Many students, such as myself, have found themselves in a very difficult situation due to the pandemic: Student accommodation contracts.
The pandemic has changed many things, the academic aspect of university has adapted to the Covid-19 safety measures, which means that students are guaranteed online teaching sessions.
I am an Italian student, studying Politics at the University of Greenwich. Because I am in my third year, I have lived in London for two years already. In February 2020, I booked a room at a private student accommodation in North Greenwich and I signed a contract which started in September 2020. Then the pandemic happened and I was forced to change by plans. I moved back to my country before the end of the second term in 2020 and spent the summer in Italy. On the one hand, the University has totally failed to promptly communicate its intentions for the beginning of the 2020/21 academic year. Therefore, I only learned in August that there would be a blended teaching format and I was told that I had to return to London to attend one compulsory seminar. All good.
I arrived at the student accommodation in the last week of August. Covid-19 was in recession and every day, there were fewer cases, which gave me hope and motivation to start the new academic year. However, after a couple weeks of studying remotely and only going to university once a week, the pandemic got worse and cases were rising daily. Also, I was made aware that actually not only the face-to-face seminar was never compulsory, but I also realised that I could have stayed home in Italy and avoid all the fuss. By October I was already depressed, I was paying £1300 every month for a studio and I was not attending any face-to-face session anymore because I did not feel safe taking public transport. I was not even leaving my room. My presence in London did not make any sense anymore. I wanted to return back home.
Here is where my problems started. I found out that the contract I had signed before the pandemic stated that if I wanted to leave the accommodation without being reliable for the payments I would have to find a replacement tenant, which had to be a full time student. I had to find a student moving to one of the most expensive cities in the world, during a crisis due to a pandemic, who was willing to pay £1300 every month for a studio. Impossible. I tried to find someone but as it may be obvious, I couldn’t find a soul. I spoke to a lawyer, I spoke to the university’s financial team. I found out that, once again, the British Law supports the rich and huge student accommodation administration rather than me, a student who is forced to move back home due to the pandemic. Has the government forgotten to adapt the contractual policies to the emergency situation that we are in? How is it even legal to not have a break clause in a contract? The contract is clearly not fair, because theoretically, it should not favour one part over the other, but in this case the student accommodation contracts clearly protect the landlord but not the student.
By Maria Niglio
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