Last year saw worrying housing shortages in a number of university cities in the UK. In Leeds we were turning away larger than usual numbers of students at the back end of the summer as there were simply no rooms available.
Even before the proposed changes under the Renters Reform Bill, accommodation portal StuRents predicted that there would be a national shortfall of 450,000 student bedspaces by 2025.
Currently, most students sign a fixed 12-month contract for a full academic year and move in over the summer.
Students like the security of a fixed agreement, as do landlords; it'�s hard to re-fill a large student house half-way through the year with professionals or families.
In addition, Article 4 planning restrictions in many cities could prevent a landlord re-letting to students in the future if voids are backfilled with families or couples, as this could be seen as a change of use class.
Students secure accommodation well in advance of the next academic year as both tenants and landlords have a pre-determined end date when properties will become available again.
By prohibiting fixed tenancies, student tenants would only need to give a month'�s notice and could vacate at any point during the year.
This indefinite leave to remain means there is no guarantee that the property will become vacant for the following year, making it impossible for landlords (and prospective new tenants) to enter into a new tenancy agreement for the next academic year.
Leeds has about 37,000 students living in the city and there'�s a massive demand for housing as the universities, especially the University of Leeds, continue to grow.
In Leeds, shared student HMOs still provide the bulk of supply, despite Article 4 regulations curbing further expansion. This essentially means that bar the planning department having a complete change of heart, there'�s no likelihood of student HMO housing numbers increasing.
The current drafting of the Bill gives an exemption for Purpose Built Accommodation (PBSA) but not for the typical student house-shares.
There is nothing wrong with PBSA '� some of the accommodation is excellent - but it'�s expensive and dilutes the student life-experience of proper communal living if it accommodates students for the full duration of a university education.
The number of PBSA bedspaces are growing, but not by enough to match demand. Many of the new blocks are also targeted at international students, and while we'�ve seen student HMO rents in Leeds increase by around 15% in the last 12 months, PBSA rents in Leeds are on average still �100 a week more expensive than HMOs. For many students there'�s a real affordability issue.
With supply and demand very delicately poised, Leeds is a city where - should student landlords exit if fixed tenancies are abolished - there are likely to be real issues for students in finding houses. There just isn'�t the capacity to pick up the slack if landlords leave.
University applications are down by around 2% for 2023 (compared to the post-Covid spike), but that is unlikely to provide enough breathing space.
The student landlords in Leeds we have spoken to are certainly twitchy, but I think most are waiting to see if amendments are made before they decide what to do.
In Scotland, Section 21 has already been scrapped and large numbers of landlords have left the student market. In cities like Edinburgh, students are couch-surfing, commuting from other cities, or simply cancelling courses.
Alongside landlord and university groups (including the University of Leeds) we have been lobbying for all student tenancies to be exempt, not just PBSA. It'�s not too late to avert a crisis, and there are noises coming out of Westminster that this is at least being considered. Fingers crossed that common sense prevails.
Richard Napier (main picture) is director of Sugarhouse Properties, a student and professional independent letting agency in Leeds.