11th December 2020

Housing

We know that many students have experienced issues with their accommodation during the pandemic. Feeling secure and happy with your housing situation is even more important when so much of your time is spent at home this year.

We are aware that many students may be struggling to pay the rent or be tied into contracts for accommodation which you may not require. We have provided some FAQ’s below which hopefully address many of the issues you may be facing.

In January 2021, the University announced that students who are not able to return to University-owned accommodation during the current national lockdown will be able to claim a rent refund. Students will need to complete the form by 25th January 2021 and should have been sent details of how to do this. If you have questions about this please contact accommodationoffce@sheffield.ac.uk and see further details.

Unfortunately, if you live in private sector accommodation there is currently no guidance requiring landlords to offer rent refunds or release students from contracts. Some private student accommodation providers are offering rent reductions during the latest lockdown e.g Unite and Student Roost. They will have deadlines for applying, so please check directly with your housing provider and check their websites regularly for details.

The SU is feeding into national campaigns and lobbying to try and get some financial support and compensation for all students.

Contact the Student Advice Centre vial advice@shef.ac.uk if you need help with a housing issue.

Chapters
  1. Should I be house hunting and viewing properties at the moment? How can I do it safely?
  2. Do I have to let my landlord carry out viewings?
  3. I have signed a housing contract with a private landlord but I have left/not moved to Sheffield due to the COVID-19 situation. Can I get out of the contract?
  4. I live in University accommodation but I have moved home due to online learning and want to be released from the contract?
  5. I cannot afford to pay my rent due to the COVID-19 situation, what should I do?
  6. Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 lockdown?
  7. My housemate has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 Coronavirus. What should I do?
  8. I live alone and I am self isolating, where can I get support?
  9. I live in a shared house, can guests come and visit me during the lockdown?
  10. Sheffield City Council COVID-19 Guidance for Landlords and Tenants of HMO's (shared housing) May 2020

Should I be house hunting and viewing properties at the moment? How can I do it safely?

If you need to find accommodation now then Government guidance permits you to move home and this includes viewing properties including in Tier 3 areas. Here is a link to the Government Guidance on moving home.

Usually students will start House hunting around November to find a house for the next academic year. Due to the current restrictions and public health concerns our message would be to delay house-hunting until next semester, when hopefully conditions will be safer. Viewing houses where other people are living risks spreading the virus and there really is no need to be doing this right now. Follow the moving home guidance from the Government to do this safely and be aware that this could change if more stringent Covid restrictions are introduced.

Public Health Sheffield and Sheffield City Council have expressed concern about the potential risk of spreading the virus. They are issuing the following advice to landlords and we would urge students to follow the advice and ideally delay house hunting/ viewings until the conditions are safer and social distancing restrictions eased.

"To keep Sheffield safe and healthy we are asking landlords to strike a reasonable balance between safeguarding health and managing their stock effectively. We are therefore asking that landlords only carry out viewings where a property or part of a property is vacant, or where it is to fall vacant in the next 3 months."

  • Where a viewing of an occupied property is to take place, in line with government guidance, this should be done by way of virtual viewing where possible.
  • Confirm with any current occupiers whether they are isolating or shielding before arranging visits, postponing visits where any current resident is shielding or isolating until suitable arrangements can be made for the viewing to be completed safely;
  • Do not carry out viewings unless you are sure that the current occupiers have agreed to adhere to appropriate social distancing (note that you can not require tenants to follow social distancing in their own homes);
  • Don’t carry out open house viewings;
  • Make sure that the hot water supply is fully functioning and that windows can be opened and securely closed;
  • Make sure that the unit of accommodation, the shared areas and the furniture and furnishings provided are in a good, clean condition;
  • Take your own towels/paper towels/ hand gel and wash your hands thoroughly when attending the property; dispose of used tissue and masks using double bags; and ensure that those visiting to view do the same;
  • Wear a face covering; and ensure prospective tenants who view use them too;
  • Sanitise keys before and after handing to contractors or tenants.

It is likely that landlords will be offering limited or virtual viewings of properties. Again we would advise caution about agreeing to sign a contract for a property which you may not have visited in person, as there is no way of knowing that the pictures/videos reflect the actual condition of the property. Choosing where to live for up to a year is a big decision and contracts are legally binding.

Signing a contract so far in advance is always risky and the Covid 19 crisis has taught us that we do not know what is around the corner and how our circumstances can change. Many students found themselves tied into contracts they did not want or need and during the lockdown and very few landlords agreed to release student tenants.

If you are a first year then spend some more time getting to know potential housemates and exploring Sheffield before you worry about finding a house for next year, there is good accommodation available throughout the year.​ Check out our looking for housing​ guide.

Do I have to let my landlord carry out viewings?

Check your contract to see what it says about viewings, there is no automatic right for a landlord to enter your property to conduct viewings. It is likely there is a clause allowing them to do this at certain times during the tenancy e.g last 3 months. They need to request at least 24 access at conduct viewings at reasonable times. Landlords should never force their way in.

If you or a housemate have any symptoms and are self-isolating, you may wish to refer your landlord to the NHS guidance on self-isolation. See House Hunting question above safety advice for viewings.

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. Guidance to landlords suggests they limit viewings and replace in person viewings with video where possible.

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 your contract.

Here is a template letter that you can send to the landlord if you are concerned about viewings which includes advice on the safety measures which should be in place. If you have a resident (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 to link your landlord to the guidance on self isolation if you are concerned.

I have signed a housing contract with a private landlord but I have left/not moved to Sheffield due to the COVID-19 situation. Can I get out of the contract?

Up to now there has been no changes to the law requiring private landlords to release tenants from housing contracts due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It will be at the discretion of the landlord. Unfortunately, the fact that since September teaching has been mainly online and there may be no requirement for you to be in Sheffield, would not really impact on a private housing contract.

Most students in the private sector will have a fixed term tenancy e.g 12 months. It is also common for students to have a joint tenancy. In this case it would be difficult for a landlord to release one of the tenants and all parties would need to agree.

You should also check your contract and see if there is a break clause, which would allow you to give notice before the end of the tenancy. These are quite rare. If you have a joint tenancy you could only use the break clause, if all tenants also wish to move out. If your contract does not have a ‘break clause’ which you can use, you will not have any automatic right to end your contract.

You should discuss this directly with your landlord, you can use our template letter below to explain the situation. Some landlords may not be willing or able to release you from the contract but may be open to discussing alternative or reduced rent payments, especially if you or your family are suffering financially as a result of the current crisis. If this is the case, explain how you are affected e.g you have lost your job. Students in financial difficulty may be able to get some financial help from the University .

If the landlord is happy to let you go without further rent payments or you can reach a settlement about reducing the rent, make sure that you get any agreement confirmed in writing.

We would normally advise you to try and find a replacement tenant to take over the tenancy however, although current government guidance does allow you to view properties and move home, it is likely to be more difficult to find a replacement tenant at the moment. If someone did move into the property and pay rent to the landlord, then the landlord should release you from the tenancy.

If you have signed a contract and/or paid a deposit then you could still have a legally binding contract even if you never move in. A landlord could take action against you if you failed to pay the rent and they were unable to re-let the property.

If you break your contract and do not pay the rent, a landlord can take you to court and claim the rent due to the end of the fixed term plus costs and interest. They would need an address for you (or your Guarantor) in the UK. If you have a joint tenancy the action could be against all of the joint tenants. A landlord would have up to 6 years in which to issue a claim. This is a civil matter and not a criminal issue.

If the landlord's claim is successful and judgement is made against you, you must pay or you can get a county court judgement (CCJ) against you which can affect your future credit ratings. If you are an international student, you may have to declare a CCJ on any future visa applications to the UK. It is best to avoid such action where possible and reach a settlement with the landlord.

If you are suffering financially as a result of Covid 19 and struggling to make rental payments you may be able to apply for some financial help from the University. You could also try negotiating alternative payment plans with the landlord, e.g delaying payments until your student finance comes through.

See leaving a house.

Dear X

Name and address,

I/We hope you and your family are keeping well in these really strange and difficult times.Due to the COVID-19 pandemic I/we have had a significant and unexpected change of circumstances. I have left/intend to leave Sheffield to move home to be with my family during this time of crisis and I do not intend to return to Sheffield before the end of my tenancy period.

(If you have caring responsibilities or other exceptional circumstances include them here, be as detailed and personal as you feel comfortable to.)

(If you or your family are suffering financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, explain this here in as much details as you feel comfortable doing and how it may impacts on your ability to pay the rent)

I am therefore writing to kindly request that you release me from the tenancy and any further rental obligations. The government and the National Residential Landlords Association are asking landlords to show compassion and whilst I understand you may not be obligated to release me, I am asking for you to give this your serious consideration.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you need further information, Looking forward to hearing your response.

Best wishes

___________

I live in University accommodation but I have moved home due to online learning and want to be released from the contract?

Although the University did release student residents from contracts in the first national lockdown they are not currently releasing students from contracts for Covid related reasons unless you meet their standard termination policy. See Residence Contract at https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/accommodation/policies.

You will only normally be released from a University contract if withdrawing from University or taking a leave of absence. If so, you will be released from the end of the current billing period.

You will need to write to the accommodationoffice@sheffield.ac.uk with your request if you wish to be released for any other reason, with evidence but they will usually only release if you or they can find a suitable replacement tenant, more details on leaving a contract.

The SU has been seeking more flexibility from ACS around this issue in light of the online teaching situation but this has not been agreed to date.

You may also seek a transfer if you are very unhappy in your accommodation, although this cannot be guaranteed and will depend on your circumstances and availability of accommodation.

I cannot afford to pay my rent due to the COVID-19 situation, what should I do?

Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. They should be sympathetic especially if you (or your parents) have lost a job or seen your income reduce suddenly. Current guidance advises landlords to be flexible and arrange alternative payment plans. They may agree to a rent reduction or to accept rent late. Get any agreement in writing. Buy to let landlords may get mortgage payment holidays if their tenants have financial problems due to coronavirus.

Email advice@sheffield.ac.uk if you need further help with this. We can help you liaise with the landlord and our money advisers may be able to identify any other sources of financial help or in some cases benefit entitlement. Use our template letter below to contact your landlord.

If you are in genuine financial difficulty you may be able to apply for some help from the University. The University has made an extra £3miliion pounds available to assist students in financial hardship due to Covid related issues. Any payment is unlikely to cover full rent or living costs and will be a one off payment to help out when you may be facing unexpected or unforeseen costs.

Dear X

RE Name and address

I/We hope you and your family are keeping well in these really strange and difficult times. I am writing to you to ask if I can make alternative arrangements to pay my rent over the next few months.

Unfortunately, as a result of COVID-19 crisis my/our income has been significantly impacted and I am/we are unable to pay the next instalment of rent at this time.

(If you or your family are suffering financial difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, explain this here in as much detail as you feel able to . Explain how it impacts on your ability to pay the rent. Have you or your parents lost a job, are they self-employed with no income for several months, do you get Student finance or not, are you caring for children and unable to work)

The government and the National Residential Landlords Association are asking landlords to show compassion and where possible to allow additional time to pay the rent and agree alternative payment plans. I understand landlords with buy to let mortgages can also seek a mortgage payment holiday at this time.

If possible I would like to arrange to pay ….(tell them when and what you can afford to pay and propose an alternative payment plan)

I trust you can give this your serious consideration and we can reach a mutually acceptable payment plan. Please do not hesitate to contact me, should you need further information,

Looking forward to hearing your response.

Best Wishes

____________

Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 lockdown?

In reality, evictions in the student housing sector are very rare even during normal times. Landlords are more likely to pursue small claims action to recover any unpaid rent after the end of the tenancy.

Most students will have an assured shorthold tenancy, in which case a landlord cannot evict you without first serving appropriate notices and obtaining a court order granting possession of the property.

The Government has published guidance protecting renters during the COVID-19 outbreak. From 29 August 2020, except in the most serious cases, landlords must give tenants at least 6 months notice prior to applying for a possession order. There is also an expectation that landlords will work with the tenant to find alternative payment plans and strengthening of the pre action protocols which landlords must follow prior to taking possession proceedings.

If you live with a resident landlord, you do not have the same protection from eviction; there are different rules for your landlord. In this situation, the landlord can evict you without a court order but you are still legally entitled to reasonable notice. This may depend on what is in the contract you signed but is usually one month. The landlord can change the locks themselves.

If a landlord is threatening to evict you please contact advice@sheffield.ac.uk. If you need urgent advice and support you should contact Shelter England who have an emergency helpline available 365 days a year. You can also contact 0114 2734680 and speak with a tenancy relations officer at Sheffield City Council if you think you are being illegally evicted.

My housemate has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 Coronavirus. What should I do?

In this situation you should stay in the property. As you may have come into contact with the virus, you should also be self-isolating for 14 days. You should also report a positive test result to the University. This will assist them for track and trace purposes as well as providing you access to additional support. Information about the support available to self-isolating students is available on the University website.

For more information you can contact: covidstudentsupport@sheffield.ac.uk

Please ensure that you are following the recommended NHS self-isolation guidelines.

Government advice about how to clean a property.

I live alone and I am self isolating, where can I get support?

You should inform the University and complete the online form. You will then be contacted by support services.

You should contact your Landlord, they may have procedures in place which could help you. If you are in University accommodation contact accommodationoffice@sheffield.ac.uk

I live in a shared house, can guests come and visit me during the lockdown?

If you have a joint tenancy or share accommodation with others, you should consider very carefully whether you are exposing your housemates to unnecessary risks by inviting guests into the property and you should be following the latest Government guidance. You and your housemates will form one household.

The rules around mixing and socialising will depend on what Tier level Sheffield is in. It is currently Tier 3 very High Alert.

Remember that your housemates might be vulnerable due a medical condition you do not know about.

If your housemate is bringing people to the house, remind them of the NHS and Government guidance and report it to your landlord.

Sheffield City Council COVID-19 Guidance for Landlords and Tenants of HMO's (shared housing) May 2020

Here are links to the latest advice provided by Sheffield City Council housing standards team for landlords and tenants based on latest Government COVID-19 guidance:

Landlords Guidance
Tenants Guidance