The government introduced measures on 26 March 2020 to prevent tenants in the private rental sector (PRS) from being evicted during the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, the measures are not extensive enough. Is this the case for our student population?
With universities finishing terms early and transferring to online teaching, students have found themselves in a variety of different predicaments depending on the type of accommodation they reside in.
For those in halls of residence, most universities have provided their students with a choice: remain in the accommodation and be charged as usual, or leave and further charges being waived for the remainder of the academic year. For those resident in the PRS, however, it is more difficult.
The standard Assured Shorthold tenancy agreement for these students usually locks them in for a fixed term of 12 months that may not expire until end of July or August. Due to the nature of the tenancy being for an academic year, there is unlikely to be a break clause so the landlord is expecting the rent to finish at the end of the fixed term.
With mortgage holidays widely talked about for landlords of Buy to Let properties, it is notable that there is no equivalent for tenants. Students who are privately renting must speak with their landlords to see whether they will agree to different terms for the last few months of the agreement. This could either be by way of a permanent rent reduction or a complete waiver of the rent or, as most tenants are finding, the equivalent of a rental holiday. The latter is more likely to be offered which only puts off the payment of the total amount of rent – the landlord will expect to be paid later rather than as the full contractual rent is due. Consequently, students without any further need for study will have to organise repayment plans.
As someone who regularly advises landlords, a thought must be spared for those landlords who are not investment landlords. Those who do not have numerous properties, who can more readily sustain such a crisis and can perhaps afford not to receive certain rents for a short period of time. Many landlords rely on their rents for their pension income or they may simply have one property that they let and need the income to cover the mortgage, or top up their own income. A mortgage holiday to those landlords is simply extending their debt repayment terms. For them, the pandemic is causing them a lot of the hardship that tenants may also be experiencing, so they should be forgiven for not simply agreeing a total waiver of the rent due to them for however long the lockdown may go on, or for the rest of the tenancy term.
Students could stay in the properties that they have rented but many have chosen to return home, be that in the UK or overseas, if they were lucky enough to get away in time. In houses in multiple occupation, where ‘the tenant’ often amounts to five or more students, if one or two leave and refuse to pay rent then this could cause problems for those left. This is not a unique situation associated with the current pandemic. Most students are required to have a guarantor so there is more chance for landlords to recover the rent of a defaulting tenant. This can end up very unfair if those tenants left are expected to meet the whole of the rent to include those who have defaulted.
Student tenants have no need to panic if they are in a tenancy that has a few months to run. There will be no quick evictions as the length of both s21 and s8 notices have been extended to 3 months until 30 September 2020. This, coupled with the current 90-day suspension on possession claims progressing through the court system in place until 25 June 2020, means no student is likely to be subjected to any form of impactful action from their landlords.
Communication between landlords and tenants has never been more important to resolve any arising difficulties. However, it should be remembered that students were expecting to pay their course fees and their rent for the full academic year just as landlords were expecting and have accounted for their rents to be paid for this period.
So, has anything actually changed for these students given the pandemic? It currently seems that privately renting students may feel hard done by having to continue to pay rent whilst those students who were in university-owned halls of residence do not. However, the impact of the sudden drop off of accommodation charges on the university has yet to be realised, and that has the potential to impact all students.