Students are being failed by their accommodation providers during lockdown

Covid-19 is not only affecting people’s health across the world, but also their financial security, their mental wellbeing and in many cases their sense of safety. During these hard times there have been lovely stories of people coming together while keeping their distance to get through this. However there remain some not so nice stories out there. 

For many students up and down the country, the end of the year has been taken from them: no chance to graduate or say goodbye to friends. Unfortunately many student accommodations seem not to be aware of the effects the virus is having. Many students have left their accommodation at the start of the lockdown to return to their families in these difficult times, yet are still being chased for rent. 

Mary, a student in Glasgow residing at Riverside House, said : “I left my private student accommodation, Riverside house, when the lockdown started. I knew isolating while completely on my own would be too difficult on my mental health – it already being fragile before the global pandemic. I contacted the property manager as soon as I left to be told no decision about contract terminations had been made. My parents are self-employed and earn most of their money during the summer in the tourism sector so this is having devastating effects on their business, they can’t help me financially anymore.”

After weeks of waiting without hearing from the accommodation, Mary heard back from them at the beginning of May:

Dear student,

Thank you for your recent email concerning your tenancy agreement.  

We have been in discussion with the owners of the property (your landlord) in relation to both students who have vacated their rooms as well as those that remain in the property as we still have a duty to deliver services to them to ensure their health, safety and welfare during these challenging times. As part of this process, we have provided the owners with the relevant government and university guidance as well as what local universities and other owners have decided, to ensure they can make the most informed decision possible.
Unfortunately, we must advise that your landlord has instructed that we cannot terminate your contract early if you are currently still residing in your accommodation. Therefore, the current terms within your tenancy agreement are still applicable.
We realise that the decision your landlord has made may not have been what you were hoping for and this decision was not taken lightly during these extraordinary times affecting everyone.
As mentioned previously, your landlord has significant fixed costs to meet in order to continue to operate the property with students in occupation as well as repayment obligations to lenders which have security against the rents and the property. 

Your rent is used to pay for the services that are provided at your property including: 

  • wages of all building staff (some of whom you may know) and those working behind the scenes; 
  • statutory and essential maintenance of items relating to the building infrastructure and safety systems 
  • all utility bills including heating, lighting and wi-fi services, insurance of the building; and local council taxes. 

There are also a number of increased costs due to the pandemic, including increased cleaning, security at some buildings and additional temporary staffing due to students self-isolating who are reliant on increased deliveries to their rooms.
We understand the reasons why you may have chosen to stay at your accommodation, but your contracted room remains available for you until the end of your Tenancy Agreement.
Please visit our website for further ongoing updates regarding Covid-19. 

Kind regards,

Homes for students

Reading this first correspondence, it does not clearly address students that have left accommodations. Mary says “I emailed the property manager who has said that the letter applied to all residents whether they have left or not. I called the citizens’ advice but the government has not changed tenancy agreement laws governed by common law. The property owners are threatening me with debt collection procedures. My grandmother is my guarantor and she is retired now; I don’t want her to be affected by this but I don’t know what to do anymore”.

Lewis, another resident at Riverside House still residing at the property, states “the reception for receiving mail was closed until last week. I had to complain about not being able to receive mail and it is now open for only one morning a week, so timing delivery dates and times has become impossible. I have not seen any of the property cleaning, maintenance, or security staff in over a month. There definitely has not been increased cleaning or security at the building, they have left us”.

 ‘Common law’ tenancy means that the agreement between a tenant and a landlord is not regulated by a particular law; instead it is covered by the contract between a tenant and a landlord, and law which comes from court judgements over many years. As a result the outcomes of previous cases determine the outcome of future cases. The call for the government to intervene on common law tenancy agreements will be strong since no previous cases will involve anything like the effects of COVID-19, nor does any tenancy agreement have a global pandemic clause. 

Research into Riverside House found that prices range from £596 to £656 a month, with the building having over 70 residents. So, if every resident paid the lowest possible prices, the building would still earn £44,700 a month, for a minimum of 10 months a year. The landlords of Riverside house in Glasgow are Silk Clyde Three Limited who also own two other student accommodation buildings in Glasgow: Havannah House and Base. These are much bigger properties than Riverside with much more expensive rooms and studios. 

This is happening to hundreds of thousands of students up and down the UK. Some companies are letting people terminate contracts, some are even offering refunds, and some are demanding rent and threatening debt collection procedures. 

Have you been affected by the issues in this article? Share your story with us: student.accommodation.covid19@gmail.com

 

Some names have been changed for this article.

 

Image: Michael Klajban via Wikimedia Commons

 

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