Most students live away from home during term time in either university owned or privately rented accommodation. The Government lockdown and closure of campuses resulted in many students leaving their rented accommodation and returning home – in many cases leaving their accommodation before letting contracts had expired. This has given rise to numerous questions about liability for rent, refunds and evictions. Below are some of the mostly frequently asked questions.
Do I have to pay my rent if I have moved back home?
University owned accommodation
Many university-owned halls of residence and privately run Purpose-Built Student Accommodation (PBSA) have allowed students who have left university accommodation due to the coronavirus to terminate contracts early without any charges. Some have waived rent for all students, regardless of whether they are still in their accommodation. (Office for Students briefing Student accommodation). Students should contact their university for advice.
Private rented accommodation
Students with a private rented tenancy agreement (contract), as a rule, remain liable for rent payments until their contracts expire. See section 1 of Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants.
Some landlords/agents have negotiated rent reductions or agreed to early release from contracts for students but there is no obligation on them to do so.
Is there any additional help with rent payments?
The Government has not introduced specific financial help for student rent payments. When asked about assistance with rent payments, the Government has said that students have received scheduled payments of loans towards their living costs for the remainder of the 2019/20 academic year and referred to university hardship funds. The process for issuing loans for the next academic year, 2020/2021, will proceed as normal.
Students who are struggling to pay their rent, e.g. because they cannot work should contact the accommodation provider (university, halls of residence manager or private landlord/agent) to find out what, if any, arrangements can be made.
As noted above, students may be able to access help from their university’s hardship funds. Any student who is worried about their financial position should contact their university to find out what support is available. Certain students may be able to access benefits, including assistance with rent payments. Government guidance: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Guidance for Landlords and Tenants, provides information for private tenants who are struggling to pay their rent.
Can students who have left halls get a refund on their rent?
Whether or not a student can get a refund will depend on the university halls of residence provider. Students should contact them directly to find out.
Can the landlord force me to leave my private rented tenancy?
Some students have not left their privately rented homes and are struggling to pay the rent. The Government has put measures in place to ensure that most tenants in the private sector are entitled to at least three months’ notice where the notice is served between 26 March 2020 and 30 June 2020 (this period may be extended). When a notice expires, the landlord must seek a court order to evict. With few exceptions, the courts are not issuing possession orders. A moratorium on possession orders was initially in place for 90 days from 27 March 2020 but this has now been extended to 23 August 2020. Evicting a tenant without a court order can amount to illegal eviction, a criminal offence. Tenants in this position should seek urgent assistance from bodies such as the local authority or Shelter.
Can I terminate my private tenancy for the 2020/21 academic year?
Some students have already entered into tenancy agreements with private landlords for the 2020/21 academic year. These tenancies tend to start in July 2020 and run for a fixed-term. Some students are thinking about deferring their places and others are reconsidering whether they want to live in shared housing, e.g. if they have underlying health conditions.
A tenancy agreement is a binding contract. Unless the agreement allows for early termination by the tenant (i.e. contains a break-clause) the tenant can usually only be released from their contractual obligation to the pay the rent for the full term of the tenancy if the landlord agrees. Landlords may be willing to allow other students to take over the tenancy – this is a matter for negotiation between the landlord and tenant.
Can universities ask students to leave halls of residence?
It is important that institutions operate a ‘non-eviction’ policy, so that no student is required to leave halls if their contract is up, if their rental agreement does not cover holiday periods or if they are unable to pay their rent. This applies whether students are self-isolating or not.
Can students move back home, or can those at home go back to university?
The Government published updated guidance on 21 May 2020 which covers some student moves within England: Actions for HE providers during the coronavirus outbreak. Students can return to their student accommodation to collect belongings; they can also make a one-off move to alternative accommodation:
Students still resident in student accommodation who wish to make a one-off move to an alternative residence may do so providing they take precautions in line with the principles in staying safe outside your home and with other published guidance, such as on travel and social distancing.
Can students return to their family home if they’ve been in halls all this time?
The general rule is that staying overnight somewhere that is not your home – the place you live – is not allowed.
If a student is opting to change their primary residence for the purpose of the emergency period to live back at their family home, this is permitted.
On 12 June the Housing Minister responded to a parliamentary question on whether someone can move into a house in multiple occupation if other tenants are already residing there:
Robbie Moore: To ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, whether under covid-19 lockdown measures landlords of houses in multiple occupation are able to move tenants into properties where other tenants are residing.
Christopher Pincher: On 13 May we announced that anyone in England could now move home as long as they followed the advice at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak.
This includes those moving into an occupied House in Multiple Occupation (HMO): during viewings, HMO tenants should stay out of indoor common areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms or sittings areas. They could remain inside their own private room with the doors closed.
Tenant safety should be landlords’ and letting agents’ first priority in this or any other move.
Information is available on the following websites:
- Office for Students: Student accommodation
- Universities UK: Student accommodation
- GOV.UK: University students and COVID-19 FAQ
- University websites
- Shelter: Housing advice: coronavirus (COVID-19)
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