Student lettings and Coronavirus - HELP
Below is a letter we have received from Bristol University Students Union. It is a formal request to cancel all our student contracts with immediate effect
This came about after one of our competitors sent a letter to its tenants reminding them of their obligations a week before lockdown. This got into the local news https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-52105927 and has led to a rent strike by some of their tenants. We want to avoid seeing you on the front page of The Post so here is our guide to what happens now with student lettings and what we consider best practice.
This is a very anxious time for everyone and it can get very emotive so let us look at what is actually happening and what the Government’s advice is to both landlords and students
- Is the university closed? Summer term will recommence on April 20th 2020 with all lectures and seminars being done digitally For more information visit here http://www.bristol.ac.uk/students/coronavirus/current-students/academic/#summer
- Are students still in receipt of their loan? Yes, student loans are due to be paid on or around the 20th April. This is to last through the Summer term and the holiday period.
- Are my tenants still liable for rent? Yes. The government have produced a factsheet for tenants and landlords https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-and-renting-guidance-for-landlords-tenants-and-local-authorities The advice to tenants is very explicit it says it says:
Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy
agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of
financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal,
they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at
the earliest opportunity.
- My tenants have left is the contract over? No. If your tenants signed a typical student agreement of 1 year fixed from July 1st 2019. That contract will run until 30th June 2020. You can mutually agree to terminate the contract but neither side can terminate it unilaterally
- My Tenants want a rent reduction. What should I do? -This is entirely up to you. You need to look at your situation and make that decision. However you are entirely within your rights to hold the tenants to their contract if that is what you decide Please feel free to talk to us even if we don’t let your student accommodation, we have an email template that we can let you use
- I've reduced my tenants' rent. Is this a permanent reuduction? - Not necessarily, but you need to be very careful. Write to your tenants explaining that you are prepared to reduce the rent for a specific time (Eg. 3 months) and that after that time the rent will revert to its original figure. There can therefore be no confusion. If the tenants want tocontinue paying a ower rent they must ask for an extension. The case law for this is 1946 decision by Lord Denning in the case Central London Property Trust v High Trees House
7. What about my tenants for next year? – If you have found students for next year and they have already signed their agreement, then you should have no problems. I expect lockdown to be over by then so there shouldn’t be an issue. If the students haven’t signed, it is likely they are no longer in Bristol. If you are concerned about getting your student tenants to sign for next year. Call us once again even if you don’t let your student property with us and we will talk you through the process of remote signing
8. My tenants have left can I go into the property – Yes you can and in fact you really should. Email your tenants and give them 24 hours’ notice that you intend to visit the property. Then go along. Check that
- The property is secure. Make sure the windows are locked, that the bedrooms are locked and if there is a mortice lock, that it is locked too. If you have locked a door that wasn’t locked before. Inform your tenants so that they remember to bring all the keys with them when they return to the property to pack their gear
- Check the fridge and cupboards for out of date food. Throw it away. Many students have literally just walked out without cleaning. To avoid infestation, make sure the kitchen is clean, inform the tenants of your intention to have the property cleaned if necessary send photos to explain why
So this is where we are with student lets. In conclusion we are looking at each tenancy on a case by case basis, but our default is the official government advice. Please feel free to call me if you have any queries on 0117 9739394. Below is the letter from Bristol University Students Union
From Bristol University Students Union
Dear Private Landlords, Purpose Built Student Accommodation Providers (PBSAs), Lettings Agents and Concerned Students of Bristol,
We are writing to you about the recent Covid-19 developments, and the uncertainty and financial pressure put on students.
We recognise these are challenging times for everyone and hope that you and your staff are keeping well. In this period, it is vital more than ever that we act as a community and ensure the safety of everyone within it. Covid-19 has touched every single person’s life in this country, be it through damage to health, changes to life circumstances or financial difficulty. We are all feeling the effects and we are all in this together. In response to the crisis, many of our students are volunteering their time to support those most vulnerable, from dropping off food and medicine in their local communities to volunteering in the NHS volunteer scheme.
Covid-19 has forced bars, restaurants, and many other businesses to close their doors. The majority of student jobs are in the now-closed service industry and our members are now struggling financially. Many receive the minimum student loan of £4,168 per year, with taught postgraduates receiving even less, and so rely on part-time work to stay afloat. Even with the government’s retention scheme, many students have already lost their jobs and are now struggling to pay their rent. In addition, our feedback shows that students with disabilities, those with pre-existing health conditions, international students and those that don't have family support networks are facing particularly challenging circumstances.
With all of this in mind, we are asking private landlords and PBSAs to offer the following:
1. For students who cannot return home or do not have another home, an extension of tenancy in the case that isolation and the crisis continues past tenancy dates to prevent them from being made homeless.
2. For students who are no longer living at the tenancy address, a no-penalty contract release. If students have already paid for the next period, you should refund this along with their deposit.
3. For students who have been financially impacted due to Covid-19 and cannot move out, a significant rent reduction or a rent holiday, where no rent is required, for the duration of the crisis.
We realise this a large financial ask, and we do recognise this, but this is a global crisis and students shouldn’t be the ones paying for it. As providers of accommodation, your business model is based on university physically occurring. In normal times you have generated significant profit from the presence of students in this city. We therefore request you to absorb the financial impact of this situation where possible.
These requests are in line with the actions taken by many Universities, PBSAs and landlords across the country, who have taken decisive action to address the huge financial burden rent places on students during these challenging times. Providers like the University of Bristol and Unite Students (a large national provider of PBSAs) are allowing students to be released from their contracts early with no-penalty, making allowances for students who cannot collect their belongings due to Public Health guidance, and providing flexibility on tenancy end dates for students who are unable to return home. Across the country, responsible housing providers and landlords are taking these steps and we urge you to do the same.
Landlords, please consider the schemes the government has put in place to help businesses and property owners, including the retention and mortgage holiday schemes which might give you the financial flexibility to make these changes. If our requests are not possible due to your own circumstances, we ask you to have a conversation with your tenants and come to a shared agreement.
Lettings agents, we understand you do not make decisions surrounding rental payments, so we therefore call for you to share this letter with your landlords and assist them where needed to accommodate their tenants' needs and their own.
Concerned students, we ask for you to contact your landlord or PBSA and tell them what you need. We also ask you to be kind, as we expect landlords and PBSAs to be, especially to individual landlords who may also be suffering the financial consequences of the crisis. We also ask you to share this letter around and encourage others to do so.
To all, we appreciate your kind actions towards each other in these difficult times and your decision to do the right thing. We hope you all stay well during these challenge times and encourage you to follow Public Health England guidelines around social distancing and hygiene.
The Officer Team at Bristol Student’s Union, University of Bristol