This is a public letter from Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge University Students’ Unions and the University of Cambridge Graduate Union, and the students they represent, to landlords and accommodation providers in Cambridge, asking them to reduce financial pressure on their student tenants during the coronavirus outbreak.
We have also contacted the local MP, Daniel Zeichner, who is sympathetic to our demands.
If you are a student concerned about having to pay rent on your private tenancy, because the coronavirus outbreak has put you in a difficult financial position, you can use this template letter to write to your landlord and request a change to your agreement.
Dear Private Landlords, Purpose Built Student Accommodation Providers (PBSAs) and Lettings Agents,
We are writing to you about the recent COVID-19 developments, particularly concerning the uncertainty and financial pressure they 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. 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 with the NHS.
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. Undergraduate student loans have long been recognised to not fully cover expenses, and postgraduates often receive even less: this means many students rely on part-time or holiday work to stay afloat. Those who planned to work during the holidays are now unable to do so. 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, in order to protect our students during the epidemic we, along with the National Union of Students, and students around the UK, have five clear asks of universities, private sector PBSA providers and student landlords in the Private Rented Sector:
- Landlords must stay updated with and implement best practice public health guidance, communicate clearly with tenants and provide maximum support possible
- Every student landlord must offer a no-penalty early release from tenancy contracts for the current and next academic year for students who are no longer able to live at the tenancy address. If students have already paid for the next period, this should be refunded, along with their deposit.
- Accommodation providers should end all evictions, for all renters, for the duration of the crisis, and extend tenancy for those who do not have another home, to prevent them from being made homeless in the case that isolation and the crisis continues past tenancy dates.
- All renters who are financially impacted by the Coronavirus should have their rents subsidised, significantly reduced or waived entirely for the duration of the crisis. This should not be expected to be paid back after the crisis.
- All rent increases should be suspended for the next 12 months.
All of these requests can be enacted right now voluntarily by individual landlords and accommodation providers.
We realise this is 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. In normal times you have generated significant profit from the presence of students in this city, and this will be the case again as soon as the crisis is over.
The government has offered significant support to landlords during this crisis to ensure that they are not negatively impacted: they have announced a three month mortgage holiday for all landlords whose tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to coronavirus. This enables landlords to pass this “holiday” on to their tenants (Coronavirus Guidance for Landlords and Tenants, Ministry of Housing, 1.4).
These requests are also 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.
Colleges within the University of Cambridge, that act as landlords for the majority of Cambridge University students, 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 supporting students who are unable to return home to stay in residence. Nido student housing have confirmed that they will waive licence fees for residents in Castle Hill from the 10th April, and Student Castle have agreed that they will allow their tenants to terminate their contracts early (https://www.studentcastle.co.uk/media/2554/covid-19-student-castle-update.pdf). 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 give you the financial flexibility to make these changes.
Lettings agents, we understand you do not necessarily 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.
To all, we appreciate your kind actions towards each other in these difficult times and your decision to do the right thing.
The Officer Teams at Anglia Ruskin Students’ Union, Cambridge University Students’ Union and Cambridge University Graduate Union
London Renters’ Union resources on your rights as a renter: londonrentersunion.org/c19rentcrisis/
Housing advice from Shelter: england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/coronavirus
Join Acorn, the local tenants and community Union (there’s a Cambridge branch): acorntheunion.org.uk/join/
NUS draft letters to the council: www.nusconnect.org.uk/nus-uk/coronavirus-covid-19-hub/student-issues/letter-templates-for-local-mp-regarding-housing-and-covid-19