More than 340 students were served with a Notice to Quit (NTQ) – which tell tenants to vacate within a certain time or face eviction – during the past academic year, Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to scores of universities show.
Unions have called it “deeply disappointing” and “absolutely appalling”, and say it raises concerns over logistics and safety.
At least 42 universities issued NTQs to students during the 2020-2021 academic year, including during this year’s national lockdown, The Independent has found.
Reasons included breaches of Covid guidelines, drug-related offences, unpaid rent and noise issues.
While some were later overturned, many students vacated their accommodation within the time period set by the NTQ, which in some cases was one month.
Edinburgh Napier University served 40 students with an NTQ between the start of the last academic year up until May, an FOI request revealed.
All quit their accommodation within the given timeframe, which would be at least 28 days.
Reasons including anti-social behaviour, breaches of Covid lockdown rules, excessive noise and unauthorised guests.
Greenwich University served 68 NTQs for rent arrears and one for behavioural reasons in February to cover the academic year up to that date.
Most of these were rescinded after students met outstanding rent payments, while the NTQ for behaviour was suspended. However, six students ended up leaving their accommodation in line with the NTQs.
Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) told 29 students to quit university accommodation within 28 days between the start of the academic year and the end of May for reasons including repeated or serious breaches of Covid-related rules, covering of smoke detectors and drug use, according to an FOI response.
Most had left voluntarily at the time of the FOI request, while others were serving out their notice period.
The university said if students did not leave within 28 days, it would not enforce an eviction as a court order would be required. “We usually work with the resident to persuade them to leave,” a Queen Mary spokesperson added.
A student from QMUL, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Independent she was told in March to leave her university accommodation within a month for covering a fire alarm in her flat with a sock.
She mentioned the fact her parents do not live in the UK in her appeal. This was rejected and the student, who was in her first year at the time, went to live with another family member in the UK.
“It just seemed like a very dodgy ploy to kick me out,” the student, who was heavily involved in a rent strike protest group at university, told The Independent.
A QMUL spokesperson denied any student was issued an NTQ for participation in the rent strike.
Other universities that served students with NTQs during the past academic year included Surrey, who issued at least 21, and King’s College London (KCL), who served at least 18.
Bath University issued six NTQs between January and April this year, for reasons including sexual misconduct and a second offence of cannabis possession. Ten more notices were issued in early February for breaches of Covid rules: hosting parties in student accommodation and failure to self-isolate.
At Southampton University, seven students were told to leave halls in spring due to breaches related to Covid.
Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), told The Independent it was “deeply disappointing” that hundreds of students were served with NTQs for their accommodation “during this generation’s largest public health crisis”.
“The pandemic has made moving not only logistically difficult but puts affected students, their families and flatmates needlessly at risk,” she added.
“That it is universities, who are supposed to have a duty of care to their own students, rendering them homeless makes it doubly shameful.
“Students are expected to pay extortionate amounts in rent but are then booted out for minor offences that wouldn’t even get them evicted from privately rented accommodation.”
Tenants were given greater protection from eviction during the Covid pandemic, with the government requiring landlords to provide longer notice to take back the property.
But students in university halls can be classed as occupiers with basic protection, and were not covered by the longer notice periods during the pandemic, according to the charity Shelter.
Universities UK, which represents more than 100 institutions, said NTQs are “used as a final sanction, especially when students’ behaviours or activities may be endangering the wider student community”.
But Jo Grady, from the University and College Union, told The Independent: “It is absolutely appalling to see that some universities were busy threatening to chuck students out for not paying their rent at the same time as the government had implemented a Covid eviction ban.
“Universities that served students with notices to quit for rent arrears have serious questions to answer – it looks like they view students as cash cows to be milked dry and discarded when they run out money.”
The Independent understands none of King’s College London’s NTQs were issued for rent arrears, nor during national lockdown, and no evictions took place.
A QMUL spokesperson said students are only asked to leave due to “serious breaches” of contracts and the university only resorts to NTQs “very occassionally”.
They said when students endanger their own lives or those of others – including by disabling fire safety equipment or repeated Covid breaches – the university has “no option but to request that they leave”.
A Greenwich University spokesperson said no students issued with NTQs were evicted and it works closely with students experiencing financial difficulties. They said additional help was introduced during the pandemic, including a promise to release students from rent in the event of a national lockdown.
A Edinburgh Napier University spokesperson said the health of students and staff was taken “very seriously”, as well as its commitment to being a “good neighbour” to local communities.
“Our Covid-19 safety communications and the code of conduct which forms part of our students’ tenancy agreement set out our expectations for responsible behaviour and make clear that there will be appropriate consequences – potentially including a Notice to Quit following a conduct hearing – for those who break the rules,” they added.
Southampton, Surrey and Bath universities were approached for comment.
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