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

The College recognises that students have been instructed by the Government to ‘stay at home’ and not to travel, meaning you may not be able to return to your accommodation on campus.

Students who were not able to return to their halls in January were given the opportunity to apply to have their accommodation fees removed for the period of Monday 4 January – Monday 22 February inclusive. All students with a halls contract were emailed directly by the College and an FAQs page has been created to provide further information.

On Wednesday 27 January 2021, the Government instructed universities to continue to deliver classes online until at least 8 March 2021, with an expectation this will continue to Easter for the majority of students. Due to this announcement, all classes will remain online until the end of this term (Friday 26 March) and rent removal will automatically be extended until 31 March 2021 if you have a contract for on-campus accommodation, you’re not using your room and you’ve applied for rent removal.

Open letter to local landlords and private halls

In regards to private housing, this is a more complex issue and one that is outside of the University’s control. However, Principal Professor Paul Layzell and SU President Kate Roberts have sent a joint letter to local landlords and private halls to ask for flexibility during this difficult period for students.

Read the letter


 

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.


Need help finding new housemates?

After a strange and difficult year, we know that many of you may be worrying about your housing situation and who you are going to live with ahead of the 2021/22 academic year. As a result, we're putting on a number of events and introducing 'HouseMating Matcher' to help buddy you up with students who have similar preferences.

Find out more


Housing for Next Year

Whilst some students may have already signed private housing contracts for the 2021/22 academic year, we want to reassure you that there is absolutely no need to panic if you have not done so.

Egham and its surrounding area has more than enough private accommodation to house all our students and we can help you to find somewhere to live through HouseSearch - your portal to hundreds of local properties near Royal Holloway.

Search for properties


 

Moving into a property 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 Moving In Guide to help you navigate your way through.


FAQs

Can I move into my new student house share?

Yes, you can, but we advise you to take care and try a staggered move-in.

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. You should continue to follow the Government's 'stay at home' order and only travel when this guidance has changed. If you are moving permanently to live back at your family home, this is permitted. If you’re being helped, please ensure you adhere social distancing rules and ask your helpers to avoid using local amenities in the interest of public safety.

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

Please see our article on safe viewings.

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

You may wish to self-isolate 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.

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 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.

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

For notices served between 29 August 2020 and 31 March 2021 inclusive, the minimum notice period is six months, but exceptions apply. Contact the Advice Centre if you’re worried about eviction and they can give you personalised guidance.

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.

What can we do if some housemates are not paying their rent or bills?

To get personalised advice, strongly recommend you attend one of the Zoom Housing Drop-ins listed on our events page.

The landlord/agent is asking us for holding fees, security deposit and rent in advance to renew our current contract. Is this normal?

No. We strongly recommend you don't pay and to get personalised advice, attend one of the Zoom Housing Drop-ins listed on our events page.

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