Hearts must have dropped at Cambridge University's announcement as parents realised that they are going to have their university age children at home for a year.
Students, especially first years, will be concerned with missing out on quality tuition and the loss of networking opportunities - or "parties" as my generation called them!
Landlords will also be facing lost income, and banks and other financial institutions that have lent to them will be concerned. Renting the premises out to non-students will not necessarily be a quick fix solution, because of possible VAT charges. For example, typically the construction of new student accommodation is zero rated. If, within 10 years of its completion, the use of the building changes there can be a VAT liability. In broad terms, non-student use for a year may mean that a tenth of the VAT that would have been charged on the construction costs is payable.
There are many complex VAT rules that I recommend the landlord consider with its advisers before a tenancy with a "key worker" is signed. Planning restrictions/commitments and banking covenants, as well as other tax reliefs for student accommodation, may also need further consideration.
There will be non face-to-face lectures at the University of Cambridge over the course of the next academic year due to coronavirus, it has been announced