As we see the beginning of the end of lockdown, thoughts are starting to turn to what the ‘new normal’ will look like. For student landlords, this includes a fundamental unknown – what will happen in the next academic year?
Universities have been cautious so far about committing to either online or in-person courses. However, last week, Cambridge University announced that all lectures for the 2020/21 academic year would be moved online.
While the university said they are not ruling out in-person teaching in small groups, many student landlords are concerned about other universities following suit. The University of Manchester has confirmed that lectures will be online for at least the first semester.
There had already been an exodus of students in March, faced with the prospect of lockdown in student accommodation, with many returning to their family homes immediately, and others not returning after the Easter break.
Supporting student landlords
The NRLA is conscious of the major impact any disruption of university courses would have on student landlords, who often specialise specifically in student lets. We are proactively contacting universities to find out more details about their plans for next year.
As the situation becomes clearer, we will be sharing advice and guidance for student landlords.
We also encourage student landlords to respond to our forthcoming survey, which will include questions to understand in more detail landlords’ plans and concerns about any changes to teaching.
This data will help us to effectively demonstrate to government and policymakers the impact on the market. Look out for our email inviting you to participate soon.
What approach are universities likely to take?
Many universities – including York, Warwick and Newcastle – appear to be adopting a ‘hybrid’ approach to teaching, avoiding large gatherings such as lectures, but keeping campuses open so that students can attend in-person teaching in small groups, such as seminars and tutorials.
Not only does this reduce the number of contacts a student has, it also allows universities to be agile if there is another period of lockdown, making it much easier to move all teaching online.
There has been some suggestions that there will be different approaches for different years – as has been suggested for schools over the summer term – but it’s likely any such changes will be confirmed over the summer as the impact of the relaxation of lockdown becomes clearer.
Universities must provide clear information on the nature of teaching to students before clearing begins in August.
Will students choose to stay away?
Analysis published by London Economics this week for the University and College Union suggested that, if social distancing measures were in place, almost one-fifth of first-year students would be likely to defer their place – a 17 percent increase on the proportion who would if universities take a ‘business as usual’ approach.
What’s less clear is how many students will choose to study from home rather than return to university.
While some may be looking to save money by remaining at home, others will be keen to continue their university experience, even if socially distanced.
Landlords may find that students within a shared house have different views on appropriate next steps.
And for international students, there are even more questions about the feasibility of travel.
What if I struggle to fill my vacant properties this academic year?
Some landlords will already have agreed tenancies for next year, but others may find they are faced with potential voids.
Landlords should consider what the best approach is, depending on their own business and local circumstances. For example, is there an Article 4 Direction in place? Letting a property to a family rather than as a house in multiple occupation (HMO) would constitute a change in use, and could put in jeopardy your ability to re-let the property to students in future.
It’s important to look at the local market and establish where demand lies. The local authority may also be running schemes to place those at risk of homelessness – many of whom were given temporary hotel accommodation when the coronavirus outbreak hit – within the PRS.
Will this signal a long term change in student lettings?
Some students may prefer the flexibility offered by halls of residence offering accommodation on a term-by-term basis, in case there are further instances of lockdown during the academic year.
Others will continue to look for private rented accommodation but there is the risk that they could leave properties again if there is another lockdown period.
Looking ahead to 2021/22, there is potential that there will be a larger number of freshers as a result of students deferring offers this year.
This could put further strain on halls of residence, and increase demand for private sector housing, but it is not yet clear to what extent this is the case, and is likely to differ from place to place.
And further ahead, it’s still to be seen what the changes in 2020/21 will mean for online courses in the future, the financial viability of some universities, and student demand and expectations in the years to come.
As with every aspect of this pandemic, the impact may be felt long after the fear of the virus has gone.