Students – what are your rights over accommodation during coronavirus?
University students are facing stress over tenancies during the coronavirus crisis – but are they entitled to any refunds?
Citizens Advice Ipswich has issued guidance to students who may want to leave their accommodation before the end of their rental agreement due to uncertainties caused by Covid-19.
While the University of Suffolk and other higher education institutions have many face-to-face lectures and classes, several sessions have been moved online for the rest of the year.
Some students have therefore decided not to return to their university city and have instead stayed home with their parents.
Nicky Willshere, chief officer at Citizens Advice Ipswich said: “It must be very frustrating for students that the academic year hasn’t started in the way they would have hoped.
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“Unfortunately, there’s not much good news for students who decide to change households for the medium to long-term, by returning to their family home for example. It’s likely that in many cases they will be tied into their accommodation agreements and not entitled to any refund.”
If you are a student in halls of residence – what are your rights?
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Students who want to end their contract and move out of halls of residence are unlikely to be entitled to a refund.
However, when the national lockdown came into force, many universities did waive rent due on their own accommodation.
It might be possible to put forward a “frustration” argument – which means it is impossible for you to live at the accommodation.
This may be if a student cannot access their accommodation, for example because campus has been shutdown, or it is impossible or illegal for the student to travel there.
This might also be relevant if the purpose of the accommodation is radically altered – including if it was closely tied to a student attending a course in a particular location, and the provider is now delivering the whole course remotely.
However, the unprecedented nature of the pandemic means that legal arguments have not yet really been tested in the context of student contracts, and so it is not yet clear to what extent these arguments might succeed.
An argument that a contract is “frustrated” is less likely to succeed if the accommodation continues to be available, but the student chooses not to occupy it.
Privately rented accommodation
Generally, students are liable for any private rent due until the end of their fixed term and any guarantor may be pursued if they don’t pay up.
Some tenancy agreements do however contain a break clause. But this would be unusual in a student tenancy agreement.
If you share accommodation with other people, then unless you each have a separate agreement, you are likely to be jointly and separately liable for rent.
This means that the landlord can pursue any of the tenants – or their guarantor – for any rent due under the joint agreement, regardless of which tenant failed to pay their share.
Despite this, it is still worth trying to negotiate with your landlord. They may agree to release you from the tenancy early, or to waive or reduce rent if you are not living in the accommodation.
Nicky Willshere, from Citizens Advice Ipswich urged it is always worth getting in touch with your landlord.
She said: “If there is no obligation for them to release you from the contract, they may well be unwilling to do so.
“Where the landlord is the university, they may be more sympathetic to a short-term reduction in rent, or ending a contract early, if there is no longer any reason for you to remain in halls.
“However, it is early in the academic year, and it may be difficult to find alternative halls of residence accommodation if a student gives up their place, but later wishes to return.”