We’re all wondering what the new normal will look like as the current lockdown starts to roll back. We don’t know whether there will be a second lockdown nor whether there will even be a new normal as we navigate this pandemic. For student landlords, we’re still waiting for universities to decide how they will be offering courses – online, in-class, or a mix of both. 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.
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.
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.
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. As with every aspect of this pandemic, the impact may be felt long after the fear of the virus has gone.