Housing and Covid-19 Related Issues
Bolton SU is 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:-
Question: I have a housing contract with a private landlord which has not ended. I have left Bolton due to the Covid19 situation and will not return before the end of the tenancy, can I get out of the contract?
Unfortunately, these accommodation agreements are still legally binding, therefore it will be at the discretion of the landlord. 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.
Our advice is as follows:
- You are legally liable for your rent and you should continue to pay it until you are informed you are released from the contract by your landlord.
- 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.
- Areas you could look to negotiate on include the amount of rent you should pay and any pre-set utility charges that could be waived. We have a template letter you could use as a starting point when writing to your letting agent or landlord.
- 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.
- Check your contract for 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.
- If you have signed an accommodation contract for the academic year 2020/21 - this agreement will still be binding unless it has a break clause (see above).
- 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.
- If you are in a private hall of residence, the above information generally applies to you too. More and more halls are giving students the option to be released early from their contract if they want.
What can happen if I break the contract?
If you break your contract the landlord can take you to court and claim the rent due to the end of the fixed term plus costs and interest. 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. It is best to avoid such action where possible.
If you are taken to court by the landlord for breaking the contract, you can sometimes make your own claim against the landlord (e.g. for serious repair problems). If you are in this position, please contact the SU for further advice.
If you have a joint tenancy then there is joint and several liability for the rent. This means that if one tenant leaves and stops paying rent the landlord could pursue the remaining joint tenants for any shortfall in rent. They will often try and pursue the person who has left for the unpaid rent but they can take legal action to recover the debt against all joint tenants, It is quite common for joint tenants to have their deposits withheld to cover any shortfall in rent owed by a joint tenant.