Renters Reform Bill a ‘hand grenade’ for student let sector

Renters Reform Bill a ‘hand grenade’ for student let sector

15:53 PM, 26th July 2022, About 3 weeks ago 33

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The controversial Renters Reform Bill could destroy the student-let sector. The ban on fixed-term tenancies will mean landlords can no longer guarantee spaces to new students at the start of the next academic year. Richard Reed reports.

Fixed-term lets have been the norm for university students for decades. They move out at the end of their final year, and a new group moves in.

Yet all that is about to change in the Renters’ Reform Bill, thanks to astonishingly short-sighted government policy that will ban fixed-term lets.

The result, warn housing experts, is that landlords will pull out of student accommodation – creating a severe shortage.

They say the ending of fixed-term tenancies and the abolition of Section 21 evictions will make it impossible for property owners to be sure flats are empty for the following year’s cohort of students.

The only exemption in the Bill is for purpose-built student accommodation (PBSA) – creating a bizarre anomaly in the market.

Student housing charity Unipol says there is already a shortage of student digs, with new PBSA not coming on stream at anything like the expected rate.

Combined with an existing fall in the number of privately rented houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), the charity warns the situation could deteriorate sharply.

“I think it’s daft, if I’m honest – I don’t think it’s been particularly well thought through,” says chief executive Martin Blakey.

‘It won’t work for the student sector’

“We don’t think it will work for the student sector, it’s as simple as that. It’s an academic cycle, so if landlords are not certain they can re-let for the following year, that accommodation will be very difficult to let. In certain parts of the country where you have very tight housing supply, that will have quite a dramatic effect.

“The people at the sharp end of this will be Bristol, Brighton, York, Nottingham, where any contraction in supply will be problematic – and it’s problematic now. Students are already finding it difficult to rent.”

He said there was an apparent contradiction in the bill, in that PBSAs are exempt and can impose fixed-term contracts on students.

“It kind of implies that students don’t know what they’re doing, and then a bit later on implies they should just be treated as normal tenants like everyone else. I’m not sure you can have it both ways. I’m not sure why students are special in PBSAs but not outside of it.”

Scottish system not working

Mr Blakey says evidence from a review in Scotland, where similar provisions were introduced in 2017, showed the system wasn’t working.

“The conclusion of that research is that many landlords in Scotland have moved out of student housing in HMOs. The recommendation is that the Scottish parliament should revisit that, because it’s having a serious effect.”

Simon Thompson, managing director of leading student lets website Accommodation for Students, agrees that evidence from Scotland shows such a move would be a huge mistake, and says the proposal is “a cause for concern for students”.

“The role of the student landlord is vital, both in providing an affordable accommodation option and, as our research shows, an essential part of the university experience,” he states.

“We have seen the impact of a similar change in the law in Scotland already, with students struggling to find suitable accommodation in cities like Glasgow. It is, in my view, vital that an exemption is made for student landlords; if it is not, a significant number of students will struggle to find affordable accommodation in the future.”

Unipol’s Mr Blakey believes the obvious solution is to make all student accommodation exempt from the new legislation and allow fixed-term contracts. Students would be easy to categorise for legal purposes, as there is a clear definition for Council Tax purposes in the 1972 Local Government Finance Act.

He points out that private landlords top the satisfaction rankings, with the best probably having just one or two houses. “It would be tragic to lose them,” he adds.

In addition, he warns that new PBSAs are being completed at an alarmingly slow rate, with next year’s numbers down to just 20,000 bed spaces from an expected 30,000.

“If you’re really interested in supporting students you would go for that and say ‘yes’, because there is a problem if next year’s students don’t know where to live, or if the housing supply gets smaller – and it will get smaller; it is already.”

‘Doesn’t work for landlords or renters’

Ben Beadle, chief executive of the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA), also condemns the proposed ban on fixed-term contracts for student HMOs.

“It just doesn’t work for landlords and it doesn’t work for renters because you are going to have no certainty that property will be available when people need it,” he explains.

“At the moments students start looking in January or February, you secure it, you sign up, you know you are moving in July, August or September, and that property is ready for you.”

Like Mr Blakey, he highlighted the inconsistency of singling out PBSA for an exemption when more than 30% of students live in HMOs. “This is going to cause significant problems and I’m not sure what issues it’s trying to solve,” he added.

“I get with the wider white paper it is trying to resolve insecurity. I understand the logic for it. But the reality is that students don’t need the security – the student market is incredibly cyclical from summer to summer.

‘The outlook on this group is simply wrong’

“Typically a second-year student leaves halls and goes straight in to the privately rented sector. If you’re lucky you might get them to renew or they might move in with other housemates in a different property. But after that they are leaving university, they are going to get a job, they are not going to want to stay in a four- or five-bed HMO beyond their university life. The outlook on this particular group is simply wrong.”

Mr Beadle said the proposed ban would mean landlords would have no certainty that a property would be ready for the following year’s students, which could see many providers leaving the sector, creating a shortage and pushing up rents.

“I can’t think this is going to help the affordability by launching a hand grenade on the sector and expecting it to work as well as it does,” he added.

“This is an area where the government needs to look again. We think there should be two things: we want students to be exempt, or more accurately given parity with the PBSA market; and we want the ability to get property back at the end of the term, leaving it to landlords and tenants to create a fixed term of some description.”

Both the NRLA and Unipol said they would be lobbying the new housing minister in the next prime minister’s administration for changes to the bill on student accommodation.

 Do you own student accommodation? What are your views? Let Property118 know and post your comments in the forum.


Robert M

10:11 AM, 1st August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by LordOf TheManor at 27/07/2022 - 23:14
"Council Tax billing has the date of every student's last exam - and bills duly arrive for them well AFTER the students have long since left for Ibiza - calculated until their tenancy end date, which is also known to Council Tax billing by way of the retrospectively informed start date of the incoming students."

Your council really should read the relevant regulations. Student exemption lasts until the end of their tenancy.

Freda Blogs

10:39 AM, 1st August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert at 01/08/2022 - 10:11
Thanks @Robert M

I didn't know that - are you able to direct me to the relevant regulations please?

In the last 3 years or so the Council has started to bill our students from the date of last exams whereas previously they hadn't done that.

Robert M

11:58 AM, 1st August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Freda Blogs at 01/08/2022 - 10:39Class N of The Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) Order 1992 specifies that a student exemption applies to:
(1) A dwelling which is either:
a. occupied by one or more residents all of whom are relevant persons; or
b. occupied only by one or more relevant persons as term time accommodation;
for the purposes of paragraph (1)
a. “relevant person” means a student or ……
b. a dwelling is to be regarded as occupied by a relevant person as term time accommodation during any vacation in which he
i) holds a freehold or leasehold interest in or licence to occupy the whole or any part of the dwelling; and
ii) has previously used or intends to use the dwelling as term time accommodation.
REPEAT: has previously used or intends to use the dwelling as term time accommodation.

Also the council has a habit of sending out bills to landlords for £20 - £40 for gap between tenancies. Do a freedom of information request to ask what level they ignore debts for legal collection purposes!

LordOf TheManor

18:59 PM, 2nd August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert at 01/08/2022 - 10:11
Thanks, Robert.

I have questioned this with Bristol City Council. They argue that from the day after the student's last exam, they are no longer a student - their studies have finished - so therefore the billing is appropriate.

I haven't challenged them on the clauses you refer to, though.

In practice, if every tenancy had a change-over date to co-incide with the date of the students' last exam - it would deplete the city of cleaners, maintenance people and inventory clerks to a point where none would be available for non-student house tenancy change-overs. It wouldn't work at all!

Robert M

21:50 PM, 2nd August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by LordOf TheManor at 02/08/2022 - 18:59
To me the law seems quite clear. Submit a formal complaint and ask for a written opinion from their legal department why the regulations do not apply or for their interpretation of the regulations that supports their view.

Christopher Shaw

9:11 AM, 4th August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Is there any way to get the views of Rishy Sunak & Liz Truss on the PRS and the Renters reform bill?
Is there any forum that we can use to ask the question?

Hugh Rattray

10:37 AM, 4th August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Joanna Fear at 27/07/2022 - 12:06
We have also let to students for nearly 30 years without a problem. We always offer them the option to stay on but if they write back to us saying they are leaving we put the property on the market again.
If they say in writing they plan to leave is that not enough?

TheMaluka View Profile

14:43 PM, 4th August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

How about giving the students a one year fixed term and simultaneously with signing the contract get the tenants (all of them) to sign a one year notice. At the end of the year if they do not move out you can invoke the Distress for Rent Act 1737, section18 "Tenants holding after the time they notify for quitting, to pay double rent.".

Michael Holmes

14:43 PM, 5th August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Regardless of the particular travails of the student let sector. How come nobody is up in arms about the doing away with the AST? Having open ended Contracts will make a lottery out of private rentals. What occurred in the 60s and 70s before the advent of these contacts will reoccur with a vengeance. Rental properties will be like gold dust. Rents will go through the roof. Well done Conservatives.

Joanna Fear

15:30 PM, 5th August 2022, About 2 weeks ago

Is the NRLA doing something?

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