months for my house back in London, even though me and my house mates have basically moved out now. I have asked my landlord nicely if we could come to some sort of compromise, but he will not accept. This is very frustrating!!

  10. I’m a a student landlord and I have been wrestling with this issue. I will give help to those who really are in desperate straights and delayed payment plans etc are also appropriate but simply write it off for everybody? How is that fair? Otherwise like mortgages, utility bills, car finance agreements – they still have to be paid unless someone goes bust. If I get no rent next term and/or over summer I will go bust like everybody else then there will be no home for next year’s intake. Mutual obligations to each other are complex but we must do our best to carry on honouring them. My houses are still there and my service continues with brave workmen willing to carry out repairs. Just because circumstances have changed, saying you should pay no rent is no different to an employer turning round and firing staff with no pay like Wetherspoons.

  11. We are all in a terrible position, tenants and landlords. My husband and I own 4 houses that we let, and the rent is our only retirement income. If we allow tenancies to finish early with no chance of finding tenants to replace them, we are without any income at all. The government are giving help to the employed and also the self-employed, but most people don’t realise that landlords are a separate category, and we get no help at all from the government. The tenants are protected but landlords are not. My husband and I are doing what we can to help those of our tenants genuinely financially in difficulty (such as a tenant who has lost his job) but we can’t just say to groups of tenants such as HMOs not to bother to pay us. We’re certainly not getting rich – we’re just earning enough to make a living, and where we are helping our tenants it’s depleting our limited savings.

  12. Talk about a one sided article! Pain on both sides, most paying the rent are parents who are gaining grants, help with wages etc, etc. How is deemed fair to hit the landlords with zero rent for the period? A slight reduction and or payment plans would be a fair option to those who have not received government help. Anything more is just taking advantage of the situation we ALL find ourselves in.

  13. Totally agree with previous two comments.
    We as Landlords are not being supported by the government like the employed and self employed. We have nothing to fall back on. If we get no rent we have no income. No income = going bust. No student house for the next tenants if this carry’s on longer than 3 months.
    Government guidelines are tenants should still carry on paying. Universities are still paying Loans/Grant’s.
    Are some students attempting to enrich themselves on the back of this awful pandemic?

  14. Why are they enriching themselves? Are you joking. How dare you. It has nothing to do with that. That’ just proves your lack of respect for them. Students have never had any rights. They have to sign any contract that’s placed in front of them because landlords know they need somewhere to live. Why do you choose students as your tenants I wonder?? Hhhm I think that’s obvious. Also even if they still receive their loans… it is still a LOAN and has to be paid back. They will be paying back money for a service they didn’t receive through no fault of their own either. You decided to rent homes and make money this way. You have to take the risk when people need to move out. In any other contract a person can give 1 months notice. A student can’t apparently. Why not? Why are they treated differently. Why should they be responsibly for paying your mortgage when they are not living there anymore and have physically removed themselves and all their belongings form that property. Their maintenance loan is a LOAN they have to pay it back still. Where are their rights.
    I can imagine you wouldn’t like to be paying for something that you are getting or receiving.

  15. In reply to Jen above, students sign an assured shorthold tenancy agreement much like any other person renting a property – its a fixed period of time and 1 months notice is not required. You or I would sign the exact tenancy agreement and be expected to pay for the full contract period, regardless of if we left or not. Whilst these are unprecedented times is it really right for students to just refuse to pay their contract, pushing the people who have a house or two as a retirement income into debt? Yes, students do get a loan – and the loan is to cover expenses such as rent. Student Finance England have already said that they will be releasing the full amount of loans and grants as normal – they wont be cut because some students have gone home. They still have bills to pay and wont be able to just refuse to pay because they no longer require a service, i.e, a car or mobile phone contract. https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/private_renting/private_rented_housing_for_students

    Utility companies are not going to stop requesting payments because our students have moved out. The broadband contract wont stop and we have to continue paying. I still have to pay the estate agent a monthly fee to maintain the property, even though it is now empty. I still have to pay my bills at home with my small state pension.

    Its also worth noting that most universities have not closed down. Students still need to study, albeit it might not always be face to face. My student house is their safe place.

  16. A solicitor could argue that under tort law the landlord is now unable to provide accommodation
    that complies with the health and safety distancing needed for a group in a house share, thus nullifying the tenancy agreement.

    In Brighton the landlords and agents will hold the students / parents liable for ‘loss of
    rental income’ so you need to find a legal loophole in the HMO contract
    Worth a try what?

  17. A solicitor could argue that under Tort law the landlord is now unable to provide accommodation
    that complies with the health and safety distancing needed for a group in a house share, thus nullifying the tenancy agreement.

    The landlords and agents will hold the students / parents liable for ‘loss of
    rental income’ so find a legal loophole in the HMO contract.
    Worth a try what?

  18. You will get a payment holiday…you can’t expect students to pay when they are not there. Alternatively sell your asset! You should have business insurance or such like. I’m sorry but you can’t expect everyone else to suffer and not yourself.

  19. Yes one months notice on a rolling contract after a tenancy period has ended, the same with most contracts, students are treated no different, jumping to conclusions there. In my experience it’s the parents who pay the rent and those parents are getting government help so in the majority of cases the chain has to continue….government helping parents via grants and wage help, parents continue to pay rent, landlords continue to pay mortgages/feed their families and the banks continue to lend. Where extreme circumstances exist, a payment plan would be helpful and/or a discount, to simply walk away from contracts is just unfair. What if some students want to stay in houses? Would it be fair to tell those students to leave under the circumstances of needing to isolate? We all dislike to pay for something we are not using, there could be many examples of this but common sense is needed here and not just a selfish outlook, there are many consequences to simply not pay. Landlords have responsibilities to pay mortgages and students/parents have to pay the rent for the fixed period they took the house on for, its not anyone’s fault this Coronavirus pandemic started.

  20. i am in the same situation, although I am back in Lithuania ( my home country) in lockdown and cannot even physically be in the room that I am renting in London, meanwhile the agency which represents my landlord is telling me the only way for me to stop paying rent is to find a replacement but most of my stuff is in that room back in London and I don’t want strangers handling my stuff. So I have no idea what to do

  21. Frustration is the correct word here. Look up the “Frustration Ruling” and you will see you have a good case for setting your tenancy agreement aside. My son has 3 months remaining on his student tenancy but will never return as the uni is now shut. I tried to negotiate with the landlord but was told to get lost & pay up. I am now withholding rent based on the frustration ruling & am happy for this to be challenged in court if need be.

  22. In response to Bill, the Covina 19 outbreak does not make the contract impossible, maybe more difficult for some but that would not make the contract being classed as frustrated. Your giving very bad advice there and could cause others to spend a lot on lawyers etc and also give the wrong idea to many people. Seems many are just wanting to try their luck with this and keep money in their pockets, have you not received government help with your situation? The government advice is to pay rents as they fall due and discuss with the landlord if there are difficulties. I see you have had no luck with reaching agreement with the landlord in your case but it depends on what both see as reasonable. As a landlord I’d give payment plans to people who haven’t had help, even a discount if necessary but to those that won’t pay I will press on with the legal routes as necessary and expect those costs to be recovered also. Depends on each case and who is up for the hassle and extra costs involved and we know that those costs could double, treble or even more once lawyers have to be involved if the joint and several contracts are deemed as one and too great an amount for a small claims court. Wrongfully applying frustration to this will also have severe consequences and breach of contract. I’d seek advice first before suggesting it in blogs.

  23. I too am a landlord and I am happy to reduce the rent for my tenants who are unable to return for Term 3 and to find a point of equilibrium, with no personal gain. However my situation is, all of the tenants possessions are in the house as they have returned home for the Easter break overseas, they have also signed up for a further year. I cannot look to rent the house to other private tenants for next year as all of their personal possessions are in the house; the mortgage company is not offering a rental holiday (as yet); the Management company are chasing payment for a contract which is now signed (but does not look like it is worth the paper it is written on)! The insurance company want assurance that the house will be checked despite the fact that we are not supposed to travel unless essential. A journey of over 200 miles. Local criminals know which houses are rented by students, and they will be targeted. Even with insurance in place it is naive to think that they will willingly pay out. Most people who have an investment property have done this to contribute to either their pensions or to pay off their own mortgage. Few will be able to sell in this unknown market, even if they wanted to. Generally speaking they have worked hard all of their lives to be sensible and plan properly. The majority of Landlords are not all making massively out of having rental properties and many of us will run out of time to pay off our personal mortgages as Coronavirus has destroyed the ability to see further than the next day. Students and Landlords alike we are in this nightmare together, try to think of the other side as well.

  24. In response to Mark Powell, in some circumstances I think one can validly argue any contract has been frustrated. My son is currently at home and even if he wanted to he’d be unable to return to his accommodation without breaking the law. These are unprecedented times and I think both sides have to be flexible and understand a bit of give and take is required. Landlords will find they just have to take some of the burden as will tenants
    It’s about negotiation and not insisting on the full terms of a contract.

  25. Get rich!!!! All landlords that let student accommodation are nothing less than greedy @£#&*.having experienced two yrs after firstly staying in student accommodation, living condition are vile, no hot heating from sept TILL Jan, rotten kitchen, leaks from floor above,…two bathrooms one not usable, no smoke alarms ,carbon monoxide monitors, no FRONT door keys, no outside lights to access only entry into flat/ used office converted…still had office furniture in as well as personal files from previous solicitors office, the back steps had no light and un emptied industrial bins, was also a building site for houses being built opposite.celing lights hanging down with bare wires exposed..my daughter and housemates would not give me details so I could complain, I think they basically thought it’s the best they could afford, and NO they did not go out every night ,have house parties, they are actually a really sensible group as they understand that parents can not provide money any time they ask for a drink…these 4flatmates have been criticised so much and ridiculed and called ‘abnormal’ as they have not “ fulfilled” the student rituals,behaviour,I for one take my hat off that four individuals all appreciate that they don’t have a bottomless pit of money to dip into, and they spend good guilty time together,cooking and being positive,yes they do go out now and again but will be home in two hours. Not every student is an arsehole,drunken.idiot,please respect very normal,grounded young adults

  26. surely you will be classed as self employed if you run your own business….unless you have so much income your exempt from self employed help…

  27. Replying to Amanda, of course there will always be bad landlords and bad tenants, so please don’t presume we are all bad or greedy based on your experience. Not every landlord puts profit first. I spend typically 10 to 15 percent yearly of the rent received on maintenance and repairs if you average it out, it’s not a walk in the park as you seem to think. We choose our students well and the majority have been great.
    And Amanda, your other point, yes landlords will be self employed and will get help but it won’t cover barely anything as it’s capped and income from property is taxed harshly with interest from mortgages only partially tax deductible. If you lose the full rent, this would be very damaging, employees are receiving 80 percent of wages where possible but you would like to see Landlords lose all their income? Not only that but fall behind with mortgage payments having to take payment breaks. Banks too need to keep things flowing, that’s why the chain is important, students will need these homes again in September and many other trades rely on the work for them.

    Judging by many here on the blog, it would be fair to assume your stopping payments on a lease car you have as you can’t use it? £299 a month for your cars will be another big payment you can stop? And don’t forget to screw the utility companies at the student houses, of course they won’t send the debt recovery letters to you either….anything your in a contract for just ignore it as there are no consequences, your mobile phone company might cut you off though so keep paying that one. Holiday home mortgage? Caravan site fees, scrap the lot! Sorry for my sarcasm, couldn’t resist! Got to laugh about it too.

    Regarding breaking the law Bill, that was surely your son’s home when the outbreak began, and going to your home would be essential travel. However I do understand he would want to be with his parents whilst this is ongoing, but some students have stayed put and that leaves another issue of some paying and some holding funds back. Possessions have remained in many houses too, so in effect nobody has moved out of those houses.

  28. It’s hard to feel sorry for landlords. They insist on 12 month tenancies for students starting on 1st July. Apart from nobody, who would want to leave their comfortable family home where all meals are laid on, facilities are infinitely better, their friends are local etc to go and live in a grotty student house 3 months before university begins? Many will be away on family holidays during this time. Has this been done to benefit the students, no, the parents paying the rent, no, the landlord wanting 12 monthly payments, most definitely yes. My son left his student house before lockdown started and travel restrictions were brought in. He was at home when that started and now couldn’t go back even if he wanted to. All his housemates are in the same boat. His landlord point blank refuses to compromise on the remaining rent payments. Money is not the issue here, it’s the principal. I run my own business and although my earnings will reduce significantly I will not qualify for any government based help as we still earn too much, not that I would look to claim any if we could. As things stand the landlord expects me to pay the remaining 3 months in full having already paid 3 months full rent (July – Sept) when my son didn’t set foot in the house. Therefore, if I fall in with her wishes I will have paid 12 months rent for 6 months occupancy. The frustration ruling seems to fit my son’s case like a glove. This has never been successfully argued in court before because a situation like this has never occurred before. I am happy to be a test case and will see this to its very conclusion. If it ends up with me in the small claims court I will abide by the judgement and meet any costs incurred should I be unsuccessful. As I said, its not about the money, its about the principal.

  29. Most private student accommodation is far from grotty, with most universities insisting on accredited properties only. Any 5 bed property is licensed and is required to comply with government standards. Most landlords spend thousands each summer to maintain these properties and students have a choice of whether they want the cheap and less modern properties or the more expensive top notch ones. Students need to think of a larger picture than ‘fat landlords’. The student letting business employs tens of thousand of people directly and indirectly. If students don’t pay their rent, these people will be laid off and further drain put on the tax payer. Agents are unable take advantage of the Furlough process as the remaining students still require their properties to be repaired and managed properly. The agent still has their office rent, phone, car leases, insurance to pay. Historically Term 3 is always a strange one for students. They go home for 4 weeks at Easter and many just come back for their exams or the odd lecture. If landlords and agents go to the wall, which is quite likely if rents don’t get paid, universities will find they may not have enough off campus accommodation to support their intake in years to come and future students will be the ones to suffer from the current students attitude to payment of rent. In the wider society many people have lost their jobs or are on reduced income. For students, the vast majority will still receive their maintenance loan which is there for their contractual rent obligations. I can’t see many students telling Student Finance not to pay them the maintenance loan because they’ve moved out?!

  30. Landlords get rich??? Myself and my husband have several HMO properties which we let to students. I can assure you, we are hardly rich! Your argument is utterly one sided and one that I can actually understand from your point of view but your comment is utterly disgraceful with no thought of people like us who face to be on the breadline with your one sided view!

  31. Students are at the mercy of landlords. My som was pushed an agreement that asks 1 month rental pn signing and 12 months mths full payment in June for rhe contract execution in July 2020. Students are not even sure if they are allowed back in esp international students who have gone home and here we are with an agreement that had no recourse or refund. Taking students for a ride us what it is. The government must step in!

  32. How is it fair on landlords for a tenant to simply up sticks and walk away from a legally binding contract leaving a landlord to pick up the cost? Mortgage holidays are a break in mortgage payments not a waiver, it simply gets added to the term of the mortgage. A private tenant can’t simply get up and walk away from a rental agreement as they would have nowhere to live so why should students. People seem to be under dome misguide illusion that all landlords are rich and letting properties is some sort of hobby to keep themselves busy. Many landlords work very hard and have significant outgoings given that many rental packages include utilities, broadband, TV licences, contents insurance, etc. This is on top of all the regulatory costs such as gas checks, electrical safety checks, fire safety checks, etc. Students need to honour their agreements and pay what is owed, if everyone took the view that they would walk away from agreements we would be in a even bigger mess.

  33. I would think, in the spirit of the times, pay landlords 80% of the rent for months of empty house.
    Greedy to want the whole lot. Unprecedented times, bit of flexibility, Students have lost their bar and shop work, possibly summer internships and it’s always the young getting penalised.
    Btw I’m a landlord.
    Several properties Kirsty? Hardly on the breadline are you.

  34. My partners son is being told that he must arrange for his room to be cleared and obviously this means someone has ro travel to his halls and physically remove his property putting the remover, the family home the remover goes back to and ultimately the nhs at danger. Surely at this time a demand to remove belongings from halls is contrary to fuidelines set out by the govt?

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