Latest from the Owners' Briefings - 28th May and 4th June 2020

12/06/2020

Summary from the Leeds and Nottingham Owners’ Briefings held on 28th May and 4th June 2020

These briefings concentrated primarily on student numbers nationally and recruitment, the 2020 - 2021 academic year and the tenancy changeover period.  

National Student Numbers

as of the January deadline:

  • Applications through UCAS were up 1%
  • EU down 2% (-0.8K).  Less than was expected.
  • Non-EU up 15% (+9.5K).  Follows the upward trend over the last few years.  This is likely to see a considerable drop

On 4th May 2020 the Government issued a statement aimed at supporting students and the HE sector. Students would receive loans as normal, whether or not they were being taught on line or by physically attending institutions.

What is happening with international student recruitment?

  • It is generally agreed that the number of international students will be well down
  • Current planning estimates are between 50%-80% of new students, particularly postgraduate taught
  • This will have implications for certain niche market private providers who let many of their rooms via agents in China
  • The latest prognosis (subject to the Government’s detailed advice on quarantine that will affect student movement - although that may be over by August) is that applications will reduce by around 50%, not 80%
  • pre-sessional accommodation demands have ended with language courses taking place on line

What is happening with home and EU student recruitment?

  • unlikely that home undergraduate intake will be adversely affected and applications are expected to rise
  • student “number controls” are unlikely to have much effect on student intake and will not constrain universities
  • European applications are only 5% down and student numbers are expected to hold up
  • it is likely that home postgraduate applications will increase as many students are encouraged to “stay on”
  • In terms of overall student demand, there is unlikely to be a significant fall-off of demand if the academic year takes place in a normal timeframe.

It is reasonable to conclude that, subject to a backwards move in the progress of Covid-19 and a second lockdown, that students will return to study in September/October in the context of a “new normal” situation.

The main unknown here is how the “R” rate behaves and whether there is a second wave and lockdown that would see the third term of the previous year being repeated.

The Leeds Picture

The market will ease slightly in Leeds as international demand declines taking an estimated 1,500 students out of the market. Home postgraduate demand may well increase.

Turning to the institutions’ own plans, both Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds are currently planning to operate their term dates roughly as planned.  Unipol is expecting a detailed announcement in the next few weeks.

Also, of significance is the fact that the University of Manchester, seen as a bit of a “market leader” in the area of Covid-19, has announced detailed plans and is keen to encourage their students to return to Manchester, opening the University to facilitate that.

There are a number of new PBSA buildings coming on line in September 2020 and apart from the Unite Building ‘Rose View’ which has confirmed it is on time.  Other buildings are yet to confirm progress. 

The Nottingham Picture

The University of Nottingham's postgraduate numbers grew 5.4% in 2019 to 6,525 with 2,685 of these international students.  Nottingham Trent University grew 3.5% to 3,375 with 2,075 of these international students.  The main growth in postgraduates is on taught courses. 

If the assumption was correct that international student numbers are likely to fall by 50% this would mean Nottingham would see around 2,500 less students.  That said it is important to remember that Nottingham Trent University is still looking to expand by 500 undergraduates,  many of these international postgraduates favour studio style living and there may be a growth in home postgraduate recruitment.

Nottingham City Council's priority is to move any increase in student housing provision to Purpose Built Student Accommodation (PBSA). There are:

  • 2,838 beds currently under construction
  • A number of new developments opening in September 2020, Unipol Sandhills (330 bed spaces); Vita Students Station Street (321 bed spaces in studios); Study Inn Talbot Street (180 studios)
  • 4,809 bed spaces in the planning system

The Nottingham weekly rent comparison chart gives a useful indication on where off-street properties sit in the overall accommodation offer in Nottingham.

Tenancy Changeover Period 2020

Collecting Belongings

New guidance was issued on 21st May.  It is important to note that this currently does not deal with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.  This may cause a delay for any of your current tenants residing in those areas.

Process of returning should be structured to comply with Covid-Secure procedures.

Larger buildings will need a more structured collection preferably by appointment to maintain social distancing. It is advisable to make clear to students not to just ‘show-up’.

Unipol will be advising tenants in smaller properties to coordinate between themselves.  It will be important to remind them about the necessity to maintain social distancing and limit the number of separate households mixing.  The students themselves are officially still ‘one household’, however their parents and friends are not and this is why it is important they do not all arrive on the same day.

Central to this approach is communication –be proactive and targeted.  In terms of current tenants Unipol will be asking tenants to inform us as soon as possible after they have completely moved out.  We have already issued information on key returns and the level of cleaning required.  Information will also be presented on waste disposal and unwanted items. 

Our tenants will still be expected to leave the property in a good condition.

Leave Leeds Tidy Campaign

With many of LUU's and LBUSU's staff furloughed the Leave Leeds Tidy campaign was in doubt.  However the University of Leeds has managed to find the resource to be able to offer a door to door collection of items. Targeting Hyde park mainly but by booking in other areas. 

UPDATE 12/6/2020: Plans have now been finalised that bring together a number of partners including Leeds City Council, the universities and local organisations to ensure there is support for students and landlords.  The End of Term BIG Clearout details what support and services are available.

Waste Recycling Centres 

LCC will be opening the Kirkstall weighbridge for extended hours and Sundays between 27th June and 5th July inclusive. On Saturdays and Sundays this will be 8am to 4pm amd on Monday to Friday 8am to 5pm.  Admission to the site for use of the weighbridge does not require a booking. To be clear, our commercial use rates will apply. 

Anyone with a valid Student Union card (that person must be with the vehicle) will be allowed to enter Kirkstall HWRC (vehicle/on foot) without a booking.

Deposit Returns

There is no change to the period you can hold the deposit after the tenant has requested for it to be returned (10 days). A tenant can raise a dispute with the deposit scheme after this time.

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) has issued some useful FAQs: https://www.tenancydepositscheme.com/covid-19/

If you are looking to make deductions it is important that this is communicated promptly to your tenants.  TDS have said that they will work with landlords and tenants to try and mediate where no agreement can be reached within the 10 days, without the need for evidence during this period of instability.

New Guidance (issued 4th June 2020)

The Department for Education has just published guidance for higher education institutions on reopening buildings and campuses. It says little on accommdation but is definitely worth reading to give you a wider understanding of what the student experience is likely to look like.  Of note, it says the following about accommodation:

“In advance of the next academic year, you will want to prepare accommodation for students. Some of this accommodation has been used for housing students who were not able to go to family homes during lockdown. Where students have contracted coronavirus (COVID-19) while in student accommodation, rooms and other facilities will need to be cleaned, following guidance on cleaning non-healthcare settings.”

“Guidance published on moving homes may also apply to students collecting belongings to move to other accommodation and also students moving into accommodation in the new academic year. The moving home guidance sets out specifically that “moving home” is now a valid reason to leave home. Point 6 in this guidance “Moving your belongings” also sets out protocol for those moving home/ moving belongings."

This final point relates to a recommendation that when moving between properties, you and those in your household should try to do as much of the packing yourself as you can to avoid the risk of infection. 

Preparing Properties for new occupation

Part of the proactive work you, as landlords are doing now will allow you to bring forward as much cleaning as possible as properties empty.  This will be key in your strategy for managing this year’s tenancy changeover. 

Unipol is in agreement that the ‘book-ended tenancies’, typical in Leeds, present many challenges. It is predicted that over 70% of properties still have belongings or students in residence. Furthermore, it is Unipol’s informed opinion that many students will look to return during June to meet up with housemates and spend some time together before their tenancies end.  This might for 3rd year students, be their last chance to get together and for 2nd year students might represent their intention to remain up to the end of the tenancy to be ready to move in to their new properties on 1st July 2020.

Communication with all incoming tenants

As already stated it is important to inform your new tenants what moving in procedures to expect as early as you can.  We can all expect elevated expectations around cleaning from students and their parents. If you are planning any sort of delay to the move in date this needs to be communicated clearly, giving the reasons why and how the tenant will be compensated.

The Unipol Approach - maintaining appropriate social distancing

Unipol deep cleans all its properties each year at tenancy changeover.  Our aim is to complete this within 3 days and inevitably this happens in some properties where the tenants have already moved in.  There are obvious challenges this year to that approach.

Each year, preparing properties is a logistically challenging process, that takes months of planning to ensure students enjoy a stress free and efficient experience.  There are lots of people involved in changeover from servicing staff, particularly cleaners to tenants moving between properties.  It is Unipol's view that this is incompatible with current advice on social distancing and with large property portfolios impractical. 

In reality, properties could be fully cleaned but still infected.  It is widely known that the virus survives longer on soft furnishings, carpets and fabrics and for Unipol cleaning of these areas are not part of a deep clean.  Likewise, it is highly possible that transmission could occur through servicing staff. These risks will apply to student tenants visiting parents, contractors and Unipol staff.

There is currently no specific Government advice on Student accommodation changeover but Unipol will be using the Government Guidance COVID-19: cleaning in non-healthcare settings issued on 15th May 2020 to guide our approach.

This 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.”

It also states:

“Agents should ensure that any keys are appropriately cleaned before handover."  

With the above in mind Unipol intends to:

  • Operate a 3 day “fallow period” of non-occupation
  • Reduce 52 week tenancies to 50-51
  • Request current tenants moving between Unipol properties to move out of their current accommodation, take their belongings home and then return to their Unipol accommodation after the “fallow period”

Unipol will refund rent or offer incentives to those affected who agree. 

Unipol intends to write to all affected tenants in 1st week of June to explain what will happen and will stress that this decision has not been taken lightly, with public health our main consideration and we take our tenants health and safety very seriously.  It will further state that this additional time will allow us to properly prepare properties and be confident that they are safe and ready for occupation.  It is important to note that this is not legally enforceable but it is expected that the vast majority of students and their families will understand when given the information and an incentive to comply.

Unipol recognises the difficulties some students may face and therefore some exceptions will be considered:

  • Where a student has no option to return “home”. Special arrangements will be made to store their belongings for a short period of time.  
  • Where a tenant is moving within a house or building. A special decontamination process can be used that “fogs” the whole house or flat or room (as appropriate) removing any infection or contamination.
  • Where a tenant refuses to leave the property empty for the first week and fogging will need to be executed.

Most professional cleaning companies will have a “fogging” service but these are likely to be in high demand.  When using this method.  The flat/ house needs to be empty and sealed for 4 hours (the chemicals used are dangerous to humans). Average costs are around £200 a flat/house.

Website Activity

Leeds

During the period of lockdown Unipol has continued to see usage of the accommodation search and the following statistics compare the 2020 and 2019 house hunting years:

  • 125,880 property searches (-6.62% on 2019)
  • 667,368 advert views (-1.98% on 2019)
  • 8,133 book a viewing requests (-0.3% on 2019)
  • 16.8% more users (30,699 compared to 26,285 in 2019);
  • 1% more sessions (78,332 compared to 77,879 in 2019)
  • 8% more new users (33,323 compared to 30,964)

With the reduction in the usual house hunters Unipol would see in May, this month has been quieter than a typical May.  May would normally see students currently in Leeds wanting to secure a last minute deal before the summer break, pre-sessional international students arriving in large numbers for their language course and home postgraduate students.

It is expected that once the institutions in Leeds announce their plans for the 2020 – 2021 Academic year activity will increase sharply.

Nottingham

Activity remained directly comparable to 2019 until May where the usual pick-up in activity from postgraduates, current students looking to secure accommodation for the next academic year and pre-sessional international students has been delayed.

  • 47,162 property searches (+2% on 2019)
  • 144,961 advert views (- 4% on 2019)
  • 2,414 book a viewing requests (-1% on 2019)
  • 3% less sessions (36,193 compared to 37,618 in 2019)
  • 6% less users (20,422 compared to 21,834)

Activity is expected to pick up across June as both institutions have now announced their plans for the next academic year.  Nottingham Trent University is likely to need a house hunting event at the end of August and this is likely to be an online event.

Unipol Code

Routine inspections are currently halted but consideration is being given to alternative ways of verifying standards and landlords will be contacted when plans are confirmed

Certain Code clauses around cleaning and having properties ready are likely to need to be Covid-secure compliant this year – more detail on these temporary changes will be sent to current Code members. 

Complaints

The condition of the property upon arrival is frequently referred to.  This can be a cause for on-going resentment.  Furthermore, a slow response time during changeover can lead to anxiety that future repairs won't be handled well. This will be a particular issue this year as changeover is more difficult to manage.

Although the Code does not address matters relating to contractual obligations of landlords or tenants a number of areas where the complaints system could be used were announced:

  • matters relating to mis-selling or not providing contracted services
  • setting unreasonable conditions for tenancy options. This would particularly be the case if a room had to be vacated in a period when Government “stay put” advice was in place
  • unnecessarily rigid and inflexible conditions being set by a supplier in matters relating to the tenancy which fail to appreciate the individual circumstances of the complainant
  • anyone making a complaint in this area will be asked if they think they have any exceptional circumstances where their case should be considered individually by a landlord.

If the Codes Complaints Investigator feels that the exceptional circumstances merits individual consideration they will forward these to the supplier for such consideration

It is expected that these representations will be properly considered and responded to in a timely manner by the supplier.