Students speak out against “incredibly unfair” tenancy contracts
Exeter students speak out after finding themselves unable to terminate tenancy agreements for private student lettings.
Exeposé has spoken to 24 students about their experiences trying to cancel their tenancy agreements. Some came from circumstances with private landlords, while others’ properties were managed by letting agencies or big accommodation companies. Students have alleged to feeling trapped in unfair contracts, poor communication and a lack of compassion.
On 16 March a Registrar Email was sent to all University of Exeter students advising they make plans to go home over the next few days if able to do so. It was reassured in a second Registrar Email on 19 March that students would not need to return to campus for summer exams.
Both Students@Cardens and Star Lettings sent student tenants and landlords an email reiterating that students would have to continue to pay for their accommodations despite not living in the property. Students who came forward from letting agents Gillams and Fulford’s mentioned they had not received similar blanket emails.
It’s disgusting that students are treated like this. It should be illegal.Anonymous Student Tenant
Star confirmed to students that “Your tenancy is for a fixed term and cannot be terminated until the end of this period. None of us know how long these restrictions will be in force, however we may find ourselves being able to travel, finish studies, graduations etc and you will still have your accommodation to use until the end of the contract this summer.”
Students@Cardens also noted that “The property will naturally be available to you until the end of your contractual term, in accordance with your agreement. The tenancy does not require tenants to physically reside in the property, but in the same way that landlords are expected to keep to their obligations, so too are tenants.”
One student, whose landlord worked with Star Lettings, noted “my landlord is still making me pay a solid chunk of around £1400 despite me not living in the property anymore. So I’m effectively renting an empty room until August.”
When asked their opinion on the situation, they replied: “it’s disgusting that students are treated like this. It should be illegal. Why should a student be stuck in a contract paying £600-£900 a month for a small studio flat? That’s more than most people play for their mortgage!”
One student recipient of the email from Star Lettings called the response “incredibly unfair and makes a stark contrast from the team efforts of others across the country.”
Another student reported that Gillams said they remained liable for the full amount of rent. When the student referred to the mortgage holiday set out by the government, the letting agent made it clear that this did not apply to them.
Students with private landlords received a range of responses.
One student described their landlord’s email detailing the reasons why they would be unable to cancel contracts.
“The worst thing is that we have bills included and we will not be using water/electricity etc. in these next few months. So technically he’s gaining from this.”
They noted that their contract also had no exit clause.
Two respective students told Exeposé how their private landlords offered a compromise.
One student noted they were to receive 50% off their monthly rent. This was after their landlord originally claimed they would not be able to give the students their money back and would need the money from third term. The student noted they were “very pleased” with the proposal and it “seems very fair.”
The other student had their rent reduced by £98.
When asked for their opinion on the offer the student replied: “I mean I’m in a tricky position because the landlord is lovely, and I’m renting from them again next year. But viably I won’t be living there until next year maybe, and I could really use the money for savings (instead of renting a place I won’t even use) considering I have no financial support and my job plans for the summer are pretty much through.”
Students@Cardens contracts do not contain a break clause and tenants have no automatic right to end their contract.Students@Cardens
Exeposé approached Students@Cardens, Star Letting, Gillams and Fulford’s for comments regarding their response to students relating to the pandemic. Only Students@Cardens and Star Letting have responded in time.
A spokesperson for Students@Cardens responded: “We empathise fully with all of our tenants and landlords in these unusual and difficult times and we very much hope all are keeping safe.”
“We let and manage a number of shared HMO’s in Exeter on behalf of individual landlord clients. Those landlords will, by nature, have their own opinions as to how the situation should be handled but fundamentally our position is as outlined on the University’s own website.
“Students@Cardens contracts do not contain a break clause and tenants have no automatic right to end their contract. Although the coronavirus outbreak presents an unprecedented set of circumstances for landlords and tenants alike, there have not yet been any changes to the law regarding ending tenancies due to the outbreak, and without prior negotiation with your landlord, your obligation to pay rent will not change.
“However, if the landlord will not release you from the contract, they could still ask you, or your guarantor, for payment in full. They also have a right of recourse through the Courts if necessary.
Students@Cardens drew further attention to the nature of student housing contracts and what this means in the possibility of rent negotiations.
“An important point is that our contracts are Joint and Several and therefore responsibility is shared – if one tenant refuses to pay rent then other housemates can be held responsible, so a shared approach is sensible.”
A spokesperson from Star Lettings responded: “We have spoken to the University and are advising students with the same guidelines that they are offering. We are also voluntary members of Propertymark ARLA, our governing body, who work closely with the Government. We receive daily updates from ARLA and can forward this guidance to both landlords and tenants.
“Tenancies that are fixed for a fixed term and do not end until the end of this final term, rent does need to be paid. However we are asking tenants to communicate with us if they find themselves in financial hardship.
We are asking tenants to communicate with us if they find themselves in financial hardship.Star Lettings
“We are advising tenants to continue to pay their rent even if a reduction has been agreed. A rent payment plan can be agreed to help ease the situation further, however this is discussed with landlords individually with each case.
“We are asking that tenants communicate with us at all times so that we can help all parties, guide tenants and ensure that landlords put provisions in place for any loss in rental income or delays in rent payments.
“Landlords can obtain a 3 month holiday break from their mortgage, however it is only a holiday and it will need to be paid back. Mortgage companies require evidence of hardship before an agreement is made. We are aware that Student Loans are due this month.”
We are trying our best to empower students to come to some sort of agreement with their landlords and accommodation providers that cover both parties’ needsKatie Heard, VP Welfare and Diversity Officer
Exeposé approached VP Welfare and Diversity Officer Katie Heard for a response to the situation:
“We are fully aware of the issues students are currently facing regarding accommodation, and we are trying our absolute best to empower students to come to some sort of agreement with their landlords and accommodation providers that cover both parties’ needs.
“Along with the other Full-Time Officers, we have written an open letter to landlords to ask them to reduce financial pressure on their student tenants during the coronavirus pandemic. If students are in financial difficulties affecting their accommodation due to coronavirus, we encourage them to forward this letter to their landlord.
“We are pleased that we have seen success with this letter so far, with accommodation providers making agreements for students.
“We have also worked with the University to start an emergency assistance fund that can cover Utility bills, council tax and other essential expenses. I am currently lobbying the University to look at housing belongings for those students that are unable to collect them due to COVID-19, which seems to be an increasing issue.”
The Guild sent an open letter to landlords and letting agents on 6 April. Students have since discussed organising against landlords through an open letter, or an organised rent strike similar to the one that saw success in Bristol.