Q&A from the University of London Housing Services...

We’re aware that some of you in private rental accommodation may be struggling to pay your rent and be in financial difficulty. You might have lost your part-time job, been put on reduced pay or be unable to continue any self-employed work as a result of Covid-19. The University of London Housing Services have a handy list of Q&A’s that you might find useful below: 

 

Q. My contract hasn’t ended but I’m leaving London/the UK and won’t be returning to the property. Do I still have to pay rent?

A. This will depend on your circumstances, for example… 

If you live alone, or everyone on the tenancy agreement wants to leave: 

If you have signed a contract for a fixed period (for example, 12 months, or 24 months), and you are still in that fixed period, check if your contract has something called a ‘break clause’. This is usually located either at the beginning of the contract where the start and end dates of the contract are shown, or at the end of the contract. It can sometimes be elsewhere though, so it’s best to read every part of your contract to look for it. You can only use a break clause if every tenant on the agreement wants to move out.

If your contract has a ‘break clause’: this may mean that you can terminate your contract after a certain date, before the end of the fixed term, providing you give the required notice. You may have to pay rent until the required notice period has ended.

If your contract does not have a ‘break clause’, or the break clause cannot yet be exercised, you will not have any automatic right to end your contract. Even though the emerging situation is very concerning, there have not yet been any changes to the law regarding ending tenancies in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and until you negotiate with your landlord, your obligation to pay rent will not change. You should discuss your wish to end the tenancy with your landlord. If the landlord is happy to let you go without further rent payments, then you will not be required to pay rent. You should ensure that your landlord confirms this in writing. However, if the landlord will not release you from the contract, they could still ask you or your guarantor for the money, even if you have moved out.

If you want to leave but other tenants are staying in the property: 

If other tenants are staying on, it is unlikely you will able to leave without continuing to pay rent unless you find a replacement tenant. You should discuss your wish to end the tenancy with the other tenants and the landlord. If the landlord is happy to let you go and will not require your rent to be paid in your absence, then you will not be required to pay rent. However, if the landlord will not release you from the contract without a replacement, they could still ask you, your housemates or your guarantor for the money, even if you have moved out.

 

Q. What happens if I move out before the end of my tenancy and don’t pay my rent?

A. The landlord may take action to get the rent from you, or from your guarantor if you have one. They may take some of this money from your deposit. If the amount you owe them exceeds your deposit, they may write to you to formally request the money. You might be charged interest on the amount owing which should not exceed 3% above the bank of England base Rate. If you still don’t pay, they may start a court claim against you.

If your landlord starts court action against you for unpaid rent, this is not a criminal trial or a criminal offence, and you won’t get a criminal record. You will be asked to attend court, and if you don't attend the hearing will go ahead in your absence. If the judge decides you should have paid the money, you will be asked to pay it as part of the judgement. You may also be asked to pay the landlord's court costs.

If you still don’t pay the money after the court has decided you should, you may receive a further judgement that can negatively affect your credit rating in the UK. This may make it difficult for you to borrow money or pass reference checks for rented accommodation in the UK in the future. If you are worried about the impact of this on any current or future visa in the UK, please seek advice from an immigration advice service.

If your landlord is threatening to take you to court, please book a legal advice telephone appointment with us.

 

Q. My flatmate has suspected Covid-19. Can I leave the flat?

A. You may wish to stay elsewhere if someone you live with has been diagnosed with coronavirus, but please ensure that you are following the recommended self-isolation guidelines which can be found here. If you do not stay at the property due to someone you live with having Covid-19 coronavirus, you will still have to pay rent regardless of this.

 

Q. I can’t afford my rent payments due to Covid-19. Can I be evicted?

A. The Coronavirus Act 2020 has suspended all evictions that require court orders for 3 months.

Landlords must now give a minimum of 3 months notice for any evictions of tenants and of some licensees. This will not apply to lodgers of live-in landlords.. if your landlord has already issued you with notice, they will not be able to evict you for a further 3 months. The government has stated this period may be extended. Currently, after the 3 months notice expires, the landlord will be able to apply to the court for you to be evicted. However, the government guidance states that even if this does take place, it will likely be a further 6-8 weeks, or longer given the current circumstances, for any evictions to go through the courts. 

Your rent is still due. It has been advised that tenants and landlords are expected to work out a realistic repayment plan for any rent missed in this 3 month period, taking into account the circumstances. But no law requires landlords to do this. For the full advice from the UK government, please click here.

The below advice still outlines the normal situation for evictions. Please note all of us currently still applies but with a minimum 3 months notice.

If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy:

Your landlord cannot evict you without an order from the court granting him possession of the property. If the landlord wants to evict you, he has to send you a notice requiring possession. This will be either a Section 21 or Section 8 notice.

If you are in a fixed term tenancy:

The landlord can only evict you during the fixed term of the tenancy by issuing a Section 8 notice and going to court. The notice must currently be for at least 3 months under the Coronavirus Act 2020. Once you get to court, If you have less than 8 weeks rent arrears, it is up to the judge to decide whether you should be evicted. You would be able to submit a defence that it was due to financial problems caused by coronavirus. If you have over 8 weeks rent arrears, it is a mandatory ground for eviction, so the judge will allow the eviction. 

If you are in a periodic ‘rolling’ tenancy, or your fixed term is ending soon and has not been renewed:

The landlord can use the accelerated Section 21 process to evict you with 3 months notice, whether you have any rent arrears or not. However, you should always seek advice if you receive an eviction notice, as many of them are invalid, which can significantly delay the eviction.

If you have a license agreement for accommodation where the landlord does not live with you (for example, in a student hall): 

Your landlord can only evict you before the end of the fixed term if there is a clause in the contract stating they can do so. Any such clause should set out what notice you should be given. By law, you are entitled to ‘reasonable’ notice, and the landlord still has to apply to the court to evict you. 

If you live with your landlord: 

Your landlord can evict you without a court order, and therefore you have no additional protection from this due to the coronavirus act. You are still legally entitled to reasonable notice, unless it is the end of your fixed term. The landlord can change the locks themselves to remove you from the property. It is still a criminal offence to evict you by force or intimidation.

 

Q. My live-in landlord has asked me to leave so they can self-isolate. What are my rights?

A. 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. 

In practice, it can be quite difficult to challenge an eviction with a live-in landlord though. We would suggest you contact us for advice if this is happening to you.

It is a criminal offence for your landlord to use or threaten violence when evicting you.

 

Q. I live in a shared flat and my housemate keeps on bringing in guests back. Do I have any right to stop them?

A. Disagreements between tenants are often not really ‘legal’ problems at and you should first consider what is reasonable and fair to everyone involved. You should consider very carefully whether your flatmate is exposing you and/or your other housemate(s) to unnecessary risks.

If you have a joint tenancy (one agreement for the whole property) disagreements between tenants must be solved between the tenants. Sometimes the landlord can help you reach an agreement but they do not have any formal legal responsibility here.

Everyone does have legal duties to their ‘neighbours’ not to cause them harm that someone could reasonably see coming. That means there might be a legal duty for your housemates to not expose you to additional risk of infection – but the law here is complex.

Remind them to consider the latest Government guidance. It would be better not to bring visitors into your house where not absolutely necessary until the Government advises otherwise.

 

Q. What is Force Majeure? Does it mean I can end my tenancy?

A. Some tenancy agreements have a ‘Force Majeure’ clause. 'Force Majeure' means an event or sequence of events - beyond a party's reasonable control - preventing or delaying it from performing its obligations under the Agreement. So for example, if something happened to your house that meant you couldn't live in it anymore, such as a natural disaster destroying the property. 

While Covid-19 may be a 'Force Majeure' event, it is unlikely to prevent you from occupying the property or stop the tenancy from continuing. It is therefore unlikely that a Force Majeure clause will allow you to end a tenancy early. 

If you have understandably chosen to go and stay with family or friends elsewhere due to the pandemic, this does not give you a right to end the tenancy. Your tenancy will continue and your liability for rent will not end. This applies even if you have returned to what is your normal home outside of term-time. 

 

Q. My landlord won’t let me end my tenancy but I can’t afford to pay. What can I do?

A. If your landlord won't agree to end your tenancy, you will still be liable for rent. This means if you do not continue to pay the rent, your landlord may take you to court at a later date for the money.

Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for some support.

Benefits: Home students may be eligible to benefits to help pay rent, although you may not be eligible if you are an EU student depending on your circumstances. If you are a full-time student, you will not be eligible for housing benefit or Universal Credit unless you meet the eligibility criteria. 

Part-time students are more likely to be eligible as they are only assessed based on their income and circumstances. For more information for Universal Credit and part-time students, click here

College: Goldsmiths has a Hardship Fund for students facing financial difficulty. Click here for more info. 

 

We hope the information above is helpful. For more details, have a look at the University of London Housing Services website here. 

If you have questions around University halls, please contact the hall manager or the relevant University accommodation team directly.