The Bristol Cable
Digs letting agency admit email was “insensitive” and say they will speak to landlords about options, including 50% reduction in rent.

More than 130 Bristol students are refusing to pay rent to a “heartless” city letting agency after the company insisted on payment in full, regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Students are withholding rent worth around £1,500 each from Digs Residential Lettings in Clifton, and are calling for their rents to be cancelled completely or reduced drastically in the wake of the outbreak.

The rent strike was called after Digs sent a ‘polite reminder’ to all of its tenants informing them that full payment was still due on 1 April, as per the contract, regardless of when student loans are paid or the Covid-19 situation.

This comes as housing campaigners called for a rent freeze for private tenants. The government has suspended evictions for a three month period.

Ruth Day

Student and Digs tenant Ruth Day, of campaign group Bristol, Cut the Rent, said: “I was angered by the email because it was so insensitive and so heartless. Students are already stressing about how to pay rent because loans don’t come in until April 20 and many have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus lockdown.”

In the wake of the backlash, Digs has admitted that the email was “insensitive and sent in error, in terms of its wording” and has promised to speak to all landlords individually. However, the company was clear that they are “purely an agency” and that the final decision rests with landlords, not them.

Steven Harris, Digs’ managing director, told the Cable: “It’s a very tricky situation, acting for many property owners means there is a not a one fits all solution and its not our decision.

“As an agency we will be speaking to all our landlords individually and we will encouraging them to help, we have a variety of options for them. The option of zero rent if vacant or 50% if occupied can indeed be presented.”

Day, who is a third year Maths and Philosophy student at the University of Bristol, said: “I don’t have much sympathy for the Digs argument. Landlords are getting a lot of help from the government around this situation. As students, we don’t own another property. We are literally just renting and most of us don’t have much money.”

Bristol Student Union has published a letter calling on accommodation providers to consider a rent freeze or reduction for the duration of the crisis.

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Contrasting responses

The email from Digs comes in stark contrast to what other accommodation suppliers in Bristol are offering.

The University of Bristol has said all students living in university-owned accommodation will not be charged for the rest of the academic year if they decide not to return next term. UWE’s website states that students will be released from their contract for the final term if they have vacated their accommodation.

Unite Students have said students will not have to pay their final instalment as long as they inform before 10 April that they wish to leave their accommodation.

Another student letting company, Penlane Ltd, reportedly emailed all tenants to offer them a 50% rent reduction during the coronavirus pandemic.

Day applauded the approach taken by other providers and urged Digs to take notice: “The main source of income for students is the loan, which isn’t always enough to cover rent, especially in Bristol given that they’re so high,” she said.

“But a lot of students work on zero hours contracts, they work in the hospitality sector, they work in clubs, cafes, bars, and honestly, all of those jobs have stopped. Many students have been laid-off from their jobs and their income has just gone.

“Students have been completely left behind by the government’s support package, too.”

A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “Our immediate priority has been to support students living in university-owned accommodation and last week we wrote to those students to tell them that we will not be charging them for their accommodation for the rest of the academic year if they decide not return to Bristol next term.

“However we know that a lot of our students live in private accommodation which is outside the jurisdiction of the university. We acknowledge that some of our students are experiencing difficulties and, as such, we will be encouraging them to approach providers to talk to them about this very difficult situation and to see if they can help.”

To find out more about financial support during the Covid-19 pandemic, visit the government website.


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  • Ruth says:

    I think students are misinformed if they think the government has helped landlord

    The government has made it so much worse for landlords with their wording and meddling.
    The easiest thing to have done would have been to guarantee rent for those affected by virus. Instead they have created a mess because some tenants even with all the money given to them by government will not pay knowing they can’t be evicted

    Landlords having to ask mort company to defer mort(still owed) and not all willing unless proof tenant can’t pay. Overload this area with phone /email trying to get throu

    Few landlords will get the grants offered to self employed. So no money
    No landlord can get the loans
    On empty properties 100% council tax still payable. But rates free for 12m for other businesses

    Section 24 where tax is due even on a loss
    At rates of 90% and over
    Expect many not to survive

    Full time landlords live on the difference bet rent and mort. If no rent then nothing for the landlord to live on. Because rental property is owed will not get help from UCredit.

    Tenants due to be evicted before virus due to not paying rent now will get approx 10 months free

    Section 24 should be scrapped
    Courts should deal with older eviction cases.
    Landlords need help and have got zero from government.

  • Chris says:

    There is NOT a universal approach because Both student And Landlord circumstances will be different.
    Just to point out some inaccuracies, the Govt has done Absolutely Zero for Landlords, not given them a lot of support. 45% of Landlords are single- property renting, many Blue collar workers.
    The so-called mortgage payment ( unhelpfully worded ) holiday is only a deferment of payment, not an excusal. Many landlords rely on rental income to sustain their own living expenses and are not ‘Lords of the manor ‘
    Financially secure parents of students are usually sought as Guarantors for the legal contract that they have both committed to.
    Landlords responsibilities and financial commitments continue during the virus – which hasn’t made anything Free.
    Landlords can’t ask the supermarket to give them their weekly shopping without charge, because a tenant who’d rent they rely on, hasn’t paid them.

  • Gromit says:

    “Landlords are getting a lot of help from the government around this situation.”

    What help would that be? A mortgage holiday whereby Landlords credit record is hit, and interest rolled up which has to be repaid with interest on the interest – some help that is!

    • PossessionFriend says:

      Exactly, a very one-sided article.
      The virus hasn’t made anything free, for anyone, Tenants, not Landlords.
      All Landlord responsibilities including costs, remain.
      Students should perhaps learn some basic economics in addition to whatever grandiose subject their studying. A property isn’t like a book you can keep on your shelf without cost.
      Also, 45% of Landlords rent out a single property that in many cases contributes to their living commitments. Many of these single property landlords are Blue-collar workers ( yes, the kind the prime Minister and our country has been lauding during this difficult time.
      Also, a student tenancy will in most cases, have a financially stable parent as a guarantor to what is a legally binding committment on ALL parties.

  • Sunny Day says:

    It is very kind of the university to say they will not charge however it is my understanding that the tenancy contract signed for halls contains a break clause and that should the tenants wish to leave they can do so. A lot of private landlords do not have a break clause and for the reasons highlighted by others do not wish to surrender the tenancy due to the extra financial implications it will put upon then.

  • Mr X says:

    Landlords relying on the strict interpretation of the tenancy contract and not giving any room for negotiation should expect a legal fight. My son cannot go back to his student residence from home due to the lockdown. As far as I as his father and guarantor is concerned that is contract frustration and he should be released from the lease. Unless his landlord is prepared to negotiate reasonably he is not getting a penny from me or the other 6 tenants in the house. Rent was due on 26/3/

  • V Durrant says:

    Couldn’t agree with you more. My daughter came home when uni shut. Now in lock down. No good reason to return to Bristol. Notorious Landlord, room in a disgusting house for £465 per month, including months landlord know they do not need- June, July, August. Daughter no hope of hospitality job. Guarantor furloughed and pay reduced until Jan 2021. Landlords reaction – she can come back and live in the house! House disgusting and a virus risk at the best of times. Landlords profit (n mortgage) circa £27,000 on this property alone this year and he owns many many more. Assets of millions but he is unable to show any humanity and grace unlike the majority of the UK at this time.

    • Alice says:

      Any recourse for you? My daughter is also in the same predicament. Throughout the year she has had problem with her lodging, roof leaking causing mould. Till today, DIGS insisted they have addressed the problem . My daughter left before UK lockdown and asked for rental reduction too. Not a single penny was considered despite the room leakage problem and covid19.

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