Coronavirus: Students and Landlords

This note was issued on 2nd June 2020 updating that previously issued on 1st June, 28th, 22nd, 14th, 5th May, 23rd, 15th, 9th, 8th, 6th April and 31st March 2020.

This article includes FAQs in the areas of Rent Payments, Moving in and out of properties and living in student properties. 

Take me to the FAQs - Rent and ContractsMoving in and out of properties and living in student properties

The Current Situation

The COVID19 pandemic has left many students, parents and landlords feeling worried and uncertain about the future.  With university teaching moving online for the summer term of the 2019 – 2020 academic year, some students have decided to move home, whilst others have remained in their student homes.   As the country moves slowly and carefully out of lockdown a good number of students living in off-street accommodation have expressed their intention to return to their student home for a period of time in June. 

Many students have been concerned about arrangements for collecting their belongings and moving in to their new student home for the next academic year.  The Governent issued guidance around the collection of belongings on 21st May and this can be accessed here

The many concerns of students, parents and accommodation providers alike have been compounded by the uncertainties around what the 2020 – 2021 academic year is likely to look like, with most universities reluctant to lay down a concrete road map too soon.  Nottingham Trent University is one of only a handful of institutions to do this announcing on 21st May that all their campuses will be open for the Autumn Term.  This is likely to have brought relief to many of their students.  They will be offering a mixture of on-campus, in class teaching alongside online learning.

NTU's Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Peck said

This blended approach has always been our aspiration as our future model and as far as possible we are accelerating its development. At every step we will be sure to protect the health and wellbeing of our colleagues and students and we will follow all government advice: the safety of our students and colleagues will always remain our priority.”  

On the 28th May the Vice Chancellor, Professor Shearer West from the University of Nottingham has also issued an encouraging statement:

"For our undergraduate students and many postgraduates, our new academic year will start, as planned, on 21 September 2020. A number of postgraduate courses may commence later than this and we will confirm these very shortly. We will welcome new and returning students back to our UK campuses in line with whatever national measures are in place at that time."

It is now likely that more universities including the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and Bradford University will be announcing their plans shortly.  Unipol would expect to see a similar approach.

Because social distancing is likely to remain this will mean that accommodation operators will need to make a number on ongoing adjustments to maintain this: things will not simply “go back to normal”. Considerable thought is being given to this both within the University and the private sector and further information will be provided about this as things develop.

What's happening more generally in the HE Sector?

On 4th May 2020 the Government announced a package of measures aimed at supporting students and the HE sector. There is a web link to the Government measures here and the full statement can be accessed here.

The guidance issued on 21st May 2020 for HE Providers builds on the announcements from the 4th May and covers the collection of belongings, student number controls, Clearing arrangements and a number of other areas.  during the coronavirus outbreak  The measures still appear to envisage the next academic year progressing.  More information on this can be accessed through our National Codes Website, along with the amounts of rent refunded or forgone in the PBSA sector to date, 

The Universities Minister Michelle Donelan sent a message to students through UCAS on 4th May 2020.

Rent and Contracts

Please note if you are living in a student hall of residence the link above to the National Codes will have the most relevant advice for you.  If you are living in a smaller shared property in the private rented sector please see information below.

Unipol, along with many landlords has received requests and questions from their tenants and their parents about paying rent.  Unipol's Board has now met and decided a number of measures affecting rent across the Summer period and next year's tenancies.  Find out more here: Unipol's current position on rent reductions

The information below will hopefully provide some clarity based on the latest information from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Office for Students (OfS), the National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA) and Unipol.  

 

Q: Some of my friends who are in university accommodation have been released from their contract. I live with a private landlord; will my landlord release me?

A: Some universities have decided to release students in their residences from rent obligations but their position is very different to that of many landlords.  The universities mainly have deep (or deeper) pockets and the larger PBSA suppliers will take the hit.  For universities their accommodation operation is a side-line to their main business of teaching and income generation, whereas landlords operate primarily on rental income.  The smaller suppliers, Unipol included, has needed to take a more measured position. It is therefore difficult or in many cases impossible for landlords to just release their tenants from their contracts or give rent reductions.

It is our understanding that the vast majority of landlords will not be in a position to offer any rent reductions.  A few landlords have indicated that they may consider a small rent reduction but you should check with your landlord directly and this will be the minority.  In any case if your rent is due you should pay it as normal and discuss any payment difficulties with  them as soon as possible.  Any decisions on rent reductions will be up to your landlord and will be an individual business decision. Where this is not possible landlords should be working with their tenants to offer support and guidance.

The Government have been clear in their guidance and updated this on 1 June 2020 and this states:

"In the case of private landlords and letting agencies, the negotiation of rent waivers with student tenants is a matter between the parties concerned. We encourage landlords, letting agencies and tenants to adopt an understanding, common-sense approach to issues that may arise in the current circumstances."

It is also important to say that this was not a foreseeable set of circumstances and no one will be covered by insurance or would have had it on their risk register. Suppliers are understandably nervous about what will happen to the next academic year because if that failed then insolvency, without help, would loom for many.  It should also be noted that for many landlords in off-street housing, this is their only asset and pension.

Q: Should I stop paying my rent during the outbreak?

A: 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. 

For students experiencing financial hardship the Government has issued additional advice that students should contact their higher education provider to see if any hardship funding would be available and the Office for Students (OfS) has published guidance for those providers to support this.

In many cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. however if your circumstances have changed it is really important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.

Two Warwick University students give their views on rent reductions

Q: I am due to pay my rent but due to my changed circumstances I don’t think I am going to be able to do that.

A: Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. Most will be sympathetic, especially if you and/or the person who assists you with paying the rent has lost that source of income due to the Coronavirus situation.  They might agree to a rent reduction for a period or to accept rent at a later date.  However if you come to an agreement to delay your rent payment the full rent will still be due at a later date. Repayable rent reductions are where rent is reduced for a period but the overall amount will still be due just at a later date by mutual agreement.

If you agree a plan with your landlord to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important that you both stick to this plan, and that you talk to your landlord immediately if you are unable to do so.

If you are struggling and would like advice around other options open to you and how to access financial assistance, please contact your Student Advice Service at your Students’ Union. You may be able to access certain hardship funds.

The Government has worked with the OfS to help clarify that providers can use existing funds, totalling £46m, to boost their hardship funds for students in financial difficulty. This can include help for IT equipment and internet access.

Additionally, Students are also able to claim Universal Credit under certain circumstances. Find more information about Universal Credit

Q: What is Unipol doing around rent reductions?

A: Unipol's own response can be found elsewhere on the website on the button below

Unipol's response to Covid19 for our own tenants

Q: Should my landlord stop charging rent during the Covid19 outbreak?

A: The Government has issued new guidance on 1st June 2020 which states:

"Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward."

Unipol has written to accredited landlords and managing agents in Leeds, Bradford and Nottingham to explain our own decision and the model adopted by our Board of Trustees.  Unipol's decision is its own and it therefore follows that there is no legal or other obligation on other landlords to follow suit.  As stated above Unipol is a charity and is guided by its values.  Our operation and setup is very different to private landlords, who in most cases will not be able to sustain a drop in rental income.

Q: I no longer want to move in to my accommodation for next academic year, what can i do?

A: If you have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you will be bound by the terms of that agreement and will be financially liable for the rent.  The vast majority of agreements do not contain break clauses or allow  you to give notice.  In normal circumstances this would only be possible if you came to a mutual agreement with the provider or found a suitable replacement for yourself.  You are recommended to talk to your landlord at the earliest opportunity to talk through your options.  If you live in Leeds, Nottingham or Bradford you can use Unipol's Student Noticeboard to advertise your room. 

Q: Should i sign a contract when i don't know what is happening to my course in the next academic year?

At present, Unipol is simply advising “if you are not happy signing a contract then don’t” try and negotiate a period of time (say a month) with the landlord where they will hold the accommodation whilst you work out what to do. In the case of students renting as groups under joint contracts a single failure to sign up (or a parent refusing to act as a guarantor) may bounce back on the other tenants rather than the landlord.

Some student suppliers are giving students who have not already entered into contracts a promise of flexibility. This seems more prevalent in the PBSA sector.  

Q: I heard that in Scotland students can give notice to leave a contract.  Is that likely to happen in England?

The Scottish Government has introduced new emergency coronavirus legislation in the Scottish Parliament relating to student accommodation. If the legislation is approved, it would put in place in Scotland:

  • a 7-day notice to leave period for those currently tied into a student accommodation contract; and
  • a 28-day notice to leave period for new agreements entered into.

There is no indication from Whitehall currently that a similar approach is likely to be adopted in England. Given the new guidance issued on 1st June maintaining the position that rent should be paid it looks unlikely that the Scottish approach will be adopted in England.  

Moving In and Out of Properties

Q: My accommodation provider is pressuring me to travel back to my room to pick up my belongings. What should I do?

A: On the 21st May 2020 the Government further amended the guidance for moving home and made it clear that people who wished to move home are now able to do so as long as the necessary public health guidance is followed.  Wider travel in England is permitted but restrictions remain in place in certain areas of the UK.  If you are living in England you are able to come and collect your belongings.  If you have not already received information from your accommodation provider on the moving out procedure it is strongly recommended that you contact them before coming to collect your belongings to find out if there are any health and safety arrangements in place that could impact the date and time you wish to return.

Transport will be almost entirely by car and some parents/students will have a long “there and back” drive with only limited opportunities to stop for refreshments and toilet facilities. Many parents travelling long distances frequently break their journeys by staying part-way in a hotel and that will not be possible. Those returning should be aware of the lack of facilities en-route. Motorway service stations and their toilet facilities are, however, open

Read the latest FAQs from the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan issued on 21st May 2020

Q: My accommodation contract is about to end and I’m worried about being made homeless.

A: It is important that providers operate a ‘non-eviction’ policy during this difficult time, so that no student is required to leave halls if their contract is up. This is particularly important in the case of international students, care leavers and estranged students.

If an accommodation provider is unable to accommodate a student they should work through local partnerships, such as with the local authority and lettings agents, in order to prevent students being made homeless. Emergency legislation has been introduced to protect residential tenants

In Leeds, Nottingham and Bradford Unipol may be able to help so get in contact.

Q: Will i still be expected to clean my property?  All my housemates went home at the beginning of the lockdown and will not be back together again.

 A: Most landlords will have already issued end of tenancy information detailing what you need to do concerning cleaning and returning your keys.  If you have not received this information you are recommended to get in touch with your landlord so you understand what is expected of you. In shared properties it will be important for you to communicate with each other and decide how any required cleaning will be split and agree the timings for your visit to ensure social distancing is maintained.  

Unipol will expect our own properties to be clean.  Our guidance to our tenants states:

  • Ensure your room and the communal areas of the property are left in a reasonable condition, free of waste and that the keys are returned in a timely manner.
  • Remove all waste to the outside bins.
  • If an item is unwanted, please take this home with you to recycle/re-use to avoid being charged for waste removal.

It is important to remember that communal areas need cleaning as well as your bedroom. Unipol's end of tenancy information can be found here

Q: Will i be able to move in to my new student home after vacating my current one?

The Government guidance issued on 21st May states: 

"If you are still resident in student accommodation and wish to make a one-off move to an alternative residence, you may do so providing you take precautions in line with the principles in Annex A of the government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy and in other published guidance, such as on travel and social distancing."

Unipol, along with other providers are working hard to issue further guidance to tenants both new and existing around moving between properties.  If you have not had this information you are recommended to contact your provider who will be best placed to talk through those arrangements with you.  

In terms of preparing properties for incoming tenants the Government advice states:

"Letting agents and landlords should take steps to ensure any properties are prepared ready for new tenants, this may include cleaning to minimise any potential spread of the virus in line with government advice. Letting agents and landlords should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins for new tenancies agreed while broader measures remain in place, taking care to follow government advice on social distancing to minimise possible spread of coronavirus.  Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover."  

There is no specific Government advice for student accommodation.  However there was some advice issued on 15th May 2020 for decontamination in non-health care settings which states:

“The infection risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) following contamination of the environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk. However, studies of other viruses in the same family suggest that, in most circumstances, the risk is likely to be reduced significantly after 72 hours.”

So although it not mandatory for properties to be deep cleaned before new tenants move in, Unipol will be recommending an approach to landlords that takes in to account this guidance.  In any case it will be important to communicate any cleaning arrangements to incoming tenants in advance of the start of the new tenancy.  If you are intending to take up residence in your new accommodation from the first day of your tenancy it would be really helpful to communicate with your landlord so they can make plans to prepare the property for you.

To see the latest guidance issued to Unipol landlords and to read Unipol's approach to the tenanch changeover click here

Living in a student property

Q: I need a repair doing in my home, what should I do?

A: It is important to report repairs to your landlord as you would normally do.  Tradespeople can visit people’s homes to carry out any work or maintenance provided it is carried out in accordance with guidance for professionals working in people’s homes. Further guidance on visits to properties to make repairs

If you are not shielding or self-isolating, you can allow your landlord or contractors access to your home in order to carry out a range of works. This includes:

  • routine inspections, including annual gas safety checks;
  • essential and non-essential repairs and maintenance;
  • planned maintenance activity inside and outside the home.

Services should be designed to allow a two-metre distance to be maintained (insofar as possible) and hygiene procedures should be followed. Some landlords will have a backlog of repairs that they will need to address, so it may take longer than normal to carry out more non-essential work.

Q: My landlord wants to carry out viewings, do i have to let them in?

Your safety will be your letting agent's and landlord's top priority. Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, or where they have been determined clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding. In other cases, where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings.  

Q: I live in a shared student property, some of my house mates are symptomatic and my landlord is refusing to find alternative accommodation for me.  What can I do?

A: Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus. Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.

If you are living in accommodation which you share with other people, or share facilities with other people, you should follow current Public Health England guidance.

You can find Government guidance on cleaning your home to minimise the risk of infection.

The Government has issued guidance for households with possible coronavirus (covid19) infection. The same guidance applies to occupants of shared properties. All the occupants of the home should behave in the same way as a single household if one or more occupants have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

And on what to do if you are in a shared home with someone who may have the virus

Q: My landlord wants to arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out what should I do?

A: Gas safety inspections save lives. Landlords should take all reasonable steps to carry out annual gas safety checks at this time as failure to do so could put tenants at risk of serious illness or fatalities from gas explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly as people are spending all or most of their time at home.

If you are clinically vulnerable, but have not been asked to shield, you should inform your landlord. Before undertaking the check, prior arrangements should be made to avoid any face-to-face contact, to ensure social distancing guidance is followed and that appropriate steps can be taken to maintain good hand hygiene for example, when answering the door.

If you are self-isolating or shielding, you should inform your landlord. The gas safety check can be delayed until after your isolation period has ended. If you are shielding, an inspection or repair should only be carried out if there is a direct gas safety risk to you that affects your safety. Your landlord will be best placed to determine whether an inspection is required – further guidance is available from Gas Safe the regulator. In such circumstances, prior arrangements should be made to avoid any face to face contact and the engineer must follow the latest guidance on working safely in people’s homes.