In these unprecedented times, money could be starting to get tight and you might be thinking about how and where you can make financial savings. If you have left off-campus accommodation, to self-isolate elsewhere, you may be wondering whether you can leave your off-campus housing contract and have the liability to pay rent removed for the rest of your tenancy term.
Unfortunately tenancy agreements (housing contracts) are legally binding, and in most instances, student tenancies do not have a 'break clause'. This means that tenants will be liable for rental payments up until the end of the tenancy term.
In some instances, tenancy agreements allow students to replace themselves on a contract - with the liability for making rental payments moving onto the new tenant; however, with current social distancing measures in place nationwide, it is not encouraged that individuals meet with anyone from outside their household to make such arrangements. The government is now also requesting that individuals stay put in their current accommodation - rather than travelling elsewhere - to prevent the further spread of Covid-19.
Tenants can, of course, make informal requests to either their Landlord or Lettings Agent for leniency; however it is completely down to their own discretion and good-will as to whether they offer to break the contract.
Also, if you have a joint tenancy agreement, which many students do in privately rented off-campus housing; if one of your housemates does not pay their rent then you (and the other tenants) have "joint and several liability" for the rent. This means that you, your housemates (and/or potentially your Guarantors) could be asked to pay if a tenant does not.
Here are some general 'rules of thumb' to follow:
- As you are legally liable for your rent, you should continue to pay it.
- Speak to your landlord or agent and see if you can negotiate an agreement with them to leave the housing. There is no obligation for them to make any exceptions, but you may be able to arrange something.
- Check whether your contract has a 'break-clause'. If in doubt, send the SU Advice Team a copy of your contract and we can check for you.
- Many contracts say that tenants need to give notice if they are going to be away from the accommodation for a period of time – check your contract and let your landlord/agent know if you are going to be away.
- You are liable for the utility bills until the end of your tenancy agreement. If your rent includes an amount for bills – you could ask the landlord/agent to reduce your rent amount if you will not be staying in the property; again, it is entirely down to their discretion.
- If you have signed a housing contract for the 2020/21 academic year - this agreement will still be binding.
- If you have paid a deposit and are moving out, ask when you will get your deposit back. It is a legal requirement that all tenancy deposits are placed in a government-recognised 'deposit protection scheme' and these schemes have differing timelines by which you can access their dispute resolution service (DRS) regarding whether there is a dispute over the return of your deposit. It is worth confirming where your deposit is being held (you should have a certificate and/or details in your tenancy agreement to confirm this) and establishing the timeline by which you could use the DRS (just in case).
Please get in touch with SU Advice Centre if you have any queries relating to private-rented accommodation via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some information from Welwyn Hatfield Council Private Sector Housing Team:
Our Private Sector Housing Team is continuing to support Welwyn Hatfield residents who have concerns about their accommodation during the coronavirus outbreak, but the team has had to make some changes to the way they work.
This is an update on how we are dealing with enquiries in the current situation, what you should expect from your landlord or managing agent and HMO’s. All information offered is in line with the Government’s guidance to landlords and tenants.
Nobody can be forced to leave their home because of coronavirus. If someone you share your house with has the virus, your landlord is not obliged to remove them or find you somewhere else to stay.
If you are concerned about a situation, please email us, with your contact details, at email@example.com.
Complaints and Enquiries
Our priority remains imminent or high-risk situations which could cause a hazard to tenants. This includes fire risk due to lack of or non-working fire precautions, dangerous electric and gas installations, lack of hot water and heating, burst pipes or severe water damage.
Where possible, we will liaise with you and your landlords through email, phone, photos and video, only making visits to properties where we consider it absolutely necessary.
We will be responding to situations relating to the illegal eviction or harassment of tenants. From 27 March the government suspended all evictions for three months for most tenants and secure licensees in the private rented sector. At the end of the three months, your landlord cannot get you to leave your home without a court order.
You should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of your tenancy agreement to the best of your ability. If you are not able to pay your rent, speak to your landlord as soon as possible to try and agree a payment plan. If you are already in rent arrears you should contact your landlord to see if you can reach an agreeable solution.
The government has introduced a package of financial support available to tenants. Information about financial assistance that may be available to you at this time can be found at www.welhat.gov.uk/coronavirus/financial-help
What you should expect from your Landlord or managing agent?
While they have a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure your property is legally compliant i.e. safe and reasonably maintained, they also have a duty to protect themselves, their staff, contractors and you.
Each situation must be considered on a case-by-case basis. You should inform your landlord as soon as possible of any issues with the condition of your property.
Where reasonable, safe for you and in line with government guidance, we recommend you allow landlords or contractors access to your property in order to inspect or remedy urgent health and safety issues. This includes fire risk due to lack of or non-working fire precautions, dangerous electric and gas installations, lack of hot water and heating and burst pipes or severe water damage.
Follow sensible precautions to keep yourself safe when contractors or others are visiting your property in these circumstances. We strongly advise you take additional measures such as remaining in a separate room during any visits and following government advice on hygiene before, during and after visits. You do not need to have direct contact with anyone visiting your property to carry out repairs.
The government has put out the following guidance about tradespeople carrying out work in people’s homes (25 March 2020).
What if I live in an HMO (shared house)?
HMO managers have a legal duty to maintain the shared parts of the property, ensuring that these and any fixtures, fittings or appliances are maintained in good and safe repair and in clean working order.
This can be done in accordance with the guidance on physical distancing, isolation and shielding and we would encourage you to make arrangements with your manager to support them with this. This also applies to the testing and maintenance of fire safety precautions (including fire doors) and we expect that these basic safety checks are continued and recorded.
Follow sensible precautions to keep yourself safe when contractors or others are visiting your property. We strongly advise you take additional measures such as remaining in a separate room during any visits and following government advice on hygiene before, during and after visits. You do not need to have direct contact with anyone visiting your property to carry out repairs and safety inspections.
Your health and welfare
It is important to look after yourselves and each other during these uncertain times.
The government and NHS websites have advice on hygiene, physical distancing and self-isolation: www.gov.uk/coronavirus www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19
Cleaning your home to minimise the risk of infection: www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-decontamination-in-non-healthcare-settings
What to do if you are in a shared home with someone who may have the virus: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection
Shelter also have useful information and advice: https://england.shelter.org.uk/housing_advice/coronavirus