31st May 2020

Housing And COVID-19 Related Issues

I have a housing contract with a private landlord which has not ended. I have left Sheffield due to the COVID-19 situation and will not return before the end of the tenancy, 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. The University of Sheffield and some larger private student halls such as Unite, have decided to offer early release to students from contracts. Some smaller local landlords have indicated that they would be open to this and/or would reach an agreement to reduce rent, so it could be worth approaching your landlord directly.

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.

In normal times, we would advise you to try and find a replacement tenant to take over the tenancy however it is very unlikely that this will be possible 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.

See getting out of a contract.

Chapters
  1. I have signed a contract for next academic year 2020/21, can I get out of the contract?
  2. I don’t have accommodation sorted out for next year, what should I do?
  3. I cannot afford to pay my rent due to the COVID-19 situation, what should I do?
  4. Can I be evicted during the COVID-19 lockdown?
  5. My housemate has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 Coronavirus. What should I do?
  6. I live alone and I am self isolating, where can I get support?
  7. I live with a resident landlord and they have asked me to leave so they can self isolate. What are my rights?
  8. I live in a shared house, can guests come and visit me during the lockdown?
  9. Do I have to let my landlord in to carry out repairs during the COVID-19 lockdown?
  10. Do I have to let my landlord carry out viewings during the COVID-19 lockdown?
  11. What laws have the Government brought in to help renters?
  12. Sheffield City Council COVID-19 Guidance for Landlords and Tenants of HMO's (shared housing) May 2020

Dear X

Name and address,

I/We hope you and your family are keeping well in these really strange and difficult times.

As you may be aware due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules, the University has had to take the decision to conduct all teaching online until the end of the semester. There will be no requirement for students to be in Sheffield or attend in person.

In addition to this, I have left 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. As you may be aware the University and a number of other private student accommodation providers are offering to release students at this exceptional time.

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 have signed a contract for next academic year 2020/21, can I get out of the contract?

We know many students will have already signed housing contracts for next academic year with many tenancies due to commence on/around 1st July. We have seen lots of enquiries from students in relation to getting out of contracts or delaying the start date, as there is still some uncertainty around what the University's teaching provision will look like next year and whether you will need to be in Sheffield.

The University's latest update (4.6.20)says "The University is currently planning to offer a blend of face-to-face teaching in small groups in Sheffield, where social distancing can be maintained, supported by digital delivery. This means that the campus will be open for the 2020/21 academic year and, where reasonably possible, you will be expected to attend."

Of course what this means in terms of how often you need to be on campus will not become clear until timetables are released, it may also vary across modules and courses. It will also depend on the COVID-19 situation and any government guidance which is in place at the time. It is likely that any face to face teaching will be fairly limited at least at first. The Students' Union is urging the University to provide more detailed information to students as soon as possible.

The Government has now said it is safe and acceptable to move, so coming back to Sheffield would be allowed. Please see here for guidance around COVID-19 and moving back to Sheffield safely. We have also prepared a Moving In/Out Guide.

Unfortunately if you have already signed a fixed term assured shorthold contract with a private provider/landlord then the teaching arrangements with the University will not really affect the contract. There is no Government guidance which requires a landlord to release tenants or housing or consumer law in England which would mean that you can cancel the contract for this reason.

Some contracts may have specific cancellation clauses so it is worth checking, occasionally there will be a 'break clause' which allows you to give notice within the fixed term, although these are rare.

If you are wishing to cancel or delay the contract start date due to the uncertainty around the COVID-19 crisis you could try contacting the landlord. They will usually release tenants if suitable replacement tenants can be found before or after the contract starts. For more information around this, see getting out of a contract.

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.

I don't have accommodation sorted out for next year, what should I do?

If you have not yet found accommodation for next year or wondering if you should be signing a contract now, we would advise caution unless you are absolutely sure that you want or need to be based in Sheffield.

The University is planning to have a blended teaching programme next year, so a mix of online and face to face provision of teaching. However, it is still too early to be sure what this will look like exactly and it may vary across courses/programmes. It will also depend on the national picture in terms of COVID-19 infection rates and government guidance at the time.

You may wish to delay signing contracts until the situation becomes clearer and you are sure that you do need to be based in Sheffield. Remember there is a surplus of student housing in Sheffield and we are expecting both the University and private sector to have vacancies right up to the start of the new academic year. It should still be possible to find good accommodation in September. It could also save you some summer rent.

Landlords in England do not have to release tenants from contracts and the majority have not done so during this crisis. Once you have signed a contract it can be very difficult to get out of. You can be held liable for the rent even if you never move in. In most cases you would have to find a replacement tenant to take over the tenancy to be released. See FAQ re getting out of contracts for further information.

If you do need to sign a contract try asking landlords to include a 'break clause' in the contract allowing you to give notice if required during the tenancy, e.g 2 months. This would allow you to terminate the contract before the end of the fixed term should you need to. Student numbers may be lower next year and landlords who still have vacancies by September may be willing to consider offering more flexible tenancies, if they are concerned about letting their properties at all.

If there is a second wave of COVID-19 or further lock down in the Autumn, Public Health Sheffield have advised that students should stay in their student accommodation if that is where they are living at the time. Lock downs may also be localised. They have suggested that students should consider where they would want to be locked down, when deciding where to base themselves, of course hopefully this will not happen.

It you live in England it is now possible to travel to Sheffield and Moving Home is allowed. We would always advise you to visit a property if you can before signing a contract or paying money to a landlord.

The Student Advice Centre also offers a contract checking service and you can check out our moving in and out guide.

If you are looking for accommodation, a good place to start is Sheffield Smartmove, all properties meet the high Snug property and management standards. You can also check out our Househunting Guide for useful information. For information about University owned and managed accommodation and contracts visit https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/accommodation.

I cannot afford to pay my rent due to the COVID-19 situtation, 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.

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 and lockdown my/our income has been significantly impacted and I 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 details 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, which means that landlords must give at least 3 month notice prior to applying for a possession order. This will apply until at least 30.09.2020. Any evictions which were due to take place are suspended until 18.06.2020.

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@shef.ac.uk. 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?

Latest Government guidance advises students not to move from their current student property, so even 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.

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

The Government has also produced guidance for those living in University Halls of residence.

Government advice about how to clean a property.

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

You should contact your Landlord, they may have procedures in place which could help you.

You can also contact the Central Welfare and Guidance team at the University email support@sheffield.ac.uk.

If you are in University accommodation contact accommodationoffice@sheffield.ac.uk

Details of other community support groups.

The SU has set up some community forums to help you keep in touch with other students

General Community Group

International Student Group (Stay Connected, Stay Safe)

LGBT+ Student Online Social Space

I live with a resident landlord and they have asked me to leave so they can self isolate. What are my rights?

If you are a lodger with a live-in landlord, you are an 'excluded occupier', which means your landlord doesn't have to apply to the court to evict you.  This means the newly announced suspension on evictions in the courts is unlikely to prevent you from being evicted.

Your landlord can ask you to leave at the end of your fixed-term agreement. They can ask you to leave earlier than this agreement if the contract says they can.

If your agreement doesn't set out a notice period, you should be entitled to 'reasonable' notice. This is usually a week if you pay your rent weekly, or a month if you pay your rent monthly.

If your landlord is giving you less than reasonable notice, or are asking you to leave before the end of the fixed term when your contract does not permit this, you could dispute this with them but it may be easier to find alternative accommodation, please contact advice@sheffield.ac.uk if this is happening to you. There is plenty of accommodation in Sheffield and the University may also be able to help.

It is a criminal offence for your landlord to use or threaten violence when evicting you and you can get help from the Tenancy Relations Officer at Sheffield city council on 0114 2734680.

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

NO, the only people in your house should be existing tenants/residents who classed as being your ‘household’.

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 Public Health and Government advice.

Remember that your housemates might be vulnerable due a medical condition you do not know about. It would be better not to bring visitors into your house where not absolutely necessary until the Government advises otherwise.

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

Do I have to let my landlord in to carry out repairs during the COVID-19 lockdown?

The Government have published some guidance around this:

COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants and local authorities. Government support available for landlords and renters reflecting the current coronavirus (Convid-19) outbreak

The legal starting point is that tenants have an absolute right to exclude anyone from the property – even the landlord. Landlords should never force their way in and unless it is an emergency, they should give 24 hours notice.

A landlord still has statutory duty to ensure that the property is maintained and meets health and safety requirements. Urgent repairs and essential maintenance should still be carried out, but non-essential repairs or improvement works should be delayed.

Ideally your landlord will have contacted you about what services they are providing at this time and how they intend to manage and maintain the properties during the crisis. They should be minimising any unnecessary contact or visits to the property. If they have not done so then email them to ask.

Gas safety checks are very important so think carefully before denying access. However, it might be the case that maintaining self-isolation or minimising the risk of infection is more important in the short term. If you are at high risk from COVID-19 and your gas installation is well maintained this might be the case. If there are any signs to suggest that your boiler is faulty or you smell gas do not delay the inspection, your boiler may need urgent attention.

Do I have to let my landlord carry out viewings during the COVID-19 lockdown?

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 least24 access at conduct viewings at reasonable times. Landlords should never force their way in.

During the current strict lockdown government advice is to delay moving and keep visits to a property to a minimum and only where absolutely necessary. It could be argued that viewings do not fall into this category. 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.

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.

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.

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

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