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 the University is recommending that students return home where possible. 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 go home, your housing contract is with your landlord/agent and there is no contractual relationship between them and the University.
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.
- 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 more useful information about Covid-19 Coronavirus & Private Housing Rights, which we advise you to read.
If you are in a private hall of residence, the above information generally applies to you too. Even though the University is recommending students to go home, 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.
Please get in touch with Students’ Union Advice if you have any queries relating to private-rented accommodation at email@example.com