The Scottish government has proposed a new bill to parliament this week which, if passed, will allow students to break lease agreements for accommodation that they are no longer using due to Covid-19.
The proposal has been welcomed by the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, who said that student accommodation providers had “disgraced themselves” in recent months by holding students to contracts even when they were no longer able to occupy the rooms they were paying for.
Face-to-face teaching has been postponed in all UK universities, meaning that many students have returned to their family homes during the lockdown.
Libraries have been shut down and virtual lectures have replaced in-person lectures, but rent for term-time accommodation has not been suspended, although many students will be unable to return before the end of their leases.
A 2018 accommodation cost survey conducted by Unipol and NUS found that on average, rent costs accounted for 73 per cent of the maximum student finance maintenance loan.
For many students, maintenance loans are not sufficient to cover the rent they pay on term-time accommodation and many rely on part-time jobs, some of which have been suspended because of the pandemic.
If passed, the new bill would allow students currently bound to leases to end them with 7 days’ notice.
It also covers any new leases signed during the time the bill is in force, meaning these new leases may be terminated with 28 days’ notice.
This aims to help any students who sign leases for the next academic year but find themselves unable to take them up due to the pandemic.
The bill would cover students paying for halls of residence or purpose-built private student accommodation but not those renting HMO properties, and would only be valid if a tenant cites Covid-19 as the primary reason for being unable to take up their room.
Other concerns expressed by students have been around the safety of their belongings left in empty flats and uncertainty around when they will be able to return to collect them.
Students that have remained in accommodation during the lockdown have also faced difficulties.
For some students returning home was not an option due to cost, travel restrictions, or other issues.
The nature of most student accommodation means that students share kitchen areas and often bathrooms, making self-isolating from other tenants very difficult if they fall ill.
And for students staying alone in their accommodation, accessing medication and groceries could be difficult should they contract the virus and have to remain at home.
There is also uncertainty around what they should do once their tenancy ends.
Although students cannot be evicted at this time, costs incurred by extending leases will present a problem, especially as student maintenance loans are not paid over the summer months; the new bill is intended to ease some of the financial and practical issues created by the pandemic.
Image: Kim Traynor via Wikipedia