Our open letter to MPs, Councillors, private third-party providers and landlords.

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Open letter to MPs and City Councillors 

Dear Caroline Lucas MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP, Peter Kyle MP, Caroline Ansell MP and City Councillors,

As lead representatives of Brighton Students’ Union, we feel compelled to write to you to address a rising concern impacting the 20,000 members of our student community in relation to the developing COVID-19 pandemic. This deeply unsettling time has had an array of effects and a chief concern pertains to accommodation rent payments. An increasing number of students have been returning home in accordance with guidance issued by the Government to ensure personal safety and to protect the national interest, leaving them to face great uncertainty with rent payments. We sincerely hope the Student Accommodation Sector will come together quickly, moving past the current fragmented approach in adopting best practice. We are reaching out to you to support us in lobbying private third-party providers, including Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and Houses in Multiple Cccupancy (HMOs), to enable students wishing to terminate their contracts to do so by offering the option of a cost-free release to all tenants. The area’s residential ecosystem and the future of our student community depend on this. We all share a collective duty to amplify these concerns.

On March 24, Unite and Liberty Living made a welcomed announcement, yet this best practice is not being adopted across the board. Government intervention is necessary, and your support is critical in ensuring that PBSA providers and landlords act on these issues voluntarily, which is well within their powers. While some have done so, others are refusing to waive these fees, which is deeply unjust. Students should in no way be financially penalised for respecting Government guidance and embracing their civic duty, thus saving lives. Landlords who experience a financial impact have access to a three-month mortgage holiday.

In writing this letter, we are speaking on behalf of tens of thousands of students across the city and they are counting on your support. Anxiety is at an all-time high and the current fragmented approach only exacerbates matters. We urge you to join us in ensuring that accommodation providers allow students to surrender their tenancies with immediate effect. At the moment, it is still possible to avert a crisis for student renters, as long as swift action is taken to guarantee that providers who are well placed to absorb these costs, do so. This will prevent untold damage from being done to the sector and protect our student community for years to come. We look forward to hearing from you. Please find attached a copy of the open letter that has been sent to non-University PBSA providers and HMOs.

Open letter to private third-party providers and landlords

Dear Non-University Purpose-Built Student Accommodation Providers and Houses of Multiple Occupancy,

As lead representatives of Brighton Students’ Union, we believe, as always, it is our duty to protect the over 20,000 students we serve during this unsettling time in relation to the developing COVID-19 situation and its impact on accommodation rent payments. Up and down the country, students have been returning home in increasing numbers due to guidance issued by the Government and their University. In doing so they have rightly prioritised their personal safety and protected the national interest, yet they now find themselves facing great uncertainty with their rent payments. It is wholly unjust for them to be financially penalised for carrying out their civic duty and therefore save lives. The relationship we have with the wider community is one we take very seriously, and we value these ties. You undoubtedly play a critical role in the area’s residential ecosystem and we ask you to join us in supporting our students by showing flexibility in residential contracts for those in privately run Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) and Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

We firmly believe students should not harbour the financial burden as the responsibility to do so rests with yourselves. Unite and Liberty Living’s recent announcement makes it clear it is within your power as providers, owing to your complex mitigation plans, and we sincerely hope you would undertake these measures voluntarily for the sake of our students. For landlords who experience a financial impact as a result of this, you have access to a three-month mortgage holiday. We join the National Union of Students in lobbying Government to further support you in doing the right thing by students. Officers from both Unions have come together to propose 8 measures we strongly urge you to undertake:

  1. Offer students a no-penalty release from their tenancy contracts, both for the current and upcoming academic year.
  2. Refund those students who have paid rent and a deposit for the upcoming period.
  3. Effectively reduce, subsidize or waive rent for tenants who have experienced a detrimental financial impact as a result of the Coronavirus.
  4. Operate a holistic ban on evictions for all renters during this pandemic.
  5. Stop all rent increases planned for the current and upcoming academic year.
  6. Allow students with health conditions that increase their risk to the Coronavirus and thus wish to relocate to a more isolated part of their PBSA to do so at no extra cost.
  7. In line with Liberty Living’s stance, offer free of charge support beyond their current tenancy to those needing to extend their stay. This is crucial for international students who are unable to leave due to travel restrictions and for students who do not wish to return home to avoid placing a vulnerable member of their household at increased risk.
  8. Implement and offer student tenants access to best practice public health advice, in addition to providing them with material and pastoral support.

The values you enact going forward in addressing the measures outlined above will shape our student community and society as a whole for years to come. There is no doubt this is the right thing to do. The business model, which is the very foundation of student accommodation, is singlehandedly dependent on the physical occurrence of university and the fact it has now moved to a virtual environment means the risk should be absorbed by providers and not by students. They are counting on your support and we hope you will provide it.

-

Yours Sincerely,

Brighton Students’ Union

Calvin Jude Jansz, President   BSUPresident@brighton.ac.uk
Ramy Badrie, Vice President Education    
Onyinye Okonkwo, Vice President Welfare                 

Comments

Jasmine Metson-Wilkes
12:30pm on 7 Apr 20 Hi Thomas, Thanks for your comment, until the government step in, each letting agent will have their own policy. We'd encourage you to get in touch with your letting agent directly. You can use our template letter to contact them https://www.brightonsu.com/pageassets/support/coronavirus/Student-Template-to-Landlord-.docx. There are a number of other ways you can help the campaign, which you can find here: https://www.brightonsu.com/news/article/pageassets/Accommodation-Campaign-What-should-you-do-next/ Thank you, Brighton Students' Union
Jasmine Metson-Wilkes
12:29pm on 7 Apr 20 Dear Val, Thank you for your comment and for taking the time to read our initial letter to MPs, Councillors, private third-party providers and landlords. We really appreciate your comments and interaction on this subject. We understand that some of you are independent landlords and are also impacted by the ongoing pandemic. We certainly did not intend to ignore your own concerns, nor undermine any potential difficult circumstances you may also find yourselves in, however I’m sure you can appreciate that as a Students’ Union, our priority and focus is always first and foremost our students, who are facing unprecedented disruption to their lives and study during this time. We empathise with your situation; but we must also highlight why it is important to consider an agreement of some kind over the coming months with your students. Many students have already returned to their family homes leaving their rented accommodation empty as a result of the ongoing pandemic (prior to lockdown). The vast majority of these students rely on part-time and vacational jobs alongside their maintenance loans to pay rent. Many of these jobs are zero-hour contracts that now cease to exist and for many Universal Credit to replace this work is unavailable. Without the means to pay rent and the property having been vacated, it seems only fair to consider releasing them from their housing contracts early. Whilst students will still receive their student loans for the final term of the academic year, for the majority this amount will not be enough to pay their rent, bills and food. Many do not have parents or family that can afford to help them financially, some have dependants and others many not even have access to loans, relying solely on their zero hours contract that no longer exists. Many students will be forced to find alternative funding such as further debt and credit borrowing to support their families as well as themselves during this time. In addition, we are seeing many students choosing to spend this time volunteering for the NHS, some are even working on the front line to fight this pandemic. The University of Brighton has announced that students will not be coming back to campus to study for the final term this year. As a result, most students who are still living in your properties will be moving back to family homes after the lockdown measures end. We hope you can understand this is not a ‘holiday ’for students and many are extremely distressed, anxious and unsure about what this will mean for their degrees and careers going forward. To be clear and to reassure all landlords, we are in no way encouraging students not to pay their rent and we have made it explicit that they should continue to do so until they can reach an agreement with you. To this end we have encouraged them to speak to you directly to enquire about making some adjustments at this critical time. We have also made it clear in our advice to students (in line with government advice) to stay where they are and not attempt to undertake any unnecessary travel. Without intervention from the government we are acutely aware that students have no right to a rent holiday, freeze or reduction, however we are appealing to you in the hope that any assistance you are able to offer will be an enormous relief to your tenant(s) and foster goodwill in future business. Due to the reasons stated above, Brighton Students ’Union will continue to campaign for students to be released from their housing contracts during the Covid-19 crisis. As previously stated, this is not to devalue or undermine your own concerns and situations, but rather honour our role in supporting students within the University of Brighton. We hope you can understand our position and that you and your loved ones stay safe during this period. Brighton Students ’Union
Val Kilby
1:02am on 4 Apr 20 Can I just sat that I find the Open Letter to Private Third Party Providers and Landlords not only confrontational but misleading. I feel I should take each pointy as raised in the letter. 1) Students are returning home due to guidance issued by the Government (students respecting Government guidance and embracing their civic duty). Nowhere in the Government Guidelines do they ask students to travel, in some circumstances, hundred of miles, to get home and possibly infect elderly or vulnerable family members. The Government actually ask everyone to stay put where they are and not go out at all except for essential travel, e.g. food shopping, to pick up medicines, essential work or for an hour or less exercise. 2) You refer to Unite and Liberty Living allowing students to leave their properties without paying for their last 4 months rent, and that other landlords are not adopting this and should be bought into line by the Government. Unite bought out Liberty Living and now owns over 50,000 student homes across 22 university towns and cities. (However, they do not own any properties in Brighton and Hove). I find it insulting that the Student Union compares someone like me to a huge national organisation like Unite. I have worked since I was 15 years old (often 2 jobs, a day job and then a second job working in a pub or nursing home in the evening, whilst bringing up two children) for the last 56 years. We are both pensioners and my and my 70 year old husband’s only income (apart from the State Pension) is from the student rentals we receive. 3) You ask for a cost free release for all tenants, for the 4 months remaining and also to release any students that have signed a contract for 2020-2021 to be released from their contracts. You say that this is well within landlords powers to do this and refusing to waiver these fees is deeply unjust and that students should not be penalised. You say that Landlords should harbour any financial burden and that Landlords can apply for a number of Government initiatives that will see us through the crises with financial support to protect our income. The only initiatives I can find is ‘Time to pay tax bills’ which means tax still has to be paid but in certain circumstances we may be given more time. Mortgage holiday for 3 months, but after this time these payments will need to be reimbursed to the lender plus additional interest, and finally, the government, in certain circumstances, will back a hardship loan that we may need to take out from a bank or lender (up to 80%), but of course this will have to be paid back in full plus interest. I cannot find any measures to protect our income only ones that put us further in debt. How do you expect us to survive for the 4-16 months without any income? None of the companies or organisations that we are committed to pay every month are allowing us to reduce payments let alone not pay them at all. I also understand from the Universities that the Student Loan Company is still going to pay Term 3 Tuition fee payments and that students will continue to receive maintenance payments to the end of the academic year.
Thomas Woods
2:53pm on 2 Apr 20 Will this include properties with estate agents such as the ones on Lewes road? Eg: John Hilton, SJ properties etc and if this is passed can we expect help to go through the procedure?
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