By Sabrina Miller, Opinion Editor
The SU has called on landlords to absorb the financial impacts of a rent reduction.
Bristol SU has written a public letter asking landlords to give a rent reduction or to suspend payments for students who have been financially impacted as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.
This comes following the news that Digs tenants will begin a rent strike as of the 1st of April.
The letter highlights the loss of part-time work for students due to the closure of restaurants, bars and other businesses and how the maintenance loan does not fully cover rent payments.
The SU Officer team has promised students they are working to ‘lobby those with the powers to change the current renter policy’, though this effort is frustrated by the fact that the government has only advised Landlords to consider payment plans and has no official policy in place.
A draft email for students to send to their landlords has also been released and can be found here.
The full letter is as follows:
Dear Private Landlords, Purpose Built Student Accommodation Providers (PBSAs), Lettings Agents and Concerned Students of Bristol,
We are writing to you about the recent Covid-19 developments, and the uncertainty and financial pressure put on students.
We recognise these are challenging times for everyone and hope that you and your staff are keeping well. In this period, it is vital more than ever that we act as a community and ensure the safety of everyone within it. Covid-19 has touched every single person’s life in this country, be it through damage to health, changes to life circumstances or financial difficulty.
We are all feeling the effects and we are all in this together. In response to the crisis, many of our students are volunteering their time to support those most vulnerable, from dropping off food and medicine in their local communities to volunteering in the NHS volunteer scheme.
Covid-19 has forced bars, restaurants, and many other businesses to close their doors. The majority of student jobs are in the now-closed service industry and our members are now struggling financially.
Many receive the minimum student loan of £4,168 per year, with taught postgraduates receiving even less, and so rely on part-time work to stay afloat. Even with the government’s retention scheme, many students have already lost their jobs and are now struggling to pay their rent.
In addition, our feedback shows that students with disabilities, those with pre-existing health conditions, international students and those that don’t have family support networks are facing particularly challenging circumstances.
With all of this in mind, we are asking private landlords and PBSAs to offer the following:
- For students who cannot return home or do not have another home, an extension of tenancy in the case that isolation and the crisis continues past tenancy dates to prevent them from being made homeless.
- For students who are no longer living at the tenancy address, a no-penalty contract release. If students have already paid for the next period, you should refund this along with their deposit.
- For students who have been financially impacted due to Covid-19 and cannot move out, a significant rent reduction or a rent holiday, where no rent is required, for the duration of the crisis.
We realise this a large financial ask, and we do recognise this, but this is a global crisis and students shouldn’t be the ones paying for it. As providers of accommodation, your business model is based on university physically occurring. In normal times you have generated significant profit from the presence of students in this city. We therefore request you to absorb the financial impact of this situation where possible.
These requests are in line with the actions taken by many Universities, PBSAs and landlords across the country, who have taken decisive action to address the huge financial burden rent places on students during these challenging times.
Providers like the University of Bristol and Unite Students (a large national provider of PBSAs) are allowing students to be released from their contracts early with no-penalty, making allowances for students who cannot collect their belongings due to Public Health guidance, and providing flexibility on tenancy end dates for students who are unable to return home. Across the country, responsible housing providers and landlords are taking these steps and we urge you to do the same.
Landlords, please consider the schemes the government has put in place to help businesses and property owners, including the retention and mortgage holiday schemes which might give you the financial flexibility to make these changes. If our requests are not possible due to your own circumstances, we ask you to have a conversation with your tenants and come to a shared agreement.
Lettings agents, we understand you do not make decisions surrounding rental payments, so we therefore call for you to share this letter with your landlords and assist them where needed to accommodate their tenants’ needs and their own.
Concerned students, we ask for you to contact your landlord or PBSA and tell them what you need. We also ask you to be kind, as we expect landlords and PBSAs to be, especially to individual landlords who may also be suffering the financial consequences of the crisis. We also ask you to share this letter around and encourage others to do so.
To all, we appreciate your kind actions towards each other in these difficult times and your decision to do the right thing. We hope you all stay well during these challenge times and encourage you to follow Public Health England guidelines around social distancing and hygiene.
The Officer Team at Bristol Student’s Union, University of Bristol
Featured image:Epigram/ Patrick Sullivan
Will you be contacting your landlord for a reduce in rent? Let us know.