Coronavirus Housing Advice

We have had multiple enquiries from students about their housing in relation to the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.

We know this could be a stressful time for you so we've created this hub with the help of our Housing Advisor. It's packed full of useful advice and links to ensure you know where you stand when it comes to housing, whether that would be your existing accommodation or looking ahead to the next academic year.


Where can I get help?

Our Advice Centre can help with a range of housing issues from contract checking and unfair charges to leaving your tenancy early and problems with housemates.

Read more


University Halls

If you've moved home but still have belongings in Halls, you are now able to book a time slot to collect them under guidance issued by the University.

If you have left the UK and are unable to return, or you are currently shielding or living with someone who is shielding, you may be able to book a courier/packer (this could also be a member of your family or a friend), to come and collect your possessions at a later date once restrictions are further revised. 

Find out more


Private halls and housing

During these challenging times, we recognise that one of the main concerns for students is accommodation. This is why we have been working with the University to support you as much as we can.

SU President Jack O'Neill and Principal Professor Paul Layzell jointly wrote to landlords within the local area, asking them to provide flexibility in approaching contracts with students. The letter highlighted some of the issues facing students and asked for landlords to provide the option for students to be flexible in their contracts, possibly exiting from them earlier.

Pad & Podium

Following our letter, private halls provider, Scape, offered students the option to opt out of their contract early, without any financial penalty. This is a fantastic win and ensures that students will not have to pay for an empty room if they have decided not to stay!

Find out more

Hox Park

Hox Park landlords have offered a 50% discount to their current tenants for the remainder of their tenancy after 27 April 2020. They emailed the terms of their offer to existing tenants.

They are also offering some limited flexibility with their tenancies for 2020/2021. See their FAQs for the details. Before signing or paying anything, email your tenancy agreement (contract) to our Advice Centre to get your free contract check and feedback.

If you think that you have not been treated fairly in line with this, please get in touch.


 

We’ve packed our best tips for finding a new home into this guide, helping you to find high-quality accommodation and understand your rights as a tenant. Take your time and make informed decisions - there’s loads of student accommodation out there, and you don’t need to rush into anything.


Can I move into my new house share?

With government guidance regularly changing, and some of it far from crystal clear, you may be confused as to whether you should be moving into your new house share right now.

Our Housing Advisor has put together this information to let you know where you currently stand.

Find out more


 

Moving out can be a stressful task at the best of times, let alone when you're trying to do it in the middle of a pandemic. To try and ease the process, our Housing Advisor has put together this Private Housing Leaving Guide to help you navigate your way through.


FAQs

I can’t afford my rent payments due to Covid-19. Can I be evicted?

Our Housing Advisor has put together an article with everything you need to know, including your rights around evictions, which you can check out here.

Can I move into my new student house share?

Legally, yes you can. However, the government has not yet provided guidance for moving into Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOS) where people from different households come together to share private accommodation, e.g. student house shares. The current guidance only considers people moving with their families and not the more complex context of student renting.

Under the current circumstances, we would advise extra caution when deciding whether or not to move into an HMO, or, if possible, wait to see if guidance specific to students is released later this summer. You might want to consider safety measures, such as a staggered move-in. You can read more in our article here.

My contract hasn't ended but I've left the property and won't be returning. Do I still have to pay rent?

This will depend on your circumstances, for example:

• If you live alone, or everyone on the tenancy agreement wants to leave

If you have signed a contract for a fixed period (for example, 12 months, or 24 months), and you are still in that fixed period, check if your contract has something called a ‘break clause’. This is usually located either at the beginning of the contract where the start and end dates of the contract are shown, or at the end of the contract. It can sometimes be elsewhere though, so it’s best to read every part of your contract to look for it. You can only use a break clause if every tenant on the agreement wants to move out.

If your contract has a ‘break clause’: this may mean that you can terminate your contract after a certain date, before the end of the fixed term, providing you give the required notice. You may have to pay rent until the required notice period has ended.

If your contract does not have a ‘break clause’, or the break clause cannot yet be exercised, you will not have any automatic right to end your contract. Even though the current situation is very concerning, there have not yet been any changes to the law regarding ending tenancies in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, and until you negotiate with your landlord, your obligation to pay rent will not change. You should discuss your wish to end the tenancy with your landlord and if they are happy to let you go without further rent payments, then you will not be required to pay rent. You should ensure that your landlord confirms this in writing. However, if the landlord will not release you from the contract, they could still ask you or your guarantor for the money, even if you have moved out.

• If you want to leave but other tenants are staying in the property

If other tenants are staying on, it is unlikely you will able to leave without continuing to pay rent unless you find a replacement tenant. You should discuss your wish to end the tenancy with the other tenants and the landlord. If the landlord is happy to let you go and will not require your rent to be covered in your absence, then you will not be required to pay. However, if the landlord will not release you from the contract without a replacement, they could still ask you, your housemates or your guarantor for the money, even if you have moved out.

How do I find a replacement tenant?

If your landlords and housemates are happy for you to do so, you can advertise in our RHSU HouseMating Facebook group. You will have to enter your student number to join.

Can I return to my family home from my student home?

In general, leaving where you are currently living to stay temporarily at another property is not allowed. If you are moving permanently to live back at your family home, this is permitted. See our article on moving and viewings.

My landlord is bringing people into the house for viewings. Can I prevent this to reduce my chances of infection?

• If you are on an assured shorthold tenancy:

Landlords have no implied right to enter a property to conduct viewings. They can only do this if there is a clause in your tenancy agreement stating that you must permit access for viewings. Have a look at your contract to try and find this clause.

The legal starting point is that tenants have a fundamental right to exclude anyone from the property – even the landlord. Landlords should never force their way in.

If the tenant has agreed in the contract to allow viewings, and the tenant refuses to permit this, the landlord could object and try to make a claim on the basis that the tenant is in breach of contract.

Most of these clauses state access for viewings must be permitted at a ‘reasonable’ time. If you refuse access, you could argue that the timing was not reasonable due to the ongoing situation - and that having people enter your home at this time would be unreasonable. You might also be able to argue that a clause which gives the landlord a right to conduct viewings in any circumstances, despite the government’s recommendations not to allow visitors into your home, is ‘unfair’ and not binding on you.

It might be possible to negotiate a compromise such as allowing the landlord to come to the property once and take photographs or make a video. That would be less risky than allowing lots of people to visit the house.

If you live in a shared house (renting a room individually) the situation is different – the landlord is entitled to access the common parts. You could still negotiate with the landlord and make sure that any viewings are at agreed time so that you can avoid people viewing the property and wash door handles/bannisters after the viewing. You could also refuse to allow viewings in your room – although again, there is a risk that you might be breaching your contract.

If you are self-isolating, you may wish to refer your landlord to the NHS guidance on self-isolation.
 
• If you have a live-in landlord:

If you have a live-in landlord, you do not have a right to exclude people from the property. Your landlord can bring visitors into the property for any reason and can usually enter your room without notice. You may wish to link your landlord to the guidance on self-isolation if you are concerned.

My flatmate has confirmed or suspected Covid-19 coronavirus. Can I leave the property?

You may wish to stay elsewhere if someone you live with has been diagnosed with coronavirus, but please ensure that you are following the recommended self-isolation guidelines which can be found here. If you do not stay at the property due to someone you live with having COVID-19 coronavirus, you will still have to pay rent regardless of this.

I'm an international student, I can't return to my home country and I don't have family to stay with. What can I do?

Contact the Advice Centre for guidance about individual circumstances. The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) has published some general information for international students here. For any visa queries, please email the International Student Support Office.

Can I collect my belongings from Halls?

The options for booking and collecting your possessions were available until Friday 19 June 2020. For further information, please email Customer Services.

What if I can't get back to Halls to collect my belongings?

If you have left the UK and are unable to return, or you are currently shielding or living with someone who is shielding, you can book a third party collection where a member of your family or a friend can come and collect your possessions. Third party collections must be booked by 30 June and all collections must be carried out by 15 July at the latest. Collections can take place between 9am-5pm, Monday to Sunday. Until you are able to arrange collection the University will continue to store your belongings, which may require them to pack your room. For further information, please email Customer Services.

The estate agent/landlord is ignoring my communications. Who can help?

Ask our Advice Centre for help. They have relationships with most local landlords/agents, and can investigate for you.

How do I get my security deposit back?

Minimise the risk of deposit deductions using our Private Housing Leaving Guide and follow the instructions in our security deposit article.

What should I do about cleaning my property at the end of my tenancy?

If your tenancy started after 1 June 2019, the Tenant Fees Ban 2019 means you can opt to clean the property yourself, even if your contract states you have to pay for professional cleaning or your landlord’s cleaning service. You can read our top tips regarding end of tenancy cleaning in this article from our Advice Centre.

I don’t live in my student home anymore, but my friends are still expecting me to pay towards the bills. Do I have to pay?

In most cases, yes, because most students are in a jointly and severally liable contract (two or more persons are fully responsible equally for the liability). You should also consider that most of the bills are fixed and you agreed to split them equally when you took up the contract. Everyone has budgeted accordingly and it wouldn't be fair to expect people to suddenly start paying more. Ask for a housing appointment to get advice on your individual situation.

Some of our housemates have moved back home and are expecting those who remain to cover all the bills from now on. What can we do?

Firstly, contact the suppliers you owe money to and let them know that you need some extra time to pay due to the Covid-19 situation. They should be understanding for the next three months at least. Then, share your contract with the Advice Centre, asking them to highlight the parts that require your housemates to contribute towards the bills. You can then show this to your housemates and politely explain to them that they can have more time to pay if they need, but that the contract requires them to pay towards the bills.

How do I ask my landlord if they will release me from my contract?

The best thing to do is send a polite email, to give them time to consider it. You can adapt our template email here. Unfortunately, if they don’t agree, you will have to keep paying the rent, even if you’re not staying there.

The landlord says they want to help but the agency won’t let them release us from the contract. What can we do?

Our Advice Centre can send an email to your landlord reassuring them that they have the power to release you and signposting them to some advice about help available to them.

The landlord won’t release us from the contract and we can’t afford to pay. Where does that leave us?

The landlord can’t take any action against you for the next few months. The best thing to do is keep them updated on how much you can pay and when, and keep making payments towards the rent you owe. Currently, the government guidance is that landlords can continue to charge you rent, but they have to be flexible about payments. You can adapt our template email here.

What happens if I move out before the end of my tenancy and don’t pay my rent?

The landlord may take action to get the rent from you, or from your guarantor if you have one. They may take some of this money from your deposit. If the amount you owe them exceeds your deposit, they may write to you to formally request the money. You might be charged interest on the amount owing which should not exceed 3% above the Bank of England base rate. If you still don’t pay, they may start a court claim against you.

If your landlord starts court action against you for unpaid rent, this is not a criminal trial or a criminal offence and you won’t get a criminal record. You will be asked to attend court and if you don't attend, the hearing will go ahead in your absence. If the judge decides you should have paid the money, you will be asked to pay it as part of the judgement. You may also be asked to pay the landlord's court costs.

If you still don’t pay the money after the court has decided you should, you may receive a further judgement that can negatively affect your credit rating in the UK. This may make it difficult for you to borrow money or pass reference checks for rented accommodation in the UK in the future. If you are worried about the impact of this on any current or future visa in the UK, please seek advice from International Student Support.

What legal protection is there for renters who can’t pay rent?

It has been advised that tenants and landlords are expected to work out a realistic repayment plan for any rent missed in this three-month period, taking into account the circumstances. But no law requires landlords to do this. For the full advice from the UK government, please click here.

The landlord says we have to move because a new set of tenants have signed a contract starting soon. Do we have to move?

No. You can refuse to move and you cannot be evicted before the end of June. Do get legal advice from University of London Housing Services though, so you know all your rights.

Can my landlord evict me straight away because of coronavirus?

No, this would be illegal. Illegal eviction is a criminal offence - coronavirus doesn't change this.

It's likely to be an illegal eviction if your landlord:

• makes you leave without notice or a court order

• locks you out of your home, even temporarily.

You can get help from the council or the court if your landlord prevents you accessing your home.

What if I live with my landlord?

Your landlord still needs to follow the correct process. They don't need to go to court but you're usually entitled to reasonable notice before you can be made to leave. Ask the Advice Centre for help if you’re worried about this.

My live-in landlord has asked me to leave so they can self-isolate. What are my rights?

If you are a lodger with a live-in landlord, you are an 'excluded occupier', which means your landlord doesn't have to apply to the court to evict you. This means the newly announced suspension on evictions in the courts is unlikely to prevent you from being evicted.

Your landlord can ask you to leave at the end of your fixed-term agreement, or earlier if stated in the contract. If your agreement doesn't set out a notice period, you should be entitled to 'reasonable' notice. This is usually a week if you pay your rent weekly, or a month if you pay your rent monthly.

If your landlord is giving you less than reasonable notice, or are asking you to leave before the end of the fixed term when your contract does not permit this, you could dispute this with them.

In practice, it can be quite difficult to challenge an eviction with a live-in landlord. We would suggest you contact us for advice if this is happening to you. Please also remember that it is a criminal offence for your landlord to use or threaten violence when evicting you.

What do the new rules on eviction mean?

The new rules do two things:

• extend the notice period for evictions

• suspend eviction court action

All court proceedings for eviction are on hold until at least 25 June 2020, regardless of when your landlord applied to court. This means most tenants can’t be evicted before the end of June at the earliest. You should stay in your home if your landlord gives you notice or asks you to leave.

How much notice does my landlord have to give me if they want to evict me?

Most tenants will get three months' notice before their landlord can apply to court. This applies if you get notice on or after 26 March 2020.

What if my landlord gave me an eviction notice before 26 March?

You should stay in your home. You don’t have to leave at the end of your notice. It is your legal right to stay until your landlord gets a court order and a bailiff’s warrant. They can't do this at the moment because court action for eviction is on hold.

Find out more about the eviction process if you are a:

private renter

council or housing association tenant

I'm worried about rent arrears. What should I do?

Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. They should be sympathetic, especially if you've lost your job or seen your income reduce suddenly. They might agree to a rent reduction or to accept rent late. Get any agreement in writing.

“Buy to let” landlords may get mortgage payment holidays if their tenants have financial problems due to coronavirus. Your landlord's mortgage payments will normally increase after a payment holiday. Also get in touch with the Financial Wellbeing team at the University to see what help is available to you.

Find out more about how to deal with rent arrears.

What if I’m struggling to pay the gas and electricity bills?

Speak to your energy supplier if you're struggling financially or in arrears with gas or electricity bills. You could get support including:

• reduced bills or debt repayments

• a temporary break in your bills or debt arrangements

If you have a pre-payment meter they may be able to, for example:

• arrange for someone else to top up your meter

• add credit to your account automatically

• send you a pre-loaded top-up card

You may need to leave your meter box unlocked if you need someone else to top it up. Disconnections of pre-payment meters are suspended.

You can also get in touch with the Financial Wellbeing team at the University to see what help is available either through a Study Support Grant or Short Term Loan Support.

Can I get emergency help with food?

If you live near the Egham campus, the Advice Centre can refer you for Food Bank Vouchers during working hours. If you don’t live locally, then you can contact your local food bank if you need help with food. If you regularly use a food bank, contact them if possible to check if there are any changes to their service.

You can search for your local food bank and find out about support available during the coronavirus outbreak on the Trussell Trust website.

What if I need repairs or a gas safety check is due?

Landlords have the same responsibilities for repairs during the coronavirus outbreak. You should report repairs by phone, email or online.

They might not be able to get the problem fixed during the usual timescales but shouldn't delay repairs unreasonably.

Annual gas safety checks remain an important legal requirement. Your landlord should rearrange any gas safety checks that are booked in over the next three weeks if they cannot go ahead safely. Further guidance is expected from the Gas Safe Register.

Read about access to your rented home for repairs.

Where can I go for other sources of help?

The Students’ Union Advice Centre is available by email and phone to offer specific support with your housing issues.

Email advice@su.rhul.ac.uk

Visit su.rhul.ac.uk/advice/housing

Shelter offers advice and information about housing: england.shelter.org.uk

University of London Housing Services: housing.london.ac.uk