The Scottish Government has extended legislation that allows students living in student accommodation, such as halls of residence and student villages, to terminate their tenancies by serving a 28 days’ notice on their landlord.

The legislation, which was originally introduced in May this year, was due to expire in September, however, the Scottish Government has now extended the rules for all students until March 31, 2021.

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Student accommodation controversy

The move comes after controversy erupted over student accommodation at Scotland’s universities, when thousands of students returned to halls or residence and student villages at the beginning of the academic year.

As scholars faced the prospect of being confined to halls or risk expulsion under COVID-19 safety measures, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was forced to clarify students could leave student accommodation if they wanted to.

It also follows reports that some universities, such as Glasgow and Aberdeen, had experienced outbreaks of coronavirus amongst their student population; and most of the lectures that students would be attending, would be delivered online and remotely.

In response, Nicola Sturgeon clarified students can return to their families for visits, if they have a reasonable excuse, but cannot stay overnight, unless they move back home permanently.  She has also warned, however, where students do return because they are self-isolating, then the whole household are also required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Why were students allowed to return to university? 

The return of universities has been hailed as controversial by some as it was announced that lectures would be delivered remotely in a bid to curb the pandemic.

Many scholars have hit out at the decision by universities, which had originally promoted campus life and blended learning as an important part of the learning experience, claiming they’d be able to save between £500 to £800 in rent each month.

However, as universities have fast become high risk infection areas students have been left wondering if they’d be better retuning home, saving themselves thousands of pounds in rent over the remaining academic year.

What are the pros and cons of staying in halls of residence?

Although the legislation now exists that allows students to leave, should they want to, many will be weighing up whether it is the best course of action to take.

It is true, because of the restrictions that have been imposed, most students are not getting the same opportunity others have had in previous years to enjoy university life. However, they will still be living independently from their family, many for the first time and making new lifelong friends. For some this is an experience still worth having and for many over the years, has been a rite of passage in becoming a student.

It's also important to keep in mind, if they do terminate their tenancies with the university and then change their mind at a later date and want to return, there is no guarantee they will get another tenancy, as demand for student accommodation remains high.

However, the other side of the argument is by returning home many students will probably be able to enjoy more freedom than they will if they remain in student accommodation, barring another lockdown, and will benefit from the support of having family and friends around them.

In addition to that, there are the financial benefits of possibly saving between £500 and £800 per month in rent.

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How do you terminate your tenancy?

If students do choose to terminate their tenancy, then the first thing they should do is check their tenancy agreement. This should contain a clause telling them how this should be done. This may be by email or by letter posted to their landlord.

The legislation that allows them to terminate the tenancy also requires them to do so in writing and to send the notice to their landlord, giving their reason for doing so. The reason must be related to coronavirus.

At present there is no definition of what a coronavirus related reason is, but it may be because other people in the same accommodation or nearby have become infected by coronavirus. It may also be because social distancing in shared areas of the accommodation is not possible. Equally it may be because the reason the tenancy was taken on was to be close to classes that now won’t happen, removing the need for the accommodation.

The notice must also give the landlord 28 days clear notice of the termination, from when it is received, which is the day after it is posted or on the same day, if it is sent by email. It must also state the day the tenant intends to leave the accommodation.

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