Three months ago we were living our lives, blissfully unaware of the devastating effect that the Coronavirus would have, and how uncertain every aspect of the day-to-day existence we usually take for granted was soon to become.
Two months later, the world for students has turned upside-down. At the end of March, we packed a bag with as many supplies as we could and flocked back home in our thousands, leaving our university homes, and our education as we knew it, behind.
For myself and many others, it was an anxiety-fuelled whirlwind. The fear of being trapped alone in a small university room, unable to see our families for months propelled us to up and leave without a second thought, despite having up to 5 months of a rental contract left.
As things started to settle down and become more clear, we began to notice the acts of compassion granted by some student housing providers. The institutions themselves started this, allowing students in university-owned halls to be released from their rental contracts early if they had had to leave their accommodation.
Some private companies followed suit; Unite and iQ both made the decision to allow students early release from their contract if they were unable to stay. But many students, including myself, have not been so fortunate.
As a resident in private student halls managed by Collegiate AC, I have been shocked by the way the current situation has been handled.
I have lived in the same studio for my whole university life so far; this is my second year living there, and I have already signed my contract to return next year. Before COVID-19, I regularly recommended this company to prospective students and those looking to move out of university owned halls. Unfortunately, every faith I had in the company has now been demolished.
Myself and thousands of other students in accommodation owned by private companies have been left deeply upset by the way they are choosing to exploit this terrible situation.
Collegiate have shocked me in their lack of care and understanding. From cut-and-paste responses to our desperate pleas, to simply not responding at all and offering nothing but a three-month rental deferment (which is probably only because they legally can’t evict us within a three-month period anyway at the moment). Besides, what use is a three-month deferment to the many students who have lost their jobs in hospitality, one of the industries worst affected by the virus? All this achieves is leaving students who will be no better off financially in three months with two instalments of rent to pay in August (if they are returning next year). The lack of communication and unwillingness to engage in a conversation about rent reduction is upsetting, and makes the regular cries of ‘WE CARE ABOUT YOUR WELLBEING’ by the company feel like nothing but a kick in the teeth*.
My message to Collegiate, and to any other company who is putting profit before people in a time of crisis is this. We will remember. In years to come, companies will be judged on how they treated their residents when the shit hit the fan. Because how you deal with a real-life crisis is very telling of a company. Students will flock to Unite and iQ ran accommodation buildings feeling assured that should something terrible like this ever happen again, they will be taken care of. And rightly so.
We understand that we signed a contract, but so many contracts are being amended in the name of compassion and kindness right now. These are unprecedented times, and to continue to make a profit from students is a terrible decision. I understand that some smaller companies may be unable to offer full refunds or cancellations of rent for the summer term, but I urge you to rethink your decision to continue charging full rent, especially when many properties are at <50% capacity, meaning utility costs will be significantly reduced. It’s not too late to make a difference, and profiting from a pandemic is shameful.
*I always add when I comment on this situation, that my/our issue is with the company, not the on-site staff. Personally, our accommodation managers have always done their best for us and genuinely DO care about our wellbeing, and we are all incredibly grateful for the help they have offered residents who are still living in their rooms during the crisis.
If you would like to show your support to students who are in this stressful situation during what is already an incredibly difficult time for so many, we would be so grateful if you could sign this petition.
For more details on exactly why I believe students should not be forced to pay full rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, and supporting resources, see my Twitter thread (and RT!):