Is it reasonable for students to demand rent reductions?

Is it reasonable for students to demand rent reductions?

One thing’s for sure, almost everyone is having it tough but, generally, we are all ‘pulling together’ to navigate these difficult times. So is it reasonable for students to be demanding rent reductions and cancellation of contracts? I read this article last week and thought it was worth a short comment.

Hundreds of students in UK sign up to rent strike

Hundreds of university students have signed up to a rent strike in protest at having to pay thousands of pounds for accommodation where they have become trapped as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many have complained they are stuck on near-deserted campuses where facilities and services have closed.

Landlords are often vilified in the media but I know personally of many very good landlords who, despite zero grants or compensation from government schemes, are making arrangements with tenants who have lost work or been furloughed. Commercial landlords of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities are undoubtedly in for a very tough ride for an extended period. However, in the short term at least, they are able to claim grants linked to Business Rates.

The case for students in HMOs is slightly different. Whereas commercial landlords pay business rates, student accommodation is residential and is liable for council tax. There is no government support at all for providers except the CBILS loan scheme. CBILS is a loan, to be repaid, and subject to arbitrary interest rates after 12 months. Besides, only 1% of applications have been granted to date!

But many students have loans too. Which also must be repaid. Some have also had to work to support themselves and supplement those loans; that work has just gone and they can’t claim UC because they’re full time students. So I can see their point.

However, landlords are not the enemy here. Some of our residents have chosen to go home, some have stayed. We have helped some who’ve left by providing free boxes and tape, and offering free storage, but some have literally just bolted, leaving most of their belongings in their rooms.

Some who have left have paid periods in advance, some have payments due and are asking about the possibility of cancelling their contracts.

We are looking after those who have stayed, keeping in regular contact with each and every one. Cleaning and hygiene management continues, with the full support of the residents. We have installed neat hand sanitisers in the entrances of all flats, so residents, and any required visitors (i.e. for maintenance), can sanitise easily before touching handrails, door handles, etc when coming in from outside. This has been appreciated and helps create goodwill.

In order to keep providing services and protection to our remaining residents we need to keep paying our bills and for the people who manage everything. Some bills may reduce slightly but many won’t – high speed broadband doesn’t get cheaper when only one person is using it. Power and heating is used by fewer people but used much longer, all day and much of the night in fact.

So it is clear this is not a one dimensional situation to be solved with simplistic answers. On all sides, landlords, tenants, councils and regulatory bodies, there needs to be flexibility to find solutions for every case and this won’t be achieved by any single party ignoring the position of another.

As long as all parties act with integrity in cooperative spirit, we can all get through these exceptional, tough times.