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.
Coronavirus and private accommodation FAQs
Acceptable behaviour in residences and the wider community
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, 217kB)
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.
Should I view a property before signing up to it?
It is definitely preferable that all members of your group get to see the accommodation before paying a holding fee or signing a tenancy agreement. Where possible, virtual viewings should be seen before visiting properties in person in order to minimise unnecessary viewings. Once you sign a tenancy agreement, you will be liable for the rent for the fixed term of the tenancy and this contract is not normally easy to get out of and sometimes impossible, so we would encourage you not to pay holding fees or book accommodation until you have all seen the property in person if possible or at the very least that you have all seen an online tour so that you are sure you want the property. If you wish to view a property and the landlord or agent are not allowing you to then please contact us for advice. If you book online, please be aware of scams. Our renting safely factsheet has information about avoiding scams.
Can the whole group view the property together?
Current government guidance exempts viewing properties from the normal limits on gatherings, as long as precautions are taken. Different landlords and agencies will be handling their processes differently so you will need to check with them how many of the group they are allowing to enter at once. Some agents, eg Bristol SU Lettings, are going to stagger viewings as a safety precaution so that only 2 people per group may enter a property at a time and then if other tenants wish to view, they can go in afterwards. We recommend you disclose whether you are currently in a household with the group you are looking around with, or if you are currently living in different households, as this may affect the way they conduct your viewing. If you are from different households you may wish to ask that you view separately/ in turn, to help prevent transmission of Coronavirus.
What precautions should I take when viewing properties?
When viewing properties, remember that you are entering someone else’s home and that they are trusting you to help keep them safe. We know that people are likely to be infectious 48 hours before showing symptoms of Covid and of course a high percentage of young people are asymptomatic but can probably still infect others. So, please think of the current tenants’ health and your own and ensure to wash your hands or use hand sanitiser before viewing the property, wear masks, use gloves, practise social distancing and touch as little as possible in order to reduce the risk of transmission. Obviously, please do not go to view properties if you are experiencing any Coronavirus symptoms.
Do I have to allow my landlord to show prospective new tenants around my home?
Most contracts state that viewings can take place, but at least 24 hours notice must be given to tenants. Currently, the government guidance is that viewings can proceed, as long as public health and government advice is adhered to.
Physical viewings should not take place in properties where tenants have symptoms or are self-isolating and in those cases, the in-person viewing should be delayed until the viewing is able to take place. Anyone with concerns should contact the agent in advance of their visit to discuss appropriate measures. Viewings can take place even where the tenants are considered to be clinically extremely vulnerable but the relevant guidance should be adhered to.
What precautions should I take when people are viewing my property?
You should open all the internal doors prior to the viewing to improve ventilation and allow access to handwashing facilities and ideally separate towels/paper towels. The government recommend that you vacate the property whilst viewings are taking place in order to minimise unnecessary contact. However, if you stay in the property then ensure you maintain social distancing and clean down any surfaces which may have been touched after each viewing e.g. door handles.
What is the government guidance for house viewings?
Where viewings proceed, they should be conducted in line with the relevant parts of the following guidance:
Can I come back to Bristol to view properties?
The travel ban has been lifted so it is possible for you to visit Bristol to view properties. You will need to follow the government guidance concerning travel. You may choose to book accommodation remotely based on property details online and virtual tours, however, it is preferable, where possible, that all members of your group get to see the accommodation in person before paying a holding fee or signing a tenancy agreement, in order that you are all certain it is the right property for you.
I have signed a tenancy for the next academic year, what happens if I can’t get 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 but changed my mind - can I pull out?
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.
I’m due to start a new tenancy in Bristol - what are the restrictions on travelling to/within the UK?
If you are travelling to the UK from any other country, you must provide your journey and contact details before you travel. You may also need to self-isolate for up to 10 days when you arrive, depending on where you’ve travelled from.
There are financial penalties for failure to provide contact details, or if you refuse to self-isolate. Check the government list of exempt countries before you travel as the situation is changeable
If you are travelling from an exempt country or returning to Bristol from another part of the UK continue to refer to government guidance including Coronavirus(covid-19): safer travel guidance for passengers, which covers walking, cycling and travelling in vehicles or on public transport during the coronavirus outbreak.
The guidance covers:
- how to plan your journey carefully to minimise the risk to yourself and others;
- when not to travel at all (including if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms, are self isolating or sharing a household or bubble with somebody with symptoms);
- advice on social distancing and face coverings on public transport; and
- guidance for areas with local restrictions.
I have to self isolate when I enter/return to the UK – does this mean I can’t move into a shared house?
You can travel to your accommodation and self isolate there, even if there are other people living there, as long as you follow the guidance.
You should travel directly to the place where you will self isolate and then remain there for 14 days. You can only leave for very limited, specified reasons. You could face a fine of up to £1000 in England if you break the rules. This means you will need to get food and other necessities delivered to you. You should keep away from other members of your household as much as you can, clean and sanitise any communal areas, wash your hands regularly with soap and water or use hand sanitiser and cover coughs and sneezes.
The other people in your house don’t need to stay at home, unless they travelled with you or develop symptoms.
If you, or anyone else in the household develops symptoms you must all stay at home for at least 14 days from the day the person’s symptoms started. The stay at home guidance provides more detail about what to do if that happens.
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.
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?
The current government advice is that moving house can take place and that all parties should attempt to be as flexible as possible in their usual processes in respect of moving home.
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 stay at home guidance.
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 a fixed term tenancy 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 end the tenancy.
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.
What is a mutual surrender?
This is a voluntary agreement between the landlord and tenant to end a fixed-term tenancy early. 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 all 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 will have a ‘periodic’ contract, also known as a ‘rolling’ contract. Periodic tenants can give notice in the form of a notice to quit. The notice must be in writing and the notice period must be at least 4 weeks or equivalent to the period of the tenancy (normally one month), and must end on either the first or the last day of a period of the tenancy. The tenancy agreement may specify a longer notice period.
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 may also have a licence agreement if you live in a commercial hall of residence.
If you have a licence agreement you are still bound by the terms of the contract, including any notice periods.
If you have a fixed term agreement it can only be brought to an end early by agreement with the landlord, unless there is a break clause in the contract, in which case see the paragraph above on break clauses.
If there is no fixed term in your agreement or it has run on at the end of a fixed term then you will have a ‘periodic’ contract, also known as a ‘rolling’ contract. Periodic licensees can give notice in the form of a notice to quit. The notice must be in writing and the notice period must be at least 4 weeks or equivalent to the period of the licence (normally one month), and must end on either the first or the last day of a period of the tenancy. The tenancy agreement may specify a longer notice period.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 provides tenants with some protection from eviction during the pandemic, by extending the amount of notice a landlord must give to a tenant before starting court proceedings. The notice period was increased to 3 months in all cases from 27th March 2020 and then to 6 months in most cases from 29th August 2020 to 31st May 2021. From 1st June to 30th September 2021 4 months notice will be required. There are some exceptions, including where rent is in arrears by more than 6 months (reducing to 4 months after 1st June), in which case the notice period is not less than 4 weeks.
If your landlord is threatening eviction proceedings, please contact our advisers at email@example.com.
Please see the next dropdown for eviction rules regarding specific tenancy agreements.
What are the eviction rules regarding my specific tenancy agreement?
If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy: Your landlord cannot evict you without an order from the court.The first step is for the landlord to send you a notice requiring possession. Most notices issued on or before 31st May 2021 must be for 6 months. After that date the notice period will be 4 months in most cases. Where rent is in arrears by more than 6 months (reducing to 4 months after 1st June) the notice period is not less than 4 weeks.
If you are in a fixed term tenancy: The landlord can issue a Section 8 notice for rent arrears during the fixed term of the tenancy. There is a pre action protocol in rent arrears cases which means that your landlord should contact you and try to reach an affordable repayment agreement before sending you a notice to end the tenancy. 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 Section 21 process to evict you, 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. At the end of the fixed term the landlord does not have to give you notice as the agreement has come to an end. However, if you don’t leave the landlord must still get a court order to evict you.
If you have a license agreement without a fixed term the landlord must give you at least 4 week’s notice ( 1 month if you pay rent monthly) and then get a court order to evict you.
If you live with your landlord: Your landlord can evict you without a court order. You are 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.
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 on travel and moving home. The current government advice is that moving house can take place 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 email@example.com 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 most likely 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 compiled a list of companies that can do this work for you, 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 as soon as possible.
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.
If you are not able to return yourself to pack your room, you can arrange for a company or friend to do so on your behalf.
We cannot make recommendations for any companies to use. We do know that students have in the past used this company to do this: https://door2doorstudentstorage.com/. You will have to carry out your own research to identify which company will best suit your needs and budget.
See the latest government guidance for landlords and tenants in relation to Covid-19
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