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Conf-rent-ation: students versus landlords

Following the coronavirus outbreak, most of us won’t be returning to our privately-rented student homes for Term 3. But rent is still due.

The Boar News investigated whether Warwick students think they should be compensated by their landlords. Two of our writers offer their opinion.


In defence of landlords 

Unfortunately, while term abruptly ended, financial obligations to letting agents did not. Having lost part-time jobs, many in the Warwick community are arguing they simply cannot afford to honour their housing contract. Furthermore, with the university granting those with campus accommodation the right to early termination, pressure is growing on private landlords to do what is ‘right’ and ‘fair’, and follow their example. 

My conviction is that this would not be a just outcome. Student demands to alter their rental commitments as a result of coronavirus amount to a retrospective redrawing of legal obligations. Furthermore, arguments that students should be shielded from the financial impact of coronavirus, at the expense of other economic groups, may well be attractive, but are not fair.

Firstly, rental contracts are not conditional on whether we can live in the property. For example, rent doesn’t stop when visiting friends in Manchester for the weekend, nor does it stop when the car battery dies making it impossible to get back for the week ahead. None of these situations give you a right to alter the conditions of your contract retrospectively. 

Yet I do feel that many students have fallen foul of the temptation to caricature property owners as walking ‘money bags’, laughing down at the poor unfortunates they squeeze every penny out of

If a student experiences a period of depression, making it impossible to work and pay rent, it would not be expected for the landlord to end the contract without question. Sure, it might be argued this is the ‘right’ thing for a compassionate, understanding landlord to do. But, unfortunately, kindness and compassion do not pay the bills. 

So who should shoulder the financial burden of this crisis? 

‘LANDLORDS’ scream the angry mob, pitchforks at the ready. ‘Eat the rich! Feed the poor! Save the students!’ I accept this is a little facetious. Yet I do feel that many students have fallen foul of the temptation to caricature property owners as walking ‘money bags’, laughing down at the poor unfortunates they squeeze every penny out of. 

It is easy to crusade when the case is clear cut: poor students, rich landlords. But often this dynamic fails to live up to such Robin Hood fantasies. The situation is not black and white. It never is. Granted, some property owners have deep pockets. But, equally, some do not. We enter into a contract knowing short-term changes in circumstance would have no impact on our liability for rent. So, it is dishonest of us to claim they should now.

A retrospective writing of rules would not be fair and we should stop demanding it

The default position must be for each tenant to approach their landlord and make the case for an early termination of contract, or, failing that, to reach a settlement which suits both parties, such as a delayed repayment plan. Although imperfect, this is a pragmatic answer to the problem: it takes into account the contextual differences of each party’s situation. 

Ultimately, it’s not our landlord’s responsibility to pay for our part in the world’s bad luck. We as students should take pride in our financial independence and be prepared, if necessary, to honour our commitment to landlords as adult members of society, whilst trying to reach agreements with those on the other side. A retrospective writing of rules would not be fair and we should stop demanding it, lest its ugly consequences come back to haunt us once the world returns to normality. 

George Maxwell


In defence of students 

The bottom line is that students – though by no means the most vulnerable people in society – are pretty vulnerable. The issue with taking candy from a baby is how much candy can that baby really offer? It might be easy, but what are you really gaining? A measly lollipop? Babies don’t even have pockets. If you really want candy, maybe you should try somewhere else.

But that doesn’t stop some. Most landlords are still charging their student occupants rent for the period affected by coronavirus. A period in which students are forbidden by law from returning to the houses in question, in what would qualify as non-essential travel. Being forced to pay for a service you are no longer receiving is a tad wordy – robbery seems a better term.

Obviously, this is not the landlords’ fault, and this is not a robbery. This is an unpredictable and unforeseen global disaster, and it is nobody’s fault that students can’t return to their houses next term. 

Morality is an important part of our society, that we evolved for a reason

Not every landlord is the evil, money-sucking bastard we might imagine them to be, and not every student is living one cold 89p tin of beans to the next. It’s not the job of landlords to look after the more vulnerable living under their roofs, and it’s not necessary for the government to force them to cut off a potentially huge source of income just to be decent.

But, though an abstract concept and difficult for some to grasp, decency and, by extension, morality is an important part of our society, that we evolved for a reason.

And at the risk of sounding cheesy, in a global crisis it really is your duty to help in any way you can. It’s our duty to stay inside and keep others safe, and though it shouldn’t be, it’s the duty of key workers to put their lives at risk for the good of others (even at the risk of being evicted for doing exactly that by certain aforementioned evil, money-sucking bastards). 

Skeptics who sneer at the idea of fairness are disregarding the core role of reciprocal altruism in every successful society since the dawn of civilisation

Were the same principles of ‘the burden shouldn’t fall on me’ applied to NHS workers, the streets would be littered with the dead and dying. Many first-year Warwick and Leeds students have already had rent cancelled or reduced for campus accommodation, and a Bristol landlord has cut the rent for final term by 50%. 

Small gestures such as reductions are reasonable. Skeptics who sneer at the idea of fairness are disregarding the core role of reciprocal altruism in every successful society since the dawn of civilisation. 

But this debate is one for another time. For now, some landlords seem to be on the right path. We can only hope that kindness and basic human decency snowballs into a brighter future, where people don’t have to pay for things they can’t use, we can hug each other again, and the homeless can be rehoused (it’s been shown to be possible now, no take backsies). 

For now, we can only hope, be nice to those around us who are vulnerable, and stay at home.

Sahil Bhura

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