Posted on Fri 03 Apr 2020 at 15:32 by Christopher Carter
Aside from the immediate health concerns associated with Covid-19, the ongoing situation is rapidly revealing new challenges in a wide range of areas which require urgent intervention.
As your Welfare & Campaigns Officer, I’m very aware of students’ concerns surrounding your off-campus rental agreements for next term, which will be incurring upcoming rent payments despite Term 3 teaching being cancelled and students being told not to return to campus.
Clearly, this is a national crisis for all student renters. Short of government intervention in this area, the situation as it stands is that if students have signed contracts, they are required to abide by the terms of those contracts unless a landlord or agent agrees to a surrender of tenancy by mutual consent. Sadly, despite the obvious common-sense arguments surrounding this, they are under no legal obligation to do so. I appreciate that this is particularly frustrating for those of you who rent off-campus properties through Warwick Accommodation – however, in many cases they are in broadly the same position (while they are the letting agents, the management of those properties will be subject to the terms of their own agreements with the landlords who own them).
That is the strictly legal side of the equation – but, clearly, there is and should be an ethical dimension to it as well, since the unprecedented situation we currently find ourselves in requires a serious rethink of these terms. On a practical level, it simply isn’t fair for students to have to pay for accommodation which will be sitting vacant through no fault of their own (and effectively as mandated by the UK Government), as no-one could have predicted the current situation when signing their housing contracts. For postgraduate students – many of whom are not eligible for income support - or students with limited financial means, the situation is particularly pressing.
The SU Advice Centre and I have been working very hard to respond to your concerns as efficiently as possible – but, unfortunately, without action from your agents and landlords, there has been little we can do so far. I’m therefore pleased to share two letters which I’ve jointly written with our local MPs, Matt Western MP of Warwick & Leamington (letter HERE) and Zarah Sultana MP of Coventry South (letter HERE), urging your landlords and letting agencies to do the right thing and offer the following concessions:
- Offer no-penalty releases from contracts for the rest of the academic year (and the next academic year if necessary);
- Where rent has already been taken for the upcoming period, we request that this should be refunded (alongside the deposit if no longer required);
- For any rent arrears arising from hardship surrounding Covid-19 to be waived as much as possible.
It’s wonderful to have support from our local MPs in this area, and we hope that teaming up will maximise our impact. At a time which is already causing so much stress and financial hardship, clearly the burden should not fall on students to line the pockets of private landlords who may already be getting relief from the Government in the form of a mortgage holiday. While we will obviously need to be realistic about the prospect of success – as noted previously, landlords and agents are currently under no legal obligation to release students from their contracts – hopefully this will be part of a national conversation which helps to drive reform of the private rental market.
We will aim to keep you updated on any progress made in this area. In the meantime, if you have any more questions, please feel free to email me via firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with the Advice Centre using their online enquiry form.