The Union Advice Service are currently receiving enquiries from students asking what their legal obligations are in relation to their accommodation regarding things such as refund of rent and whether contracts can be terminated.
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. 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, and 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, contact the Union's advice service with 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 in writing.
- 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 three 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 your landlord refuses to release you from your tenancy agreement (as is their legal right), you can ask whether they will negotiate a rent payment plan with you so as to enable you to pay your rent in instalments that are more affordable as opposed to one big lump sum.
- If you decide to stay in your accommodation that you rent whilst at university and you have to self-isolate or the Government advice to not travel unless essential is extended to include a period where your tenancy agreement is due to come to an end, you will need to contact your landlord and come to an arrangement to extend your tenancy agreement to cover this period. Please bear in mind that any extension to the duration of your tenancy will still be chargeable (you are still legally liable for the rent during this time) unless your landlord agrees to waive or reduce your rental obligation.
- If your landlord agrees that you don't have to pay your rent anymore or agrees to reduce how much rent you must pay, get this in writing.
The University of London Housing Services and Shelter has released some specific guidance on Private Renting Housing Rights, both of which we advise you to read.
If you are in a private hall of residence, the above information generally applies to you too.
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 the Union of Students Advice Service if you have any queries relating to private-rented accommodation at firstname.lastname@example.org or book an appointment to speak with an advisor