The SU Advice team 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.
We appreciate that these are exceptional and difficult times for our students, and many may have chosen to return home. 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.
Any student who vacated University-owned accommodation by 1st April 2020 and informed the Accommodation team have been released early from their contract and will no longer be charged the final rent installment for this academic year. Students living in accommodation owned by Unite Students or IQ who have now vacated have also been released early from their contracts. These students should have received communication from Unite Students and IQ directly providing further information.
If your housing contract is with a private landlord/agent, it is likely you are still legally liable to pay rent.
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 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:
- Stay in your current household as long as the government guidelines advise you to do so. For government guidance please see here (https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
- 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. For some tips on writing to your landlord please read this document (Hyperlink to doc about writing letter to landlord)
- Check whether your contract has a break-clause. If in doubt, send SU Advice a copy of your contract and we can check for you.
- 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).
- If you have signed an accommodation contract for the academic year 2020/21 - this agreement will still be binding.
- 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.
The University of London Housing Services has useful information about Covid-19 Coronavirus & Private Housing Rights which we strongly recommend you read.
The Government has also created “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants” which may also be useful to read.
Please get in touch with Students’ Union Advice if you have any queries related to accommodation at email@example.com
If you have read your tenancy agreement and there is no break clause, then you can write a letter to your landlord. The SU Advice Centre has put together some hints and ideas of what you can include in your letter.
Please note this is not an exhaustive nor prescriptive list, please use what is relevant to you in writing your letter.
Summarise your situation
Briefly explain your own circumstances. This may include if you have moved out, become ill or struggling to pay full rent whilst remaining in the property.
Detail your mitigating circumstances
If you have specific reasons why you are unable to continue making rent payments, such as unemployment due to Covid-19, illnesses or family circumstance then these are mitigating circumstances and can be included.
If you are an international student, either remaining in the UK or that has returned home, whose financial situation has changed this would also be a mitigating circumstance.
Include relevant dates as evidence, such as when the university changed to online teaching, when you moved out of your property, when you were made redundant or when you became ill.
Any documentation, website pages or emails related to your situation and mitigating circumstances can also be included.
Explain what solution you are looking for. This may be:
- Early release from your tenancy agreement - The contract would end and you will no longer be a tenant
- A rent reduction - an agreed reduction in your rent payments that would continue to be paid according to the original payment dates
- A rent holiday - this would pause your payments for an agreed period of time however the full amount would be due at a later date
You should make sure that you get any agreements in writing from your landlord and keep all correspondence for your own records.
- Remember to be professional, it will look better if you have put effort into your letter so we recommend getting a friend or family member to proofread your letter.
- Be as honest and detailed about your situation as you are comfortable to be. Landlords are more likely to be sympathetic if they understand your whole situation
- Be kind. Politely requesting the end of a contract or reduction in rent payments will be more persuasive than demanding anything.
- Don’t forget you can ask an advisor at the SU Advice Centre for any advice about your letter or housing situation
Please note - There is no guarantee that by following these steps your letter will be successful. It is simply to be used to provide your landlord with an overview of your current situation. Your landlord will advise whether or not they are able to amend the payment terms of your tenancy agreement.
Student Housing Top Tips
- Stay calm! Don't rush into getting a house just because your mates have got one.
- Give yourself a chance to get to know your future housemates.
- Look around - don't just get the first house you see.
- Know your rights as tenants.
- Get your contract checked. If there is something you are not sure about just ask!
- If you ask your landlord/letting agency to fix something, keep a record of the time and date that you did so.
- Make sure you fill out your inventory and take pictures too - email the pictures to yourself. You will regret it when you move out if some of your deposit gets taken because of a mark that was already there when you moved in.
- Make sure you keep your possessions and house burglar safe by taking some simple measures:
- Keep doors and windows locked - NEVER leave your keys in the door!
- Keep expensive possessions like your laptop out of sight
- Mark valuables with a UV pen.
- Don't leave to do lists or calendars on show - so burglars can't see when you're going to be out
- Chain your bike up
- Always remember burglars want to be in and out of your house quickly so don't make it easy for them!
Would you like to review your landlord, letting agent, property or neighbourhood today? The Students' Union are working with Marks Out Of Tenancy where you can let other people know your experience renting. This will also help the Students' Union to understand students' experience renting. For more information visit the Marks Out Of Tenancy website.
In all privately rented property, you’ll have certain rights and responsibilities. NUS have provided free resources and guidance to help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a tenant living in rented housing
NUS Tenancy Troubleshooting guide (England) includes information on during your tenancy, including:
- What you should do
- What your landlord should do
- What to do if your landlord isn’t meeting their obligations
- Where to get advice
NUS have also produced a video on Tenancy Tips.
There are also more resources including Tenancy Guides, Moving In and Moving Out resources at http://readytorent.nus.org.uk/resources/
In England and Wales, if you rent your home on an assured shorthold tenancy that started after 6 April 2007, your landlord must place your deposit in one of the following tenancy deposit protection (TDP) schemes:
- Deposit Protection Service
- Tenancy Deposit Scheme
These government-backed schemes ensure you’ll get your deposit back if you:
- meet the terms of your tenancy agreement
- don’t damage the property
- pay your rent and bills
For more information about Tenancy Deposit Protection please see https://www.gov.uk/tenancy-deposit-protection
The website above includes information on:
- Information landlords must give tenants
- If your landlord doesn't protect your deposit
- Disputes and problems
- Get help and advice
When moving in make sure you:
- Fill out an inventory and what condition things are in. Make sure you mark any changes and sign and date it. Don't forget to keep a copy for yourself once you have sent it back to your landlord.
- Make sure you take pictures and email the pictures to yourself. You will regret it when you move out if some of your deposit gets taken because of a mark that was already there when you moved in.
- Report any issues in writing to your landlord or letting agent.
You can find out more information at NUS’ Ready to Rent website http://readytorent.nus.org.uk/moving-in/
When moving out make sure you:
- Read all the meters, and then contact all the utility companies with the final reading.
- Give them a forwarding address for the final receipt.
- Get contact details from all your housemates- you may need to forward deposits etc.
- Remove all of your items from the house- including any rubbish.
- Return ALL the keys to the agents- they will charge you if you don’t.
There are a couple of external agencies that you may be able to find advice or information from including;
What is the Student Community Partnership?
The Student Community Partnership (SCP) is made up of Bath & North East Somerset Council and Student and Staff representatives from the University of Bath and Bath Spa University.
It provides a forum for liaison between the Universities, their Students' Unions and the Council on matters relating to students and the local community. This includes accommodation, transport, welfare, community relations, community safety and environmental issues.
You can have a look at the Student Community Partnership website here.
Households where everyone’s a full-time student don’t have to pay Council Tax. If you do get a bill, you can apply for an exemption.
You will get a Council Tax bill if there’s someone in your household who’s not a full-time student, but your household might still qualify for a discount.
To apply for a Council Tax exemption letter you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
You must be covered by a TV Licence to:
- watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV or live on an online TV service, such as All4, Sky Go and YouTube, or
- download or watch BBC programmes on iPlayer.
This could be on any device, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or DVD/VHS recorder.
If you do any of the above without a valid licence, you risk prosecution and a maximum penalty of up to £1,000, plus any legal costs and/or compensation you may be ordered to pay. You will also still have to buy a TV Licence if you need one.
For more information, go to tvlicensing.co.uk/studentinfo
NUS has published new research ‘Homes fit for study’ which revealed that over three quarters of students have a problem with the condition of their home, including Vermin! Click here to read the report and with help on how to deal with pest problems in your home.