COVID-19 Coronavirus & Private Housing Rights

We have had enquiries from students and staff about their housing in relation to the emerging COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. The idea of this section is to answer frequently asked questions regarding this issue and how it may impact your privately rented housing. Please note the advice on this page may change, particularly if there are changes to the law. 

Please also consider reading the UK Government's advice on Covid-19 and rented housing.

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

If this page does not answer your question, or you feel confused by the advice in relation to your specific situation, please contact us for an advice appointment.

  • 01. Should I sign a tenancy agreement for the next academic year?

    Many students are currently feeling unsure about what happens in September and beyond, and what decisions need to be made about accommodation.

    It is important to be aware that once you have signed a tenancy agreement you are bound by it, and your landlord will expect the rent from you even if your University course does not start any in-person teaching and you choose not to move in to the property. Therefore it is very important that if you are considering signing an agreement, that you intend to live there regardless of whether your University restarts in person teaching or not.

    Some student hall providers may be offering clauses that allow you to get out of your tenancy if there is more COVID-19 related disruption. However, this is likely to be rare, and most private landlords are unlikely to offer such a service.

    If you are concerned about taking on a longer-term contract due to the changing situation, you may wish to request a shorter contract, or ask for a break clause that would allow you to get out of the tenancy earlier if you chose not to stay for the full term.

    As the property market has slowed due to COVID-19 and there is a lot of uncertainty, you may be in a better position to negotiate terms in your contract, such as contract length or break clauses, that landlords or agents may have previously been reluctant to agree to. 

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  • 02. My University/ course hasn't announced what is happening in September yet. Will it be too late to find housing if I wait any longer?

    No. London has a large supply of rented accommodation, unlike other towns and cities that may have a large student market but less private rented accommodation available at other times. Many non-students also private rent in London and require properties at all times of the year. There will still be housing available even if you chose to only look in September, or a few weeks before you need to move in.

    Many students are facing uncertainty at the moment, so it may be the general trend this year is for students to find accommodation much later in the summer, or shortly before their courses start. Our advice is to wait until your University has confirmed the arrangements for September, unless you are certain you intend to live in the property regardless of whether all teaching is online or in person. 

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  • 03. My landlord is bringing people into the house to do viewings. Can I prevent this to reduce my chances of infection?

    If you are on an assured shorthold tenancy:

    Landlords have no implied right to enter a property to conduct viewings. They can only do this if there is a clause in your tenancy agreement stating that you must permit access for viewings. Have a look at your contract to try and find this clause.

    The legal starting point is that tenants have a fundamental right to exclude anyone from the property – even the landlord. Landlords should never force their way in.

    If the tenant has agreed in the contract to allow viewings, and the tenant refuses to permit this, the landlord could object and try to make a claim on the basis that the tenant is in breach of contract.

    Most of these clauses state access for viewings must be permitted at a ‘reasonable’ time. If you refuse access, you could argue that the timing was not reasonable due to the ongoing situation - and that having people enter your home at this time would be unreasonable. You might be also be able to argue that a clause which gives the landlord a right to conduct viewings in any circumstances, despite the Government’s recommendations not to allow visitors into your home, is ‘unfair’ and not binding on you. However, you may find this is more difficult as the guidelines continue to be relaxed.

    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.

    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 you contract.

    If you are self-isolating, you may wish to refer your landlord to the NHS guidance on self-isolation.

    If you have a live-in landlord

    If you have a 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 you link your landlord to the guidance on self isolation if you are concerned.

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  • 04. I can’t afford my rent payments due to coronavirus. Can I be evicted?

    The Coronavirus Act 2020 has suspended all evictions until 20th September 2020.

    As of Saturday 29th August, Landlords must now give a minimum of 6 months notice for most 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 a valid 3 month notice, they will not be be required to extend it.

    In some cases, landlords will now be allowed to give a shorter notice. This will only apply in cases where there are rent arrears of more than 6 months, or if there is antisocial behaviour. In this case, a 'Section 8' notice can be served with 4 weeks notice.

    Currently, after the 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 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 6 months notice in most cases, and no court proceedings will take place before 20th September 2020.

    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 6 months, except in the cases of antisocial behaviour or 6 months + of rent arrears, where the notice can be 4 weeks. Once you get to court, If you have less than 6 months of 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 6 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. Even with 3 months notice, evictions are suspended until 20th September 2020.

    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. As above, no eviction cases will be heard in court before 20th September 2020.

    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.

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  • 05. My flatmate has confirmed or suspected COVID-19 coronavirus. Can I leave the property?

    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.

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  • 06. My live-in landlord has 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. 

    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.

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  • 07. My Landlord says they need to carry out an annual gas safety check. Do I have to let them in?

    Gas safety checks are very important and refusing to let the landlord’s contractor in to carry them out should not be done lightly. The government guidance has been updated to say that Landlords are still expected to carry out gas safety checks when they are due.  

    However, if you are self isolating or shielding the advice suggests you may be able to refuse access until the end of your isolation period. If you are at high risk from COVID-19 and your gas installation is well maintained this might be the case.

    The legal starting point is that tenants have a fundamental right to exclude anyone from the property – even the landlord. Landlords should never force their way in.

    If there are any signs to suggest that your boiler is faulty or you smell gas that would be a reason not to delay the inspection. Your boiler would need urgent attention.

    If you decide to refuse access to the landlord you can refer them to the guidance from the health and safety executive to landlords which says that landlords should make reasonable efforts to conduct a gas safety check annually and if it proves to not be possible, they should keep evidence of the reasons why the inspection could not be done. That will be the correct thing for many landlords to do right now.

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  • 08. I live in a shared house and the landlord or other tenants are saying I cannot bring in guests to my room – do they have any right to stop me?

    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 you are exposing your housemates 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.

    If you rent a room and the landlord or other tenants are stopping you from bringing in guests you should bear in mind that they are following the latest Government guidance.

    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 not to expose your housemates to additional risk of infection – but the law here is complex.

    You should consider the latest Government guidance and 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.

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  • 09. What is Force Majeure? Does it mean I can end my tenancy because of Covid 19?

    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 outiside of term-time.

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  • 10. I am renting a new property and my agent is insisting on doing the 'right to rent' check in person. Can I refuse?

    The government has recently updated advice on right-to-rent during the pandemic. Tenants can now send copies of documents, and right-to-rent checks can be carried out over video call.

    For more information see the full statement from the government here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-landlord-right-to-rent-checks

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

    The landlord may decide to take action to get the rent from you, or from your guarantor if you have one, although not all landlords do this. 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 the amount your landlord is claiming from you is over £10,000, you may also be liable for any legal fees, such as solicitors costs. This can significantly add to the amount you will be asked to pay. However, it is not normally possible for landlords to claim these if the total claim is less than £10,000.

    If you still don’t pay the money within 1 month after the court has decided you should, you may receive a further judgement, called a County Court 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. It may also affect your chances of being offered some jobs in the UK if the employer conducts credit checks during recruitment. 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.

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  • 12. My contract has not ended but I’m leaving London / the UK, and will not return to the property. Do I still have to pay rent?

    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.

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  • 13. My landlord won't let me end the tenancy and I can't afford to pay. What can I do?

    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

    Some colleges have financial assistance or hardship funds for students facing financial difficulty. Contact your University directly to find out if you are eligible.

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