House with covid sign in front

Covid-19

House hunting and housing issues during the pandemic

 

House hunting

Due to the lockdown, most landlords will not be providing viewings in person until at least March - landlords should not be offering you the opportunity to look round houses at this time. Information about moving house during the pandemic is available on the Government website.

Landlords may be advertising their properties with photos and some will also provide virtual tours of their properties. We would normally advise not to enter into a tenancy without seeing the property in person, but unfortunately this won't be an option for those of you wanting to sign up soon. Be aware that photos and videos can be angled and edited to avoid showing issues, so if you have any concerns about the property or if you're unsure about its layout/size or facilities, we would advise asking the landlord for more details.

 

I've strugged to find housemates because of covid restrictions - is there anywhere i can go to find other students in the same situation?

We've heard from a number of students who are having this problem. KeeleSU has a Facebook group, called Housemate Seekers of Keele, to help you connect with other students.

If you don't find anyone to live with, many landlords do individual tenancies, which means they rent out the bedrooms in their property separately. However, this would mean you wouldn't know your housemates before you moved in.  There are also several companies that are operating private halls of residence in the local area.

 

I'm a current tenant and my landlord wants to enter to show people round or take photos/videos

Landlords need to give at least 24 hours written notice to enter the property at reasonable times, except in an emergency. Landlords shouldn't force their way in but if they have served proper notice and you repeatedly refuse entry you could be in breach of your contract.

If you are in a joint tenancy this applies to the whole property, but if you are renting individual rooms the landlord is able to access communal areas without giving notice. If you are living with your landlord, you do not have the same rights - your landlord can usually enter your room without notice, unless your contract says otherwise. 

At the moment landlords should not show people round but they may still give notice to enter to take photos or videos to advertise the property. If you are currently living in the property you may be asked to take the photos or videos yourself.

If your property is being viewed and you are living there, you should open all the internal doors prior to the viewing to improve ventilation and allow access to handwashing facilities. If possible, you should also leave the property during the viewing, to minimise contact.

If you or a housemate have any symptoms and are self-isolating, the landlord should not enter the property and you may wish to refer your landlord to the NHS guidance on self-isolation if they are insisting on entering. 

More information is on the Government website.

 

Can I change my mind after I sign up for a house?

Signing a contract so far in advance is always risky and the pandemic has made life even more uncertain. In ASK we get many enquiries from students who want to leave their tenancies early and some who have changed their minds before they've even moved in. Last year, this was an even bigger issue as most students left their student houses at the start of lockdown and found themselves paying for a house they no longer needed.

When you sign a tenancy agreement you enter into the tenancy and are legally bound to pay the rent for the duration of the tenancy's fixed term. You are bound to this even before the tenancy's fixed period begins and you will still be liable for rent even if you never move in. Unless there is a clause in your tenancy agreement that allows you to end the contract, you can only be released if the landlord agrees to it. See 'Can I end my tenancy if I'm no longer living in the house?' below for more information. 

You could try negotiating with the landlord before you enter into a tenancy, to ask if they would be willing to include a clause in the tenancy agreement that would cover certain coronavirus scenarios. For example, the clause might say that if you will not be living in the Keele area due to the covid outbreak, either at the start of the tenancy or by a certain specified date, the tenancy will end. You could also try asking for a clause that would allow you to end the tenancy early if there is another lockdown during the academic year and you need to go home. It is the landlord's decision whether they are willing to include a clause like this.

 

Can I end my tenancy if I'm no longer living in the house?

When you sign a tenancy agreement you enter into the tenancy and are legally bound to pay the rent for the duration of the tenancy's fixed term. On very rare occasions a tenancy agreement may have a clause allowing you to serve notice to leave early, but if yours doesn't have one you can normally only be released or have the terms of the tenancy varied if the landlord agrees to it. This is still the case, even you're not living in the property due to Covid - several organisations are lobbying for this to change, including NUS, but at the moment the law remains the same.

This means your landlord is within their legal rights to make you pay in full for the whole fixed term, even if you left the property early. You could try talking to them to explain why you want to leave but most landlords will only agree to end the tenancy early if there is a replacement tenant to take over from you.

If you want to end your tenancy early we would advise you discuss this with your landlord. Some landlords may not be willing or able to release you from the contract, as many rely on the tenancies for their income, but they may consider reducing your rent, especially if you or your family are suffering financially. If this is the case, explain how you have been affected by the pandemic e.g you have lost your job that you needed in order to afford the rent, or your family has lost income and you've used your student loan to help out. If your rent includes bills, you may be able to negotiate a reduction as you're not currently using the utilities and the landlord's bills should therefore be lower. 

The Vice-Chancellor has written an open letter to private landlords and accommodation providers to ask them to consider releasing students from contracts or reducing rent. This letter is just a request from the University, but it may assist you in negotiating. You can download the letter here.

Our elected officers have also written to Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council to ask them to lobby local landlords to grant rent rebates while you're unable to stay in your accommodation, and also lobby the Government for a rebate on a national level for students. You can read their letter here.

If the landlord is willing to release you from your contract or reduce your rent, make sure that you get any agreement confirmed in writing.

 

What happens if I just refuse to pay rent?

Your landlord could take action against you if you refuse to pay rent. 

If you have a joint tenancy, you are all jointly and severally liable for the rent. This means the landlord can pursue any or all of you for missing rent, regardless of which one of you is refusing to pay.  

If you don't pay the rent you would be in breach of contract and the landlord can take you to court to claim the rent due to the end of the fixed term along with interest and any costs they incurred while pursuing you. If the landlord's claim is successful, 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.

We would advise you to avoid being taken to court and take steps to reach a settlement with the landlord. Please get in touch with us if you have any concerns about this.

If you are suffering financially you may be able to apply to the University's hardship fund

 

I've been living in University accommodation - do I still have to pay accommodation fees?

As with off-campus tenancies, you would be legally bound to pay the full amount for the year, unless the University agrees to waive fees. The University has now released information about a fee rebate for the 2021 lockdown. You should have been emailed the following information:

'We will be providing a rent rebate to those students who have rooms in on-campus accommodation who are not able to access their accommodation as a result of the government restrictions in place. This rebate will cover the period from 4th January 2021 and continue until the current lockdown restrictions are removed, at which time we will review the position and provide a further update. This is anticipated to be no earlier than the middle of February 2021.

If you are occupying your on-campus accommodation or will do so for permitted reasons, then there will be no change to your rental payments.'

The University has now announced they are extending this rebate until 7th March 2021.

If you're unhappy with the University's handling of the pandemic there is a complaints process you can follow, and ASK can support you with the process. Please see our Complaints page for more information.

You can also get in touch with the SU's elected officer team.

 

Can I be evicted during lockdown?

Most students will have an assured shorthold tenancy (AST), which means your landlord cannot evict you without first serving appropriate notices and obtaining a court order. This will take time and is often not worth it if the tenancy is nearing its end, so most landlords are reluctant to start eviction proceedings.

The Government has published guidance protecting renters during the pandemic. Except in the most serious cases, landlords must now give tenants at least 6 months notice prior to applying for a possession order. This means your landlord is even less likely to evict you at this time. In addition, bailiffs now can't serve evictions until at least 31 May except in limited circumstances.

If you live with your landlord, you do not have the same protection from eviction. Your landlord can evict you without a court order, but you are still legally entitled to reasonable notice - the notice period will depend on what is in the contract you signed, but is usually one month. 

If a landlord is threatening to evict you, you can contact ASK at su.ask@keele.ac.uk or Shelter, who have an emergency helpline. You can also speak with a tenancy relations officer at Newcastle or Stoke council if you think you are being illegally evicted - illegal evictions are a criminal offence so are treated seriously.

 

Can maintenance workers enter during lockdown?

Landlords and contractors can enter to carry out routine repairs and inspections, as long as they follow the latest guidance on social distancingworking safely in people’s homes and, if you are shielding, guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable individuals. Landlords should also still enter to perform gas safety checks.

In all cases, you and the landlord should make sure steps are taken to ensure social distancing before anyone enters.

 

I'm in the Keele area and need to self-isolate - what should I do?

NHS self-isolation guidelines are available here. The University has produced guidance and information on support services provided by Keele here.

Information about the support available to self-isolating students is available on the University website here. If your housemate has symptoms and is isolating, then you should also be self-isolating for 14 days as you may have come into contact with the virus. 

If you've tested positive for Covid-19 you should report this to the University, so they can keep track of cases and provide you with support.