Housing advice for Private-rented Accommodation

Update Jan 2021: The SU have had agreement from the University Vice Chancellor to join us in lobbying local private accommodation landlords for rebates and reductions in rent, we will be sending letters to all local landlords and agents jointly from the SU and Unviersity.

The SU are currently receiving enquiries from students asking what their legal obligations are in relation to their accommodation. These questions have mainly been based around refund of rent, and whether contracts can be terminated. Please click here to see the FAQs.

We appreciate that these are exceptional and difficult times for our students. Unfortunately, accommodation agreements are still legally binding, and it is up to accommodation providers to decide whether they will agree to end agreements early, or negotiate with residents/tenants. 

Even though the University is advising students to study online, your housing contract is with your landlord/agent and there is no contractual relationship between them and the University. 

Christ Church Students' Union had written to private housing providers (April 2020) asking them to reduce financial pressure on their student tenants during the last lockdown and we put together some templates to help you make these requests to your landlord  (Letter template if leaving property / letter template if staying in the property)

Most student tenancies do not have a ‘break clause’ so you will remain liable for the rent until the end of the fixed-term. 

If you have a joint tenancy agreement, as most students in private-rented accommodation do, if one of your housemates doesn’t pay their rent, you have “joint and several liability” for the rent. This means that that you and your housemate are liable for all the rent due - so you could be asked to pay it (as could guarantors). 

Our advice is as follows:

  • 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. Whilst there is no obligation for them to make any concessions, you may be able to arrange something. [Letter template if leaving property / letter template if staying in the property]
  • Check whether your contract has a break-clause. 
  • Your contract will usually say that you need to give notice if you 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 will remain 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 (and they do not agree to end your tenancy early). 
  • We strongly advise not to sign any tenancy for the next couple of months for next academic year, as there is an abundance of student housing in Canterbury and there is no rush, perhaps wait until at least May to see what is happening then.
  •  If you have paid a deposit and are moving out, ask when you will get your deposit back. Deposit scheme rules vary, but you may only have 3 months (less one day) from the end of the tenancy, or from vacating the property, to access the “alternative dispute resolution service” that the schemes offer.

If you are in a private hall of residence, the above information generally applies to you too. Your accommodation contract is with your hall provider, and there is no contractual relationship between them and the University. Most student agreements do not have a ‘break clause’ so you will remain liable for the rent until the end of the fixed-term. Therefore, as you are legally liable for your rent, you should continue to pay it. Speak to your provider and see if you can negotiate an agreement with them. Whilst there is no obligation for them to make any concessions, you may be able to arrange something.

Private-Rented Accommodation FAQs

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 emerging 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. If the landlord is 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 paid in your absence, then you will not be required to pay rent. 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.

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 an immigration advice service.

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.

Update 18/03/2020: The Government Has Today Stated They Will Be Passing Emergency Legislation To Stop Evictions For At Least 3 Months.

The government has not yet outlined what these protections will involve, but there will be no eviction proceedings in the courts for at least a 3 month period. It has been advised that the expectation at the end of this period will be for tenants and landlords to work out a realistic repayment plan for any rent missed in this 3 month period, taking into account the circumstances. It is not clear whether landlords will be able to immediately start proceedings for evictions at the end of the period for rent arrears that accrued during this time. It is also unclear whether there will be any increased protection for tenants of live-in landlords. For the full statement from the UK government, please click here.

Until this has been confirmed, the original advice is available below. None of the below advice (with the exclusion of lodgers with live-in landlords, who do not require court action to evict and therefore have a more uncertain position) is likely to apply until at least June 18th 2020.

If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy:

Your landlord cannot evict you without an order from the court granting him possession of the property. If the landlord wants to evict you, he has to send you a notice requiring possession. This will be either a Section 21 or Section 8 notice.

If you are in a fixed term tenancy:

The landlord can only evict you during the fixed term of the tenancy by issuing a Section 8 notice and going to court. If you have less than 8 weeks rent arrears, it is up to the judge to decide whether you should be evicted. You would be able to submit a defence that it was due to financial problems caused by coronavirus. If you have over 8 weeks rent arrears, it is a mandatory ground for eviction, so the judge will allow the eviction.

If you are in a periodic ‘rolling’ tenancy, or your fixed term is ending soon and has not been renewed:

The landlord can use the accelerated Section 21 process to evict you with 2 months notice, whether you have any rent arrears or not. However, you should always seek advice if you receive an eviction notice, as many of them are invalid, which can significantly delay the eviction.

If you have a license agreement for accommodation where the landlord does not live with you (for example, in a student hall)

Your landlord can only evict you before the end of the fixed term if there is a clause in the contract stating they can do so. Any such clause should set out what notice you should be given. By law, you are entitled to ‘reasonable’ notice, and the landlord still has to apply to the court to evict you.

If you live with your landlord

Your landlord can evict you without a court order. You are still legally entitled to reasonable notice. The landlord can change the locks themselves.

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 be 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 you 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 you link your landlord to the guidance on self isolation if you are concerned.

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. They can ask you to leave earlier than this agreement if the contract says they can.

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 though. We would suggest you contact us for advice if this is happening to you.

It is a criminal offence for your landlord to use or threaten violence when evicting you.

Gas safety checks are very important and refusing to let the landlord’s contractor in to carry them out should not be done lightly.

However, it might be the case that maintaining self-isolation or minimising the risk of infection is more important in the short term. If you are at high risk from COVID-19 and your gas installation is well maintained this might be the case. 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 there are any signs to suggest that your boiler is faulty or you smell gas that would be a reason not to delay the inspection. Your boiler would need urgent attention.

If you decide to refuse access to the landlord you can refer them to the guidance from the health and safety executive to landlords which says that landlords should make reasonable efforts to conduct a gas safety check annually and if it proves to not be possible, they should keep evidence of the reasons why the inspection could not be done. That will be the correct thing for many landlords to do right now.

Update 24th March 2020 the Government has now introduced lockdown measures which mean that you should not be leaving your house except in emergencies and you should not be allowing others to visit you unless they need to do so to attend to your care needs or bring you essential supplies.

Disagreements between tenants are often not really ‘legal’ problems and you should first consider what is reasonable and fair to everyone involved. You should consider very carefully whether you are exposing your housemates to unnecessary risks.

If you have a joint tenancy (one agreement for the whole property) disagreements between tenants must be solved between the tenants. Sometimes the landlord can help you reach an agreement but they do not have any formal legal responsibility here.

If you rent a room and the landlord or other tenants are stopping you from bringing in guests you should bear in mind that they are following the latest Government guidance.

Everyone does have legal duties to their ‘neighbours’ not to cause them harm that someone could reasonably see coming. That means there might be a legal duty not to expose your housemates to additional risk of infection – but the law here is complex.

You should consider the latest Government guidance and remember that your housemates might be vulnerable due a medical condition you do not know about. It would be better not to bring visitors into your house where not absolutely necessary until the Government advises otherwise.

Some tenancy agreements have a “Force Majeure” clause. 'Force Majeure' means an event or sequence of events - beyond a party's reasonable control - preventing or delaying it from performing its obligations under the Agreement. So for example, if something happened to your house that meant you couldn't live in it anymore, such as a natural disaster destroying the property.

While Covid 19 may be a 'Force Majeure' event, it is unlikely to prevent you from occupying the property or stop the tenancy from continuing. It is therefore unlikely that a Force Majeure clause will allow you to end a tenancy early.

Housing advice for Private-rented Accommodation

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