As an MP for a university constituency, Mary has been contacted by a significant number of students who have been having a great deal of difficulty in negotiating with the landlord over rents for properties in the City of Durham that many cannot return to, nor will ever live in again. In conjunction with Durham Students’ Union, Mary has had success in getting some of the owners of Purpose Built Student Accommodation to review their tenancy agreements and rents, but others are having difficulty reaching agreement with private landlords.
Mary has since written to letting agents in the city to raise this matter. Mary wrote:
I am writing to you as I have been contacted by a number of students at Durham University who are very concerned about their current tenancy arrangements. As you will know, Durham University has closed all of its buildings to students, and as the country has been under lockdown, many students have returned home instead of staying in Durham, meaning that they are not only paying rent on a property which they currently cannot stay in, but in many cases will not come back to at all.
While I appreciate that the current guidance issued by the Government states that rent is still due on properties throughout the lockdown period, it also states that “It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward.”
I am therefore deeply concerned by the number of students who have contacted me to tell me that their attempts to negotiate some form of agreement with their landlord for the deferment or reduction of rent is being met with either a flat refusal, or not being responded to at all.
I understand that many landlords only have a small number of properties, and may rely on the income these generate, but it is worth noting that the Government have indicated that landlords who have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic should have access to mortgage holidays during this period, while students have, in many cases, been left with rent to pay; no income or ability to seek temporary work due to the lockdown, and no recourse to the benefits system as they are in full time education.
Many of those who have contacted me have highlighted that they simply do not know how they will manage to afford their rent, and I urge you to do all you can as a major letting agent in the City of Durham to remind your landlord clients of these facts, and to do all you can to encourage dialogue, either directly or through yourselves, between landlords and their tenants to reach a sensible compromise on rent going forward.
I would also be grateful if you could get back to me to let me know what steps you have taken to support student tenants through this difficult time, and what you can do to encourage landlords to look at this issue sympathetically in the future.