Coronavirus and your private rented accommodation
Covid-19 has caused a number of significant complicating factors for students renting in the private sector. Our advisers are working to produce the most relevant and up to date information possible based on current government advice and legislation.
Information for students whose tenancies will be ending soon
If you are planning to collect your belongings
If you are not currently in Bristol and need to travel back to collect your belongings from your house or flat there are many things for you to consider. Firstly, and most importantly is the Government advice on travel and the safety of yourself and those you are likely to come into contact with. Please follow the Government guidelines.
- Only travel when safe to do so.
- Plan your visit with your landlord or letting agent – do not just turn up. You need to check their availability to return the keys and complete paperwork.
- Think about what to do with your belongings and any unwanted items:
- Do not leave large amounts of waste on the street. This is fly tipping and the fines for this are huge.
- Abandoned waste goes to landfill.
- Everything including food can be donated, recycled, or upcycled.
- Bristol's Big Give is not able to run this year. Please consider taking unwanted items with you to donate to charity shops when they open.
- The City Council has a bulky waste collection service.
If you cannot get back to collect your belongings
If your circumstances mean you do not think you’ll be able to collect your belongings before your tenancy ends, consider:
- Could your friends or housemates help to pack and store your belongings?
- Will your landlord/letting agent store, pack or arrange for your belongings to be shipped to you? There are companies that can help with this, see the FAQs below.
- Communicate with your landlord/letting agent.
Information for students who are moving to a new house or flat in Bristol
- Check with the landlord or letting agent that the property is ready for you to move into.
- Plan the move – try to transfer everything in one move.
- If you are moving from a University residence into private rented accommodation, please be aware that you cannot currently return to residences to collect belongings.
Information and advice for landlords and letting agents about what you should do with belongings left in the property at the end of a tenancy if a student is unable to collect due to Coronavirus travel restricions or illness.
Coronavirus and private accommodation FAQs
Acceptable behaviour in residences and the wider community
We know that many of you have been following the Government guidance on staying at home and away from others and self-isolation. Thank you.
We expect students to comply with the Government guidance - if you don't you are risking the health and safety of the community around you, including fellow students, and staff who are working hard and at their own risk to support you.
We take risking the safety of students, staff and members of the public around you very seriously and will take disciplinary action if required. Student Disciplinary Regulations (PDF, 220kB)
My flatmate has confirmed or suspected COVID-19. Can I leave the property?
You may wish to stay elsewhere if someone you live with has been diagnosed with COVID-19 but you will most likely will still have to pay rent even if you move somewhere else, unless you are released from the tenancy or you can leave by giving notice, see above.
Please ensure that you are following the recommended self-isolation guidelines.
Do I still have to pay rent if I’m leaving Bristol and will not return to my property?
Yes. There have not yet been any changes to the law regarding ending tenancies in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, and therefore if you have a private tenancy and you are leaving Bristol/the UK and will not return to the property, your obligation to pay rent under your tenancy/licence agreement will not change and your rent liability will continue until your tenancy/licence ends.
This means that your landlord can recover rent from you or ask your guarantor for the money, even if you have moved out, until the end of the fixed term. The same applies for both assured shorthold tenancies and for licence agreements.
However, you could ask your landlord to consider giving you a payment holiday/reduced rent.
If my financial circumstances have changed can my landlord give me a payment holiday/reduced rent?
We advise all students concerned about paying their rent to negotiate with their landlord to see if an agreement can be reached.
Private landlords are eligible for a 3-month buy-to-let mortgage payment holiday if their tenants are experiencing financial difficulties due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This means that the landlord can arrange a 3-month 'break’ in their mortgage payments, though they will still have to pay this money back at a later date.
Legislation does not specify that the landlord has to pass this payment holiday on to tenants but if they apply for the mortgage holiday on the basis that their tenants are struggling financially, they are expected to pass the payment holiday on. You should ask if they are willing to do this if paying rent has become difficult. They may ask for evidence of this from the tenant. It has been advised by the government where landlord and tenant have agreed a payment holiday, that they are expected to work out a realistic repayment plan for any rent missed in this 3 month period, taking into account the circumstances.
Although there is no legal requirement for landlords to offer non-repayable rent reductions, some landlords have taken it upon themselves to offer these to tenants and in other cases tenants have negotiated their own agreements with landlords to charge less rent for the remainder of the tenancy. Some landlords have simply agreed to charge no rent at all until the end of tenancies in June. We therefore highly recommend that if you are concerned about paying your rent to negotiate with your landlord to see if an agreement can be reached.
If you are struggling financially you should also seek the support of the University's Fees and Funding team.
If I stop paying my rent how can the landlord recover the money from me or my guarantor?
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 contact our advisers at email@example.com.
I can’t afford my rent payments. Can I be evicted?
If you are struggling financially you should seek the support of the University's Fees and Funding team.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 has suspended all evictions that require court orders for 3 months, this means that 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. 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.
If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy: Your landlord cannot evict you without an order from the court. 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. 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.
If your landlord is threatening eviction proceedings, please contact our advisers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tenancy agreements and contracts
Can I end my contract early if I have a fixed term tenancy agreement?
You cannot end a tenancy before the end of the fixed term unless:
- there is a break clause in the contract allowing you to do so, or
- the landlord agrees to release you early by mutual surrender.
However, you could ask your landlord to consider giving you a payment holiday/reduced rent.
What is a break clause?
This is a clause in the agreement that allows the tenant or the landlord to end the agreement early. The break clause will specify when it can be exercised, for example, it is often after 6 months in a 12- month fixed term agreement. If you have a joint tenancy agreement, you can only use a break clause if every tenant on the agreement wants to move out.
If your contract has a break clause, the form and length of the notice required to end the agreement will be specified. Unless the break clause states otherwise you will have to give written notice to exercise it. You will probably 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. However, you could ask your landlord to consider giving you a payment holiday/reduced rent.
What is a mutual surrender?
This is a voluntary agreement between the landlord and tenant to end the agreement early and terminate a fixed-term agreement. You can only surrender a joint tenancy if the landlord and all the joint tenants agree and are party to it.
If your landlord agrees to a surrender of the tenancy agreement this can be done by a formal deed of surrender, which must be signed by both parties and the signatures must be witnessed. If the landlord is prepared to release you but doesn’t want to incur legal costs, then you can both agree that the tenancy will be surrendered once the keys are returned. However, the parties’ intentions need to be clear. A written agreement is the best way to do this.
Can I end my contract early if there is no fixed term agreement?
If your tenancy never had a fixed term or it has run on at the end of a fixed term then you are likely to have a ‘periodic’ contract, also known as a rolling contract. Periodic tenants can either give notice as per what is stated in the tenancy agreement. Or, if it is not mentioned in the agreement, you can give your landlord notice in the form of a notice to quit, in writing, which must be at least 4 weeks or the equivalent to the period of the tenancy or licence, normally one month. If you are a joint tenant this will end the tenancy for all the tenants and everyone will have to leave at the end of the notice period.
If you are considering giving notice, please contact our advisers at email@example.com for further advice.
Can I end my contract early if I have a licence agreement?
If you live with your landlord and share a kitchen and/or bathroom with them you have a licence agreement, not a tenancy. You are still bound by the terms of the contract, including any notice periods. You may have a fixed term agreement with a break clause.
If you have a fixed-term agreement without a break clause you can still try to negotiate to be released from the contract. However, if you can’t reach agreement the landlord could still ask you or your guarantor to pay the rent to the end of the fixed term, even if you move out. You could ask your landlord to consider giving you a payment holiday/reduced rent.
If there is no fixed term in your agreement you will either have to give notice the equivalent length of your rental period or give ‘reasonable’ notice.
If you are considering giving notice, please contact our advisers at firstname.lastname@example.org for further advice.
What should I do if my landlord is trying to force me to leave my tenancy without notice?
It is illegal for your landlord to evict you or stop you from entering your accommodation without following due process. If this happens then please contact one of our housing advisers on email@example.com or contact Shelterline on 0808 800 4444.
Do I have to give notice at the end of my fixed term tenancy?
Some contracts require notice to end the contract on the last day of the fixed term and some do not. If it is a requirement of your contract, it will say how much notice is required, when it must end and where the notice must be sent. Make sure you serve the notice in accordance with the contract, otherwise your landlord may ask you to pay rent beyond the end of the fixed term until proper notice has been given and the notice period has expired.
Leaving a tenancy
My tenancy ends in June/July - do government restrictions mean that I can’t actually move out?
Please continue to refer to government guidance: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-transport-and-travel-advice and https://www.gov.uk/guidance/government-advice-on-home-moving-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-outbreak. The current government advice is that moving house can take place where it is unavoidable and that all parties should attempt to be as flexible as possible in their usual processes in respect of moving home. You should contact your landlord if you think you can't move out at the end of your tenancy as it might be possible to negotiate with them to stay on at the tenancy for the required time or they may have other advice and policy. Communication will be key.
In theory, you can stay on at the property whether the landlord agrees or not and then a periodic tenancy would be created but if there are already new tenants lined up for the property and you stayed on, the landlord/agent will start possession proceedings as soon as possible and this could be very stressful and incur court costs and may even mean you are pursued for costs for the tenants who couldn't move in, so we would strongly suggest that communicating and negotiating with the landlord is the best way forward.
My tenancy ends in June but I have nowhere to move to. What should I do?
Restrictions have now eased enough to give you the chance to find accommodation. If this is not possible for you, then as above, in theory you can stay on at the property whether the landlord agrees or not and a periodic tenancy would be created but this is likely to prompt the landlord to take court proceedings to evict you if there are new tenants signed up for the tenancy and you could incur considerable costs. A better way forward would be to negotiate with your landlord for you to stay longer in your current property. If you are having trouble arranging this or if you need advice on finding accommodation please get in touch with the Accommodation Office private advisers at firstname.lastname@example.org and we may be able to advocate on your behalf. In exceptional circumstances we may be able to offer accommodation in University halls.
I have moved out of my property though the tenancy hasn’t ended yet, do I need to let my landlord/agent know?
You should definitely let them know. Many contracts require you to let your landlord know if you are going to be away for e.g. more than 14 or 28 days and some insurance companies require this information too. It will also be useful to specify if you have left your belongings in the property and intend to return or if you have left for good and removed your belongings.
What if I want to leave but other joint tenants are staying in the property?
If you are joint tenants and some of you are staying on, it is unlikely you will able to leave without continuing to pay rent unless your tenancy agreement allows you to find a replacement tenant. A replacement must be acceptable to the landlord and the other tenants. If you do find a replacement tenant, then your rental liability will come to an end once a new tenancy is signed. However, it may be very difficult to find a replacement tenant in the current situation or to execute the move safely. If you can’t, then you will still be liable for the rent even if you move out. If you don’t pay, the landlord could still ask you, your housemates, your guarantor or possibly your joint tenants’ guarantors for the money.
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 release you from liability without finding a replacement tenant, then make sure you get this agreement in writing, otherwise the landlord could still ask you, your housemates or the guarantors for the rent.
I left belongings in my accommodation and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to collect them by the end of tenancy
Current guidelines suggest that if you are in England, it is possible to travel in order to carry out activities related to moving house as long as it is safe to do so. If you do return to the property to clear out your room, ensure to communicate with your landlord/agent and any remaining tenants in advance to let them know you're coming so that you can return to collect your belongings safely and in line with social distancing measures.
Even if it is possible to travel within the UK, International travel is not back to normal so International students who have returned home will almost certainly not be able to get back in time.
Your contract will normally require you to clean and clear the property by the end date, otherwise, you could face deposit deductions and/or lose belongings. If you can't collect them you may need to arrange for your room to be packed up and for your belongings to be stored, disposed of or sent to you. Friends, housemates or your landlord may be able to help you with this and the Accommodation Office has started compiling a list of companies that can do this work for you which we will aim to update, see below. It might be useful to start making inventories of your belongings if possible and specifying if any items can be disposed of so that you don't incur packing and storage costs for unwanted items. If you have left perishable items at the property you should make sure that the landlord is aware so that they can dispose of them asap.
Can my landlord dispose of my belongings?
The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977 means that landlords must follow certain steps before disposing of property left in accommodation at the end of a tenancy. We suggest that students who know that they will not be returning should get in touch with their landlords urgently to discuss the arrangements around the end of tenancies, return of keys and what will happen with their belongings and let them know if you're happy for items to be disposed of or if you have arranged packing and shipping etc. Landlords and agencies will be considering options and can let you know what their plans and suggestions are.
Landlords and agents may be in touch with particular companies that they can refer you to. Also, the Accommodation office have spoken to the companies below who can pack belongings and either take inventories or Facetime/Skype etc with you while they are packing and then either store your belongings or ship them to you. They have both been working extensively with students over the last few weeks. Please note this should not be regarded as a recommendation and it is the individual's responsibility to understand each company's terms and conditions of business.
If you are having difficulty funding the removal of your goods please contact email@example.com for advice on the possibility of grants or loans.
New tenancies for 2020/21
I have signed a tenancy for the next academic year, what happens if I can’t return to Bristol?
If you have signed a contract then technically you will be tied into it and liable to pay your rent but it is worth discussing this with your landlord. They may be prepared to change the dates of the tenancy or have other suggestions. If you can't/don't come to any arrangements with your landlord and you don't pay the rent that is due then whether you move in or not, the landlord could take legal action against you, your guarantor or your joint tenants where relevant, to pursue the rent money. If it's a joint tenancy then you will also need to discuss the situation with the joint tenants to find out their intentions and keep in mind that you are jointly and individually liable for the rent. It is possible that some landlords might have insurance to cover them in this event and that would cover your rent so it is worth asking your landlord, though in reality, this is not a very likely solution.
I have signed a tenancy for next year, can I pull out now?
If you have signed up to a tenancy then the contract will be legally binding. If you wanted to pull out, you would need to check your tenancy agreement for break clauses or see if the tenancy agreement allows for you to find replacement tenants. If it's a joint tenancy you would also need to liaise with your housemates about their intentions. Even if the contract doesn’t allow for it, your landlord might still agree to you finding replacement tenants. They would be entitled to charge you for any costs incurred for amending the tenancy agreement but the general expectation is this charge should not exceed £50 or they must demonstrate that higher than £50 is reasonable and provide evidence of costs actually incurred. Alternatively, they may be prepared to re-let the property themselves. For re-letting the whole property they could charge fees e.g. for advertising and referencing but must be able to provide evidence to demonstrate these costs have been reasonably incurred. Speak to the landlord/agent to see what their position is.
Should I go ahead and book accommodation for the 20/21 academic year?
Currently, we don't know how courses will look in September 2020. It is likely that they will be a blended mix of online study as well as study on campus. As soon as the University can proceed with definite plans, they will be publishing these, and at that point, we will be able to offer a more informed response to this query.
Due to high demand, private accommodation for students is usually difficult to secure from June onward in Bristol. But this year, due to the Coronavirus situation, the picture could be very different and there is a definite possibility there could be more accommodation than usual available though obviously we cannot guarantee this.
If you book accommodation you will be tied into the contract and committed to rent payments for the remainder of the fixed term unless your landlord agrees to release you or allows you to find replacement tenants. But at the same time there is the possibility that if you leave it till later in the year to book, there may not be much choice of accommodation.
If you did find a property that you were interested in you could try and negotiate with the landlord to hold it for you for a short period before you committed, to give you some time to make a decision, though it is likely that landlords will be keen to get contracts signed as quickly as possible.
Ultimately, whether to book or not is really a decision that only you can make based on your individual circumstances. You may decide to delay until government guidelines are slightly clearer.
Is it even possible to book accommodation for next year with the current restrictions?
It may be impractical to secure accommodation at this time due to restricted viewing. Usually, wherever possible we would advise that people view properties and meet housemates in person before signing up to tenancies, though we imagine more remote booking could be taking place in this climate. Therefore, if you are booking accommodation remotely without viewing it or meeting the landlord then please ensure to avoid scams - never wire any money or pay anything unless you are 100% sure that the arrangement is genuine. Please look at our Renting Safely factsheet and if you are unsure about the validity of a tenancy please contact us for advice before you hand over any money at firstname.lastname@example.org
I have Coronavirus symptoms - can I move in to my new accommodation?
No. If you, or any members of your household are displaying any symptoms on the date that you had hoped to move in to your new tenancy, you should delay until you have self isolated for the prescribed length of time, as per government guidelines: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-stay-at-home-guidance/stay-at-home-guidance-for-households-with-possible-coronavirus-covid-19-infection
Will the property be safe to move into?
Landlords do not have to carry out any additional cleaning before new tenants move in. As the Coronavirus can live on surfaces for hours to days depending on what material the surface is made from, you may want to clean and disinfect the property when you move in to reduce your chances of catching or spreading the virus. You should continue to regularly clean frequently touched surfaces like countertops, light switches and door handles.
Is it ok to move in with people who are from different households?
Once you move in, if it is a shared house, you will become a new 'household' with your new housemates. If you have concerns about transmission of Coronavirus with regard to your new housemates at the start of the tenancy, you could consider distancing as much as possible from each other for the first 14 days of the tenancy, until you are sure that everyone is symptom-free. If any of the household starts to display Coronavirus symptoms then you should adhere to the self-isolating guidance in the above link.