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Student rents in the spotlight amid coronavirus shutdown


Covid-19 crisis means those returning home may be left with bills for empty rooms.

More universities and halls of residence owners are letting students break their contracts as the coronavirus outbreak forces them to return home, but several providers are yet to decide whether students will have to pay for rooms they are not using. Many more students living in private rental are unlikely to be released from their contracts. The National Union of Students is calling for a rent amnesty.

Eva Crossan Jory, vice-president for welfare at the NUS, told Research Professional News that, "landlords must absorb the cost of this pandemic and not students. The government should step-in to ensure this happens for all student renters.”

A nationwide lockdown to stop the spread of the coronavirus has forced universities to cut all face-to-face teaching and move learning online. Many students have already returned home or are looking to leave their term-time accommodation, although the government has stressed that all those who may not be able to leave their halls—such as international students and care leavers—must be allowed to stay.

Queen’s University Belfast and Bath Spa University have been joined by many others including Edge Hill University, Imperial College London and Ulster University, in allowing students to cancel their accommodation contracts for the rest of the academic year without charge.

Among private accommodation owners, Unite Students and Liberty Living have confirmed that students can break their contracts and leave their rooms without paying for the rest of the year. Student Roost, an accommodation owner with rooms across the UK, had initially said choosing to return home if courses went online did “not equate to a reason for termination of the tenancy agreement” and it did not “intend to shorten contract lengths or make exceptions to our cancellations policy”.

But in an updated statement on 25 March, the company said it would cancel students’ rent from 1 May if they decide to leave their rooms. “As these are unprecedented circumstances, we have made an exception to our normal cancellation policy to support our residents,” a company spokesperson said.

Others have not yet agreed their policy on payment. On 24 March accommodation firm iQ said it was “considering what we can do for students who need to check out before the end of the academic year” and would update students “in the coming days”. The University of Nottingham was “actively considering the position regarding not charging for unused accommodation” as of 23 March, and it said it would update students later this week.

However, most students live in private rented accommodation. According to Save the Student’s 2020 accommodation survey, 44 per cent of students are in the private rental sector compared to 27 per cent in university accommodation and 12 per cent in private halls. Research Professional News has heard that many private landlords are refusing to curtail contracts and payments.

The National Union of Students has called for all student landlords to offer a no-penalty release from tenancy contracts for the rest of this year and the next academic year. Eva Crossan Jory, added that the union wanted to see a “reduction or waiving of rent payments for students impacted financially by coronavirus” from landlords.