Letting agents asked to relax rents for students during virus crisis

Student bodies want letting agents to acknowledge that many students have lost their incomes and have been forced to return to their parents – and so should not have to pay for accommodation they are no longer using.

The letter comes from the Northampton Student Landlord Network and the town’s student union body, and claims that many students who receive the minimum amount of student finance rely on part-time work which no longer exists – they cannot pay their rent as a result, the bodies say.

The letter, published on the student union website and in the local press in the town, says:

Dear private landlords, lettings agents and students,

We are writing to address some of the issues which have arisen due to the Covid-19 outbreak regarding private-sector housing.

The University of Northampton Students’ Union recognises that this is an extremely uncertain time and it is vital to take the appropriate precautions to ensure the safety of everybody. Covid-19 has affected everyone in some way whether that’s through illness, having to self-isolate, loss of job or financial difficulty, it is more important than ever to support one another through this difficult period.

Covid-19 has forced numerous businesses to close and therefore many of our students are struggling financially due to not being able to work. In particular those students who receive the minimum amount of student finance, many of them rely on part-time work to be able to pay for their accommodation and to stay a-float.

We have also had many concerns from international students, those are classed as vulnerable who are needing to self-isolate for a minimum of 12 weeks and students without any financial support.

This is an incredibly challenging time for students who fall in to these categories.

With all of this in mind, we are asking landlords and lettings agents to consider the following:

1: Refund students any underspent bills – while we do understand that students in private-sector accommodation have signed their contracts and therefore have a legal obligation to pay their rent, we are asking for you to refund students any money on bills that they have not used. This will take some financial pressure off students as well as showing that we recognise the difficulties students are currently experiencing.

2: Allow students moving in to properties for the 2020/2021 academic year to pay their summer rent rate until the University of Northampton resumes face-to-face teaching – Due to the current uncertainty, we are asking landlords to consider extending the summer retainer period until restrictions are lifted. Whilst this is a while away, it would act to discourage students from relocating if it is still deemed unsafe to do so.

We do realise that it is a big ask and it does have some financial implications on yourselves however students should not have to pay for something they are not using.

You, the landlords, rely on the University operating to run your business each academic year including when students are on their end of term holiday. We are asking you to support your tenants by relieving the financial strain but also looking to support the national drive to protect the NHS.

These proposed changes aren’t unique to Northampton, Universities across the country are addressing this issue and contacting landlords to make changes which are in the students’ best interests. We have also been in contact with National Union Students who have written to National Residential Landlord Association about their concerns and are now raising it with the Competition and Market Authority to take the concerns further.

We ask that you the landlords and letting agents, please consider the support the Government is offering including the mortgage holiday scheme. If the changes are not possible due to your own circumstance, we ask that you have that conversation with your tenants.

We hope that you are all managing to stay safe in this current climate and we look forward to your response.

Yours Sincerely, Kathryn Baker, Vice-President Welfare, University of Northampton Students’ Union

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