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Student landlords threaten legal action over non-payment of rent

A number of landlords are threatening legal action against university students after many withheld rent to save cash during the lockdown. 

Landlords and letting agents are demanding that students pay for accommodation they signed up to until the end of the academic year, despite the vast majority returning to their family homes during the lockdown. 

Students have been forced to complete their studies remotely, with most encouraged by their universities to go home in late March.

With properties unoccupied during the summer term, many students feel that they should not be liable for the rent, with those who paid rent in advance now demanding a refund. 

Some universities are urging private landlords to compromise on final term rental payments, while others, acting as agents for private landlords, have flatly refused to offer students any refund of their agent's fees.

Some letting agents and landlords appear to be ignoring guidance issued by the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) on 'consumer contracts' impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The CMA told the press that its guidance also applied to suppliers of student accommodation.

It said: “CMA's statement on consumer contracts, cancellations and refunds, which aims to help consumers understand their rights, would also apply to students. 

“In most cases, the CMA would expect businesses to offer refunds where they cancel bookings or don't provide any services – or where consumers are not allowed to use them because of lockdown restrictions.” 

Abbey Rentals, which manages properties occupied by students attending Chester University, is among those planning to take legal action against tenants over unpaid rent. 

The company has given tenants seven days to pay rent, otherwise costs will be added to the principal debt as per the tenancy agreement signed by the tenant before moving into the property. 

In a statement, Abbey Rentals said: “We have followed government guidelines and offered any student who has financial difficulties a payment plan – although this has not been an issue as most students have received their government loans which are intended for living expenses.”

Poll: Do you own student property?

PLACE YOUR VOTE BELOW

  • Mark Wilson

    To limit the level of student debt, debt that the Government will end up having to write off, it doesn't seem too far fetched that contracts entered into pre corona virus will have an implied force majeure clause, thus limiting the recovery of rent in arrears for students. Force majeure is a common contractual term, not used in tenancy agreements as this scenario was never imagined. I suspect it will become standard from now.

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    Be specific about force majeure in this example a tenant choosing to go home isn’t it.

     
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    As a lawyer, I believe Mark Wilson is correct in suggesting that the courts will, in the circumstances, find that there is an implied clause allowing frustration of contract based on the force majeure principle. In fact, I am sure of it. Moreover, charging interest on student debt will only serve to exacerbate the issue and could well risk a costs order against the landlord. Also, any landlord seeking legal redress against students will find considerable delay due to the substantial backlogs in the court system. Surely, any sensible private sector provider of student accommodation will have taken out rent insurance, wouldn't they? Those who haven't only have themselves to blame.

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    In what sense is it frustrated? If the tenant chose to go home, that does not constitute contractual frustration.

     
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    bs--you sure you are a lawyer?

     
    Paul Barrett

    Absolute twaddle you talk.
    Both parties entered into a civilly binding contract.
    Nobody forced either of them to do so.
    The LL did so on the basis that the contract would be fulfilked.
    The tenant did so on the basis that the LL would provide the contracted services.

    If either party withdraws from the contract without mutual consent then the relevant party would be liable for the costs of the affected party.

    Force majeure has sod all to do with it.
    Not the fault of the LL if the tenant wishes to vacate early.
    They are still liable for the full contract length.

    It is just TOUGH if it is no longer convenient for a student tenant to use those services the LL has provided.

    Using your ridiculous logic all tenants could cite this FM situation.
    They couldn't posdibly expect to find themselves in such a position that they were unable to service their contractual obligations.

    It is ridiculous views like yours that undermine the whole tenant/LL relationship.

    To have LL exposed to the whims of people like you are very dangerous for civil contract law.

    Faced with these new paradigms many LL will stop letting to students.

    The day contracts en masse are sanctioned to be void is the day such tenancy contracts won't be written.

    Leveraged LL in particular would be hoghly exposed in future to effectively make it a pointless investment so risky would they be to students being permitted not to pay fir the entirety of the contract.
    So only unencumbered LL could risk student tenants.
    Even for them there would be monthly costs to be met without any rent being paid.

     
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    Luke Aaron......so if there is a mother of all earthquake happening in central london, well, the tenant can also choose to stay put and die.....based on your logic

     
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    Paul.....this Covid-19 is a PANDEMIC.......do you know what is a pandemic? or are you one of those guys walking around without a mask on

     
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    In your analogy, the earthquake should be nationwide…no safer back home than remaining in central London.

    Secondly, an outside event (earthquake or virus) does not and is not affecting the property’s ability to fulfil the contract, so no force majeure.

     
  • icon

    I think that there is a wider question around whether students should be paying the full tuition fee or a pro-rated fee to reflect the compromised course delivery model. Back on topic, when I was a student I had to provide guarantors (my parents) before I could rent a shared student house. Presumably this is still common practice so slightly surprised that legal action has been initiated in the above case. As a landlord, I have been expecting to take a temporary haircut on monthly rentals but I count myself fortunate in that so far I've not needed to. That could change at any time of course, but I have always tried to do the right thing for my tenants where I can. Legal action against students feels premature at this time.

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    Tony / Mark, it is interesting to see the take from a legal perspective on a majeure clause. However, it is very likely that these properties were let to individuals as a place of residence. It could then be argued that the occupants being "tenants" is irrelevant. Yes, the Covid 19 is an unforeseen circumstance but this doesn't mean that the tenants could not go get another job to pay their rent. As well as that, they should not have been travelling home. If this case was to win, then majeure could be claimed in nearly any situation to get out of paying rent. My girlfriend got pregnant and we need another room, etc.

    I think it is right that these tenants are made to pay their rent in full. They are awarded Government grants and loans to pay for their living costs whilst at University. Will the tenants be asked to pay a proportion of their grants/loans back which can then be redirected to the landlords? Just like the previous story about the Council asking the landlord to take a hit, we see how farcical the financial response to this situation has been. That council has decided that the social responsibility to prevent homelessness lies with the landlords paying for strangers from their own pocket. Surely that is the role of the elected representatives. If someone cannot pay rent, the benefit system is there to help them. If that is broken (which we all know it is), we have a more serious problem.

    These students are still students at the end of the day. They still have to do their lectures and work online. Covid 19 simply required tenants to stay home and not venture outside. It did not prevent them from being students, it did not require them to move home to live with parents. A student is the group least affected by Covid 19 to an extent because in most cases their incomes have not changed. To the most part they lived on loans/grants before Covid so had we not been isolating, how would they pay their rent?

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    Exactly this.

     
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    I am now actively avoiding students where I have a choice, which is currently always. Students will find their actions will come back to bite them, especially in Scotland where many left with 28 days notice in mid March, as allowed by the loony SNP legislation of December 2017. Some even had the gall to ask for the 28 days notice to be waived!

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    Students still have to study and if they choose to go home to do this that is them making a choice. They are not being forced to go home to study it is merely a matter of choice. The liability of rent is not negotiable and they have to pay it even if not living there.

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    Yes a good point. As a household, the students were quite able to stay in their accomodation hmo so why do they believe the LL should waive rent?

     
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    If there is a massive earthquake in London, so it is the tenant choice to leave? This pandemic is no different. If you have a kid in london, would you want to kid to come home quickly or get sick and possibly die alone?

     
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    The act of leaving is not the problem, but the contract still needs paying. Try not using your mobile phone for a month because you were in hospital, incapacitated and then after you were discharged fancied a change of network…do you think Vodafone will let you off the remainder of the 24mo contract that you’re only half way through?

    There’s no reason students can’t get a job or become an NHS volunteer and remain in their rented student property (most students don’t return home following their studies anyway). And what about the LL that has one or two tenants in, say, a six-bed property where the other students have indeed gone gone but they choose to stay? What the bleedin he’ll do you expect should happen then?

     
  • Mark Wilson

    Students make a large part of the market in many locations and from my experience, as a parent paying for accommodation students don't receive good value and are a pretty soft target for Landlords. It will be interesting to see how the market adjusts. Resolute positions on a this site are just rhetoric.

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    See Robert Brown’s
    comment above for an indication…

     
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    They will be left with the dross properties that they deserve with parents like you showing them exactly how NOT to behave when entrusted with six figure assets!

    I often have around 15 to 20 groups wanting to rent my properties, which are all kept in pristine condition with no voids apart from this spring. All have since been relet without any rent reductions to professionals, so less choice for the students when they re-emerge from having fled home in March.

     
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    As a parent paying for your child's accommodation it is clear which side of this discussion benefits you the most - hence your original supposition.

    As a landlord, the bulk of my portfolio being Student HMO's i can assure you, that i have more quality hoops & checks to meet than those properties that are let to non students.

    Having not had a void period in the last 18 years since i started being a landlord & having "Gold Standard" properties across my portfolio, i would suggest that if "from your experience....you're child is not receiving good value and is a pretty soft target" that says more about you & the quality of accommodation you chose to house them in.

    Back on subject, all of my student AST's have a parent as guarantor and only two have enquired about ending their AST early, well one rather informed me that she was giving me my months notice "and as a fellow landlord she knew her rights"...having pointed out all of the salient points (most of which have come out in the above discussion) coupled with the fact that her sons possessions were still in the house and no keys had been returned, she soon changed her mind, what saddened me, was the holier than though attitude that she was absolutely in the right and "how could i possibly be looking to capitalise on a global crisis", on the other hand, a parent emailed me to say his business had fallen off a cliff, he was struggling to keep up vital payments and could he work something out with me, after a five minute call, we agreed to end his sons AST there and then, no further rent payments due and that his son could access the property at some point in the future when lockdown allowed to retrieve his kit and clean the room......

    I guess the moral of the story is: the way people deal with you has a direct effect on how you deal with them !

    Thats not rhetoric....just a statement of facts.

     
  • icon

    I stopped renting to students in the 90s, just not worth the bother when there is no shortage of decent working tenants out there, as I understand things most student landlords insist on guarantors, I would simply go after the guarantors and not under any circumstances let them get away with it, I also wounder if our friend here is really a solicitor.

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    Solvent middle class guarantors are the only thing that makes letting to students worth while, although I am often amused by being looked down on by snobbish parents with a net worth a fraction of mine.

     
  • Suzy OShea

    Mark Wilson,

    My son was in student flats for three years and you are right that often the agents treat them badly: they fail to provide the most basic health and safety equipment such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; they leave repairs like missing grid panels covering bathroom pipes undone for ever, this allowing rodent infestations in the property: they don't stick to legal limits for sizes of rooms: worst of all there is no inclusion of a six-month break clause in any of their tenancy agreements, such as I and I'm sure every responsible landlord includes in their tenancy agreement, which would have allowed the tenant to quite legally give one month's notice in February/March and move out without legal threats and demands for lost rent.

    However, on the other side, financially students have been affected the least since they are supposed to be able to survive on the grants/loans provided from tax-payers' money for that purpose. Any money they earn from part time jobs which may have been lost is extraneous to this calculation! Going back home to live off Mum and Dad is therefore their choice and if their parents have stood as guarantors then the landlords ought to be able to collect the rent.

    If there is no clause in the contract about a force majeure altering the situation, like the damage of a hurricane or a fire having made the accommodation uninhabitable, then I don't see how this can be whistled up suddenly to justify the unjustifiable!

    If students or their parents win this case, they will be creating a rod for their own backs in the future, since many landlords will leave this niche market and refuse to take students. This will create future scarcity and ultimately drive up rents.

    Furthermore, are students who live 'in hall; i.e. in student accommodation provided by their universities allowed to skip their rental obligations? If they are not getting lectures, tutorials or the services and resources of student libraries are they allowed to refuse to pay tuition fees for the time of the lock down?

    I think you could be on a slippery slope here and the government had better set limits to its presumption on landlords' charity or else they and we the tax-payers will have even larger bills to face for the Corona virus bail outs.

    This government has already printed nearly £63 billion to cover the requirements of the current lock down which will shortly be lifted, though economic life will take some time to return to anything approaching normality. Now this pack of criminals wants to print nearly another £300 billion to fund further dislocation caused by brexit which will very conveniently be laid at the door of the Corona Virus. This is all fraudulent but I would expect no better from this pack of jackals!

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    Suzy, i think most student AST's (certainly all of mine) are 12month fixed contracts...giving both sides the required security.

    I totally agree a six month break clause can be included after an initial period if that suits both parties outside of a student world.

     
  • Paul Barrett

    Some of the comments on here seem to be confident that they will be able to seek recovery from student guarantors.
    I would suggest that such LL are being extremely naive.

    Attempting civil recovery from guarantors is no easy situation.

    Just imagine the situation where both parents have been made redundant and are now receiving UC and Oh! yes any supposed equity in their residential property has been wiped out.

    How may a LL enforce any guarantor agreement!!!!????
    It can take years to enforce guarantor obligations.
    If the LL is unable or unwilling to service the mortgage payments before guarantors can be forced to then the property will have been repossessed by lenders years before.
    A student guarantor is NO guarantor of anything.
    Only if there is a RGI policy in place would there be sufficient liquid cash from the RGI company to prevent repossession.
    I don't know many parents that would be prepared on a joint and several basis to be guarantors to the student tenants in the household.

    If student tenants are facilitated the ability to just void their student tenancy because of whatever excuse will be the day the PRS stops letting to students.

    The whole point of LL letting to students is for enhanced profit.
    If this is put at risk then student LL won't bother being student LL.
    As other LL have commented they have bern able to replace their student tenants very easily with professional tenants.
    Any property used for students is easily made suitable for professional tenants.
    Many such proverbial student properties are usually in ideal locations for such professional tenants.

    I predict that many student properties will be converted to professional tenants as HMO.

    Such professional tenants will provide far more tenancy certainty than student tenants.
    I believe that many existing student LL will be reviewing their student portfolios with a view to withdrawing from the student market.
    It must be a nightmare being a Scottish student LL.

    Students will find availability of suitable property is substantially reduced.
    This will have been entirely the fault of feckless student tenants.
    There will be many changes in the PRS..
    Student lettings will be just one of the them.

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    Paul

    Most solvent middle class guarantors pay up to avoid having their credit rating trashed and claim they were unaware of their errant offspring's misbehaviour.

    I've never had to take them to court, and with several guarantors with joint and several liability, peer pressure on the defaulting party's guarantor is virtually guaranteed to succeed.

     
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    a contract is enforceable--guarantors are not affected by anti eviction stuff

  • Matthew Payne

    I havent read the full CMA statement but extract quoted doesnt appear to be relevent. The service that is not being provided in full by the lockdown is the one being provided by the university to the student. Online learning has replaced the full campus experience which the student like the rest of us will conduct online from their home.

    Where is the relevance of the lockdown to the service that is being provided by the Landlord to the student? Online leaning doesnt mean that a student has to flee from their university town to live with their parents. If anything, that could be argued as a non essentiaI journey by tens of thousands of students, spreading the virus far and wide all over the UK. I havent fled my main residence to live with relatives and requested that my mortgage payments should now be written off until the pandemic is over when I then plan to return.

    There is also a cute play on words here that suggests that student accomodation is temporary and conditional on physical studies taking place. "Their family home" is not a correct description. "Their families' home" is more appropriate. It suggests they are returning to their own home, when in fact they are going to reside in a property they no longer live in and never planned to go back to- it is owned by a third party, their parents. Most students leave home when they go to uni, never to return, and remain in their university town after they have graduated or move on to another city. A few historic posters on a bedroom wall and the occasional visit during the holidays does not justify them being able to claim they have 2 addresses thus suggesting the student house is pop up commitment they can opt out of.

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    Well said Matthew! Indeed Students often rely on the additional protection afforded by deeming their term time homes as their "principal or only home" instead of the additional protection which landlords would have if they were regarded as short- term furnished lettings as is the case for self catering holiday accommodation.

    As usual, students and their parents want it both ways.

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    Some students made a personal choice to leave their accommodation and return to their family home due to Covid 19. Many did not. Approx 62 out of 112 uk universities decided to waive rent for the summer term. They made this decision because unlike landlords they actually advised students to leave halls and go home. Universities and large student hall providers have access to vast resources and government backed corporate lending facilities which are not available to private landlords.

    It is easy to add millions of debts to a university spreadsheet when there are no personal consequences to face. Vice chancellors on highly inflated salaries and generous expense and pensions schemes are urging small private landlords to give up 1/4 of their income for this year and maybe more next year.
    The stereotype of a greedy landlord with a huge portfolio of properties are very outdated. Most landlords own one or two properties which they have purchased with a mortgage to provide a living income or to supplement their pensions. The vast majority of landlords are not eligible for any of the economic packages provided by the government. Mortgage holidays have to be paid back with interest.
    Small private landlords support the local economy and provide a vital and affordable alternative to hugely expensive university halls and large accommodation blocks. If student landlords go bankrupt due to Covid 19 students will be left with less choice and more expensive rent in the future.

    Students still receive their maintenance loan. Their living costs are considerably reduced as travel is restricted, gyms, pubs, clubs etc are shut.
    Many have not had their ability to pay rent affected by Covid 19.
    Landlords are still offering the service they signed up for. We still have to fulfil all our legal obligations.
    Students and their parents have signed a legally binding contract. The Governments advice is to still pay rent. Petitions on the subject have been rejected by the government.
    Many students and their parents do not understand that the rent is needed to not only pay the landlord’s mortgage but other costs such as; HMO licences, utility bills, fire alarm testing, gas safety checks, electricity checks, gardening, management fees, insurance, maintenance and repair costs, university accreditation costs, furniture etc. We keep our properties spotless but it is chocking to see how they are sometimes left at the end of the tenancy. Maintenance costs are very high for student lets.

    Letting agents still have to pay their rents, staff salaries and other business overheads and have been busier than ever during the pandemic responding to angry parents and students requesting to be released early from their tenancies. They also have to invest in PPE and health and safety measures to protect staff and students in the future,

    We consider each request for assistance on a case by case basis. If a student can prove genuine hardship we help by offering discounts and payment plans. But many, especially, middle class students/parents simply do not want to pay citing fairness. Is it fair that landlords should pay for this crisis? There is nothing fair about this pandemic. People are losing their lives and livelihoods. Of course students and landlords need to work together, but we cannot accept anyone using this pandemic for their own ends.

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