Student tenancies during COVID-19 - A landlord’s perspective

Landlords have welcomed many students back to their properties in 2021. Government guidance officially allowed all higher education students to return to in person teaching and learning after 17 May 2021. 

The majority of students decided to return to their student lets before this, to live with friends and experience as much of university life as they possibly could at this time. In fact, in June the average UK occupancy level in PBSA Code members was 69 per cent. 

However, the impact of COVID-19 is still being felt, potentially changing the usual student behaviour and leaving landlords with extra considerations. So, what are the specific things landlords should be doing to ensure they are looking after both the rights of student tenants and their own bottom line at this time?

The legal considerations

While the majority of students have returned to their accommodation to see out their tenancies, landlords should still be aware of the ramifications of unoccupied properties. 

Accommodation agreements or housing contracts are still legally binding and they are liable for rent until the end of their fixed-term tenancies. As with families and other tenants, it’s up to landlords to decide whether they will agree to end agreements early or negotiate with student tenants around rent repayments.

Interestingly, Unipol notes that many students are planning to stay in their accommodation until the end of their contracts – attempting to get their money’s worth after leaving their rooms unoccupied in 2020 and early 2021 and enjoying the chance for more socialising. 

Looking towards autumn 2021, though, there is no absolute guarantee that we won’t see further lockdowns, and therefore landlords should prepare by ensuring their landlord insurance provides as much unoccupancy cover as possible. 

Typically, insurers will provide unoccupancy cover for up to 90 days during void periods when a property is empty, such as when student properties are usually empty over the summer period.

This cover usually includes severe property damage from extreme circumstances – fire, lightning, explosions, earthquakes, smoke and aircraft crashes – and has other restrictions in place. It’s important to check your policy to see how  well your property is covered, and for how long. 

Some insurers are issuing void extension periods for policies that currently only cover landlords for up to 60 days, but this is happening on a case by case basis. Landlords with our Hamilton Fraser Total Landlord Insurance Premier policy are covered for up to 90 days. 

Inspections are particularly important for empty properties, and can still be carried out safely during lockdowns.

When a property is left unoccupied for more than 30 days you need to notify your insurer and carry out weekly inspections of both the inside and outside of the property, keeping clear written records and rectifying any defects revealed. 

If a property is left unoccupied for an extended period, landlords must:

  1. Ensure that the water supply is switched off at the mains and the entire water and central heating systems are drained of all water
  2. Or continuously maintain the heating at a minimum of 10°C throughout the entire property 
  3. Keep the loft hatch door open to allow air to circulate. 


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Student considerations

As with all things related to the fallout of the pandemic, very few cases are going to be exactly the same. Student loan payments are generally distributed in April and September, so this is something they should already have budgeted for.

With hospitality businesses now open as usual, those who were struggling to find-part time work may now be more financially stable. 

These are all factors to take into consideration when planning your strategy, so it’s important to approach every student as an individual. As with all tenants, communication, consideration and transparency are always key.

Student tenancies during COVID-19 - A landlord’s perspective

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Rent and arrears

Many universities agreed to waive rental fees for some of the academic year and some have played ball.

The vast majority of students living in private accommodation are doing so under a joint and several tenancy agreement, which means they are jointly liable for rent. Students who chose not to return to see out their tenancies did so of their own accord, so landlords are on solid legal ground if they wish to continue charging rent while the property is unoccupied. Note that most students will also have guarantors in place who will be able to pay their rent in the event they are unable to do so.

However, we would always recommend discussing if this is a financially viable option with your tenants, particularly given the mortgage holiday offered to landlords in this country. Otherwise, you run the risk of alienating your tenants and cultivating a fractious relationship.

It’s also worth checking whether or not there is a break clause in their tenancy agreement, which would allow them to end the agreement early. This is quite common in halls, but less so in private rental situations. Note, however, that in many break clauses it’s often required for tenants to find a replacement tenant, which is obviously very unlikely right now.

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Other considerations

Possessions – A contract will generally ask tenants to clear and clean their property by the end date, and students now should be able to return briefly to properties before the end of their tenancy, even if they have remained at home for the entire year. Landlords should communicate with their tenants if they are worried about possessions being left in properties and an agreement should be made between the two parties about what is to be done with those possessions.

SupportWhilst there are few legal implications, the Government has suggested that it’s important for landlords to offer support and understanding to tenants whose income level might be affected by the pandemic. This means having a conversation early in on the process to reach a temporary agreement regarding lower rental payments or an agreement to pay arrears at a later date.

Coronavirus Act 2020This act originally protected tenants from being moved out of accommodation without a court order.

Restrictions on evictions began to officially “taper off” from 1 June 2021. Until 31 May, landlords needed to give tenants six months’ notice before beginning a court claim for repossession. This meant that any landlord who gave an eviction notice before 31 May might not be able to start that claim until the end of the year.

However, from 1 June onwards, enforcement of possession by county court bailiffs and high court enforcement officers is allowed in all cases. And yet, they will be asked not to enforce where a tenant is self isolating or has COVID-19 symptoms.


Working together

Around 29 per cent of students studying in the UK utilise private rented accommodation during term time – so it represents big business for landlords across the country. While the worst appears to be over for now, landlords should prepare for any potential further waves. 

 Be prepared to negotiate and to put anything important in writing (even in an email). But most of all, be ready to listen to the needs and fears of your tenants and react accordingly, even if that reaction might seem overly generous. Because unprecedented times often call for unprecedented measures.

For more information on how to work with tenants through the coronavirus crisis, read our full COVID-19 guide.

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