Student tenants are leaving their rental accommodation in droves after universities and colleges close face-to-face teaching. One agent said that 72% of its student tenants are returning home to their parents, leaving rental homes empty.
Oxford University has cancelled exams and urged all UK undergraduates to return home after some students tested positive for coronavirus.
Other establishments, for example the London School of Economics, have replaced courses with online learning.
The latest advice from Universities UK is that universities cannot be fully locked down, as research cannot be left unmonitored, but says that “everyone is advised to stay at home”.
Private lettings agency Student Housing, which has offices in the university cities of Lincoln and Nottingham, said that “many” students are leaving their rented accommodation and returning home to their parents. More than seven out of ten of its student tenants have done so.
Another student lettings specialist, Unite, said this morning that it will offer to forego rent for students for the rest of this academic year if they return home.
The hit to the company will be massive – between £90m and £125m. Unite told the stock exchange this morning that it is doing this to protect its reputation in the long term.
Marcus Askam-Yates, director of Student Housing, says students should still pay rent even if they go home to their parents.
He said: “Universities have changed from face-to-face lectures and tutorials to online learning. If they stopped all lectures and seminars, students would be asking for a refund on their tuition fees.
“Our tenants have told us that they just want to go home to be with their parents and families rather than remaining in their university cities, as they can now complete their work online from the comfort of home.”
He said that as the Government is still continuing to issue student loans, there is no reason why students should not pay rent.
He said: “We have had several phone calls and emails from concerned landlords worried that their rental income will decline during the current situation.
“We have reassured them that all tenants have signed binding contracts with us.
“Of course, the tenancy does not require the tenant to physically reside within the property, and it is their right to vacate their rented property, but the tenancy agreement remains unaffected.
“Landlords have to keep to their obligations under the tenancy, and it’s expected that tenants will adhere to their obligations too.
“We have had several students ring us about what happens to their rent if they decide to leave their home temporarily and if a discount will be issued if they no longer live at the property.
“We understand that some students use part-time jobs to top up the loan payment in order to pay their rent.
“In these circumstances, we’re asking guarantors to step in and provide rent guarantees, or we’re offering deferred payment plans to the tenants as the pandemic unfolds.”
Askam-Yates said that currently the next academic year is unaffected but cautioned: “It’s impossible at this stage to say what will happen in September.”