renting and covid 2021

house hunting for 2021/2022 academic year

It is normally at this time of year when many students start to think about housing options for the next academic year. This includes looking at properties online and viewing properties.

But this is no normal year. 

You can see our open letter to landlords/agents on house hunting here. We are urging landlords and agents to be flexible and understanding. No student should be made to feel intimidated or harassed to sign earlier than they wish.

During this current lockdown, the housing market remains open and it is true that to say house viewings can take place. However, the spirit of the government guidance is written for the general rental market and not the student one. The guidance is intended for those who are house hunting with a view to occupy as soon as possible, not in 7-8 months’ time.

It would be difficult to suggest that viewing a house now for next academic year, can be considered an essential activity during this lockdown, and any travel undertaken from outside the local area is unlikely to be considered ‘essential travel’. 

Therefore, it is our view that in-person viewings should only be completed by those who need to move within the next month.

There is a good supply and variety of student accommodation in Norwich and we do not expect this to change. Houses will be available to view when the national lockdown ends.

We are currently working on how we can help students and landlords alike as we start to move out of lockdown – check back here or our social media channels for updates.

your current 2020/2021 accommodation

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), 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.

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

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 the UEA’s International Student Advisory Team (ISAT) .

If your landlord is threatening to take you to court, get in touch and we can arrange for you to speak to one of our advice workers.

The following guidance is based upon evictions in normal times. Currently there is a hold on evictions until March 2021.

If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy:

Your landlord cannot evict you without an order from the court granting them possession of the property. If the landlord wants to evict you, they have 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. 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 COVID-19. 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 2 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.

The first thing to remember is that your student status (outside of UEA accommodation) or whether or not you are currently living in the property have no bearing on your tenancy and there are not separate rules for renting as a student.

This you have no automatic right to a rent rebate. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do…

There is nothing stopping you contacting your landlord/agent and asking for a reduction in your rent as you are not currently living in Norwich. If you have a good landlord, they will not be offended by this request.

To help you, we have created these templates you can use and adapt to your own circumstances.