The problem with non student tenants in a student property

Sleeping bags

It all started when Mr Y, a landlord, was left with an empty property when his student tenants left a couple of months into their term.

I can’t remember why they left early but Mr Y was obviously unhappy about it as he was out of pocket. 

He was then approached by Mrs A who seemed to be the answer to his problems.  Mrs A had five children and she needed somewhere to live. 

“Could you” she pleaded “allow me to move in just for a few months while I look around for somewhere permanent?” 

Mr Y was a family man himself and he felt sorry for Mrs A.  “Well all right”, he said, “but mind you must have moved out by the end of August as my next lot of students will be coming along after that and I will need to get the property ready for them.”

So Mrs A signed a tenancy agreement for a fixed term which ended on 30 August, and she duly moved into the house.

In early June Mr Y served a section 21 notice on Mrs Y, and he then made an appointment for a ‘check out’ meeting on 30 August.  But it was not as simple as that.

Mrs A had indeed tried very hard to find somewhere else to live but it is not easy to find an affordable property with five bedrooms. 

When she got her section 21 notice she trotted round to the Council.  But they did not have anywhere for her either.  Furthermore, they gave her strict instructions NOT to move out – as otherwise, she would lose her right to be re-housed.

The possession Proceedings

It was at that stage that Mr Y came to me.  I said (as by then the section 21 notices had expired) that we had better start possession proceedings pronto as it would take a while to process and time was ticking on.

So we duly issued proceedings for possession and as Mrs A did not have any defence (thankfully the notice was correct and there were no other issues) the possession order was made.  But STILL, Mrs A remained in the property as the Council had still not been able to re-house her.

These things all took time and September had come and gone.  Term was due to start soon and the new student tenants needed their house. 

I issued a warrant of possession as soon as I could, and a bailiffs appointment was fixed.  The autumn term had now started though and the students were desperate. 

They were all sleeping on their friends’ floors as they had no-where else to go, and their parents kept ringing me up and complaining.  All I could do was tell them that we were on the case but the property was not available yet.

It all worked out in the end though.  Mrs A duly left, I think the Council did find her a suitable property in the end, and the students were able to move in.  But it was a difficult time for the landlord and he had to waive a fair amount of rent.

Comments and conclusions

This story serves to illustrate how unwise it is to let a student property to non-students.

When you sign a tenancy agreement with someone to start on a specific date when the previous tenants are still in occupation you are always taking a risk.

All tenants have the legal right to remain in a property after the end of the fixed term, but with the vast majority of student lets, this never happens.  The students are usually only too pleased to be going home at the end of the year.

However if the tenant is not a student, as happened with Mrs A, there is always a risk that they will remain.  Whatever they say when the move in.

Mrs A did genuinely believe that she would be moving out and was, in fact, making arrangments to do so when the Council told her that if she did she would waive her right to be re-housed.

Although Local Authorities are no longer supposed to do this, many still do.  If you are a single parent with five children you cannot really risk losing your chance of re-housing.

In order to protect their income landlords need to make it very clear to students, before they sign the tenancy agreement, that they are signing a binding agreement for the year which the landlord will not agree to cut short for any reason.

And make sure that you have guarantees in place (and that you have checked the creditworthiness of the guarantors). If guarantors are not available or live overseas consider using a guarantor company such as Housing Hand.

Tessa Shepperson

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