*Exchange students in Denmark, including Alessia Jeffery (L) and Nadia Biondo (R) (Photo: Supplied)

University students around the world have been forced to abandon international exchanges because of the global pandemic, but avoiding the coronavirus hasn’t been their only battle. Returned UTS exchange student Alessia Jeffery is among those locked in a battle with their former hosts over outstanding rent. She’s spoken to other students in the same situation.

Canadian student Isabella Winther had been studying abroad at the University of Copenhagen (KU) – until the outbreak of the coronavirus forced her home.

She now finds herself disputing the amount of rent owing to her housing provider, the Housing Foundation Copenhagen, which is still holding students liable for their contracts.

“I would rather face the backlash from breaking my contract than deal with being thousands of dollars in debt from this situation,” she said.

On March 13, the Danish government closed all schools, universities, libraries and cultural institutions. A few days later, public gatherings of more than 10 people were banned.

Nyhavn, Copenhagen (Photo: Supplied)


It was shortly after Denmark’s lockdown that Isabella was recalled by her home university, the University of Victoria.

“With classes cancelled and borders closing I no longer had stability or a purpose to be in Denmark,” she said.

Isabella was staying at Bispebjerg College and had paid her rent until the end of April. Because her contract officially ends in mid-July, technically that leaves her owing around $3700 AUD.

“The Housing Foundation has no empathy towards students affected by COVID-19,” she said, “they are expecting us to fulfil our contract.”

“Seeing as the current situation is beyond anyone’s control and is seriously affecting the lives of students, these extreme circumstances also call for extreme leniency towards tenants.”

“It is not financially reasonable to ask students, who are unable to work and who were forced… back to their home countries, to pay for empty rooms in a country they had to evacuate.”

The Housing Foundation Copenhagen, a non-profit organisation that is the only entity providing housing services for KU students, has told student tenants that all contractual obligations still apply – regardless if their home country or government has recalled them.


BaseCamp College, one of the residences offered by the Housing Foundation (Photo: Nadia Biondo) 


The foundation has urged students who’ve left the country, to contact their travel insurer for reimbursements or make and book “shortening offers”. This is where students can leave a contract early if they’ve found a new tenant.

Since returning to Canada, Isabella has been unemployed and is paying rent at her new residence. Travel insurance will not cover the rent she owes in Copenhagen.

“Having to pay for rent in Canada means that it is literally impossible for me to bear the financial burden of paying for housing that I am not living in.”

In late March, students still living in Denmark but struggling to make rent, created the University of Copenhagen Housing Foundation Tenant Organisation (UCHFTO).

It was not until they launched a Facebook group, that they realised the problem was far greater.

“We were contacted by a lot more people… who had gone home, but who were still being forced to pay their rent,” said Andrew Duffy, an administrative member of UCHFTO.. “Or [they] had… been made to pay… three months’ rent for a flat that they were never going back to.

“We even had one girl who was told by the foundation that she had to pay, or they would take the stuff out of her flat [while] she was still there.

“Students who have stayed don’t have the finances to pay rent because they have lost their jobs and they are also paying for facilities that aren’t open anymore. [And] students who have gone home are still paying for their flats and they can’t cancel their contract even though they are not coming back.”

The UCHFTO have sent the Housing Foundation three demands in order “to ensure fair treatment of tenants in light of the recent COVID-19 outbreak.”

Andrew Duffy said those demands are:

    • to get the contracts cancelled and refunded for all students who have gone home
    • for students who have stayed to be able to use their deposits to pay rent, because a lot have lost their jobs.
    • for rents overall to be lowered, because when the contracts were signed it was predicated on the assumption that not only would [students] have a room, but also access to common facilities.

According to Mr Duffy, “a lot of people are being charged frankly extortionate amounts for services that no longer exist.”

He says the UCHFTO does not seek to condemn KU or the Housing Foundation over the lockdown – but for failing to  compensate students.

“There isn’t just a virus we have to deal with, there is a financial element, an economic element and a social element that comes with that and it has to be dealt with,” Mr Duffy said.

“We are not asking for anything absurd. We are asking for reasonable demands based on circumstances that have occurred so that people can live as normally as possible.”

“I am trying to hold off payment for as long as possible, I believe this is the only leverage I can use at the moment.”

Danish lawyer Jan Schøtt-Petersen says there are no clear provisions in the Danish Tenancy Act which deem the contract null or void.

“There is however a provision in the Danish Contract Act which could lead either to termination of the contract, or to altering the terms of the contract for the benefit of the tenant.

“This is a matter for Danish courts to decide after considering all relevant aspects of the contractual relationship. In the event that the contract can be considered to be binding, the deposit serves as security and can be set off against claims relating to the tenant not paying rent.”

Australian exchange student Nadia Biondo (Photo: Supplied)

University of Melbourne student Nadia Biondo, who paid around $1800 for her deposit, is a member of the UCHFTO Facebook group.

She left Denmark and her studies at KU once the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller ban reached Level Four, and those abroad were urged to return. Nadia still owes the Housing Foundation $4000 for rent until mid-July.

“When I got back home, I sent an email to the Housing Foundation asking if they could grant an extension for the payment and hold off charging the late fee, considering the circumstances. But I received a curt reply, basically ‘no’,” she said.

“I am trying to hold off payment for as long as possible, I believe this is the only leverage I can use at the moment.”

Nadia has lodged her outstanding costs with her university’s insurance, however she is yet to hear a response.

“I am hoping that insurance will provide cover the situation. But even if they do, I am doubtful that I will receive the full amount.”

A Change.org petition has now been created to lobby Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen for help.

— Alessia Jeffery @Alessia_J96