Update from Amelia: your housing rights during the COVID-19 outbreak

Wednesday 25-03-2020 - 13:28

I understand that this must be an uncertain time for everyone: whether you’ve been living in college or in private rented accommodation, it’s hard to know what your rights are in unprecedented circumstances. As your SU, we’re working together with the University and local landlords and agents to ensure that you are getting the best advice and guidance possible, no matter what’s going on in the world.

We’re here for you.

The most important thing to know is that our Advice Service is here for you. If you have any worries about your private rented housing situation, about your accommodation in college, or anything to do with the current COVID-19 outbreak, please get in touch with the Durham SU Advice Service. Our advisers can speak to you impartially and confidentially about your situation. They will  advise you on your options going forward and liaise with external agencies, services and University staff as needed. You can get in touch via email on dsu.advice2@durham.ac.uk, or by calling us on 07922648802.

What does the emergency housing legislation mean for you?

Lots of you will be wondering what the implications are of the recent emergency housing legislation passed by the Government last week. The legislation prevents landlords from beginning eviction proceedings within a three-month period, during the height of the present outbreak of COVID-19. This means that there are greater protections for renters in the private sector who may be struggling to pay their rent due to the impact of the crisis on their financial situation.

The expectation is that if you think that you will struggle to pay your rent for the remainder of the tenancy, you will need to negotiate with your landlord/agent individually to organise a repayment plan that works better for you. Landlords and agents have been encouraged to look at these situations with compassion, and on a case-by-case basis.

Can you withdraw from your tenancy?

You may also be wondering what your rights are in terms of withdrawing from your tenancy agreement, in light of the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tenants can try to leave their tenancy agreements in two main ways. The first way is through a 'break clause.' Tenancy agreements sometimes include a ‘break clause’, which usually permits the tenant to leave the tenancy if they meet certain conditions, and if they give a specified amount of notice. The one issue with this is that break clauses are quite rare in Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements, particularly for student lets. Please do feel free to send over your tenancy agreement, and our advisers can have a look to see if it contains a break clause.

The second way is through negotiation on an individual case-by-case basis. The Durham SU Advice Service can support students to negotiate individually with their landlord/agent if they wish to end their tenancy agreement early. However, because these are legally binding contracts, tenants are still bound by law to pay rent for the duration of the fixed-term. To be clear: the COVID-19 outbreak does not have any impact on tenants' obligations to pay their rent and, as such, it is down to individual landlords' discretion as to whether they will permit tenants to leave their tenancy early.

Please do get in touch.

We understand that things are moving very quickly, and that some of this advice and guidance may feel frustrating. Some of you may be worrying about how you will manage over the next few months.
We would encourage you to get in touch with the Durham SU Advice Service with any worries that you might have. We are here to answer any question, big or small, and can utilise our links with local services to help to make things clearer. Our advisers can also aid you in negotiating with your landlord on an individual basis.

How are we lobbying for your rights?

Finally, we want to assure you that as your Student Officer Team, we are lobbying more widely on behalf of all Durham students to tackle these issues proactively. This includes looking into ways to coordinate with other SUs and the National Union of Students to take a joined-up approach to problems within the private rented housing sector in light of COVID-19. Part of this plan is to produce a list of reasonable standards, which we expect good landlords and letting agents to adhere to in these unprecedented times, and we’ll let you know which agents and landlords sign-up. The Officers are also going to work with your representatives in government to make sure students’ rights as tenants are safeguarded. 

*Please note: the Advice Service helpline is not a crisis number, in an emergency please use 999 as usual.




Amelia - Welfare and Liberation Officer, Covid-19

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advice, Housing rights, Covid-19, Amelia McLoughlan, Update from Amelia,

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