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Accommodation firm threatens legal action over unpaid rent

Private provider defends letter to student, saying many students have returned to rooms despite lockdown

A student accommodation provider has threatened to take legal action against a student for withholding rent during lockdown, saying it has remained “open and operable” throughout the pandemic.

Gabriel Andrews, a Sheffield Hallam University student who is renting a room in The Elements halls of residence in the city but living away from his student accommodation during lockdown, decided not to pay the £1,898 due in January for the spring term because he was not among the list of students on certain practical courses permitted to return to campus after Christmas.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan has asked private landlords, including owners of halls of residence, to be lenient when considering students’ calls for accommodation rebates. Many universities have given refunds or discounts to students for the weeks they have been told to stay away from campuses by the government.

But in a letter sent last month, seen by Research Professional News, a representative of the Elements, which is owned by student accommodation provider Abodus, told the second-year student that they “may be instructed to commence court proceedings” to recover the withheld rent or to evict him.

Student rent discount

Several large private accommodation providers, including Unite Students and Student Roost, have offered students a discount on their rent for the spring term in recognition of the fact that they have been asked to stay at home by the government.

Andrews told Research Professional News that threatening to take legal action against students during the pandemic showed “no consideration for students’ mental health and wellbeing”.

But a spokesperson for Abodus said it had extended its virtual events programme, published more blog posts for students, increased prize giveaway events and offered free support packages to students “to address mental health strains during this time”.

The spokesperson explained that “the majority” of its students had returned to their rooms around the country, and that Abodus sent “a detailed letter” to its tenants before rent for the spring term was due, “explaining our position in regards to rental rebate discussions, in a letter which all students received”.

“Since the outbreak of Covid-19, Abodus has remained open and operable while continuing to provide a safe and secure home to our tenants, with adapted services, welfare support, virtual engagement, enhanced cleaning and security implemented across the country,” the spokesperson said.

“Many have felt that [returning to their term-time accommodation] provides them with the facilities and provisions their non-term address does not, to optimise study and improve overall mental wellbeing. Returning with this intention is in line with government guidelines, as we are not an on-campus facility.”

The spokesperson said that students at The Elements “are benefiting from designated Wi-Fi connections, large desks/study areas, and the ability to form bubbles with their peers to help with their remote learning, which they are unable to do at their non-term-time address”.