Coronavirus: Students and Landlords

This note was issued on 13th January 2021, updating that previously issued on 7th and 5th January 2021, 21st, 3rd December, 11th November, 3rd November, 16th October, 26th September, 9th September, 24th and 13th August; 26th, 9th, 2nd, 1st July, 25th, 18th, 10th, 6th, 2nd, 1st June, 28th, 22nd, 14th, 5th May, 23rd, 15th, 9th, 8th, 6th April and 31st March 2020.

This article includes FAQs in the areas of Rent Payments and Rebates, Moving in and out of properties and living in student properties. 

Take me to the FAQs - Rent and Contracts (including a look at house hunting for next academic year), Moving in and out of properties and living in student properties 

 

National Lockdown 2021

Following the Prime Minister's announcement on 4th January 2021 the country will again enter a new national lockdown.  This status has implications for the return of students to university campuses.  The FULL guidance can be accessed HERE 

Returning to university for the spring term

The Government has now amended its guidance on the return to university for the spring term due to the national lockdown announcement.

"Those students who are undertaking training and study for the following courses should return to face to face learning as planned and be tested twice, upon arrival or self-isolate for ten days. Medicine & dentistry, Subjects allied to medicine/health, Veterinary science, Education (initial teacher training), Social work, Courses which require Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) assessments and or mandatory activity which is scheduled for January and which cannot be rescheduled (your university will notify you if this applies to you).

Students who do not study these courses should remain where they are wherever possible, and start their term online, as facilitated by their university until at least Mid-February. This includes students on other practical courses not on the list above.

We have previously published guidance to universities and students on how students can return safely to higher education in the spring term. This guidance sets out how we will support higher education providers to enable students that need to return to do so as safely as possible following the winter break.

If you live at university, you should not move back and forward between your permanent home and student home during term time.For those students who are eligible for face to face teaching, you can meet in groups of more than your household as part of your formal education or training, where necessary. Students should expect to follow the guidance and restrictions. You should socially distance from anyone you do not live with wherever possible."

Moving back to your university home is possible under the guidance and is covered in the Govenment guidance around moving home during the pandemic (you can access that guidance HERE), this remains unchanged under the new rules (as of the 13th January 2021 there have been some suggestions in the media that rules around moving house AND property viewings are currently being looked at with further restrictions possible.  This guidance will be updated accordingly).

It is important to also read the guidance issued by the Department for Education (link below). We have a FAQs section on moving in and out of properties which provides further advice in this area.  Guidance for higher education providers from the Department of Education, published on 7th January is available HEREWe would expect further clarification in the coming week on how these two pieces of legislation interplay given the confusion over some of the messaging.

This is a developing situation and it is likely that universities will publish their own guidance for their students soon and links will be provided once this becomes available. 

University of Leeds

Nottingham Trent University

The OfS has issued some useful FAQs on this subject, however these are subject to change given the evolving situation.  There is also a letter from the universities minister Michelle Donelan MP.  You can access all this information HERE

The Situation in Accommodation (latest presented first)

January 2021

With the latest announcement from the Government that sees the country enter in to a new National Lockdown there is much uncertainty around students ability to travel back to university, particularly if they are not on one of the small number of courses listed where some limited face-to-face teaching will continue.  Understandably, many students would still wish to do their online learning from their university home, where they can get access to the libraries and other facilities. 
 
Guidance from the OfS issued in December 2020 did say that students facing challenges at home could return earlier "you may return to university earlier if you do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities or studying space, or you decide it is better for your mental health and wellbeing." 
 
The current guidance also concentrates on 'not returning to campus'.  The new lockdown does not prohibit moving home.  This would therefore indicate that students who had a strong preference to return and live in their university home are allowed to do so.  
 
The tab published an interesting article on 6th January 2021 that illustrated the frustration felt by many students across the UK with the student featured explaining the reasons behind her choice to return to university. Lizzie explains "I’ve lived in my uni house for my second and third year, and the house, along with the people who inhabit it, is my home. I want to go home." Read the full story HERE
 
What is important is that should students decide to return to live at university they should not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time and in particular the current national lockdown.

December and the tiered restrictions 

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

The government replaced the national lockdown restrictions from 2 December with a regionally-differentiated approach, where different tiers of restrictions apply in different parts of the country.  You can find the link HERE

The universities that Unipol works with (and whose students we house) have made it clear that their services remain open and studying is continuing:

Leeds Conservatoire

November and National Lockdown (part 2)

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

Universities and accommodation providers are currently in the process of setting out their plans following the announcement on 31st October that the country would go back in to a national lockdown from November 5th.   

Special arrangements and exemptions from restrictions affecting most of the population are available to those studying in universities (and schools). The Government “has prioritised the wellbeing and long-term futures of our young people and is not closing schools, colleges or universities”, so:

  • you can leave your home for the purposes of study
  • workers in essential services, including education settings, can continue to go into work.

October 

Please note this is for those interested in how guidance and restrictions have changed and has now been superseded by the new national lockdown introduced on 5th January 2021.

Now that the academic year and teaching has begun things settled down. Students have also now met their peers and so the need for indiscriminate socialising is diminishing. 

In the “settling down” phase a few observations can be made:

  • partying significantly reduced
  • many of the in-household social events are now having a positive effect
  • the number of students seeking tests has increased
  • social isolation is now taking place properly.

It is likely that, following the “arrival stage” which saw infections spread across the student population, the number of those self-isolating peaked in tmid-October and then cases started to reduce.

Although face-to-face teaching is unlikely to have been responsible for the virus’ transmission, a few universities have adjusted their blended learning to reduce face to face teaching further. A handful of universities have stopped face to face teaching where this can be done. A few universities have stopped face to face teaching altogether - although this is again likely to throw students back onto their residential settings even further.

Arrival in September

Following the arrival of students at University it is clear that there was a burst of social activity primarily from many first year students living in PBSA when their “freshers' week” would normally have taken place. Most freshers’ weeks consisted of very little activity and the “rule of 6” and local restrictions meant that many of the limited actual social events planned by universities and students’ unions were cancelled - which meant that students had nothing to do other than create their own social events - which many did within their accommodation.

This resulted in most accommodation providers increasing their security and now have “differentiated security teams” consisting of front of house security and roving “bouncer” type security. Most PBSA have extensive CCTV systems and so it is easy to spot large “in flat” gatherings and request tenants to move on.

 

The 2020 - 2021 Academic Year

Student Demand

The demographic dip goes into reverse as the number of English students increases for first time since 2015 – this decline has been masked to some extent by increasing non-EU applicants.
  • 570,475 students accepted through UCAS, up 5.4% on last year (+29,235). Push by government and HE to grow capacity after A’level marking u-turn. 
  • The number of applicants accepted from outside the EU has reached a new peak of 52,755, a 16.9% year-on-year increase (+7,615). Although acceptance does not necessarily mean a student attended. 
  • EU acceptances are stable at plus 555 (+0.17%) to 32,320.
  • The UK 18 year old population is expected to fall to its lowest point in recent years in 2020.
  • 81,660 applicants used Clearing in the 2020 cycle. A new record, and an increase of 10% on last year. However many of the applicants who had their grades adjusted did not use clearing and went back through the main route. 
  • Clearing accounted for 14.3% of all students accepted – also a new high.
  • Non-EU acceptances up by 9% this year through UCAS (China up by 24%)
         But
  • Difference between acceptances and enrolments 
  • Many students studying from home country as courses online
  • Number of universities had flexible refund policies so may see late cancellations
  • Many universities offering Jan 2021 start dates for PG

Likely there has been a 50– 70% drop in international postgraduates, estimated at 50,000 - 80,000 fewer students this year.

 
Observations
  • there are risks still inherent in providing student accommodation this year relating to universities closing or moving entirely on-line in 2021
  • there is no evidence that students who have moved away from home want to return and study from home - attrition rates are lower than last year
  • good Wi-Fi is vital and shared space within flats important
     
Future Applications
  • 2021 will bring the first increase in the 18 year old population since 2015 – a trend that is set to endure for the next six years.
  • By 2025, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data projects a net increase of 114,060 18 year olds across the UK, bringing the total to 811,130.
  • By 2025, UCAS forecasts there will around an additional 90,000 UK 18 year old applicants based on a projected application rate of 47.5%.
     
Social Distancing, Visitors and Social Interaction (subject to change as per local lockdown restrictions)

Many universities are requiring the wearing of face masks by staff and students in communal areas on campus and have chosen to retain social distancing at 2 meters.

The Government published guidance for universities on 3 June 2020 (last update: 7 January 2021) looking at reopening buildings and campuses. The information below has not been updated since November and is subject to change over the next few weeks.

There are some useful sections on social distancing on campus, social isolation and wellbeing.  The accommodation section has mainly being covered by prior guidance already detailed below on cleaning in non-healthcare settings and moving homes.

The guide covers the new 3 local COVID alert levels and outbreak plans. HE providers will remain open at every alert level, with their facilities and activities reflecting wider restrictions. There is an introduction of 'educational tiers' and theses are:

Tier 1 (default position): HE providers are expected to provide blended learning with face-to-face tuition while following the provisions of this, and public health guidance (for example, the appropriate use of face coverings).

Tier 2 (fallback position): HE providers should move to an increased level of online learning where possible. Providers should prioritise the continuation of face-to-face provision based on their own risk assessment. We expect that, in the majority of cases, this will be for those courses where it is most beneficial (for example, clinical or practical learning and research).

Tier 3 (where stricter measures are needed): HE providers should increase the level of online learning to retain face-to-face provision for priority courses (for example, clinical and medical courses), and in as limited a number of situations as possible.

Students should follow government guidance published as part of any additional restrictions applied locally, including where this says that students should remain in their current accommodation and not return their family home or other residential accommodation to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus through travel. In these circumstances, providers should support students to do so by keeping services for students, such as university libraries and catering facilities, open.

Tier 4 (last resort): We expect the majority of provision to be online, with buildings open only for essential workers and students who are required to attend because in-person teaching is essential. This should include the continuation of essential research.

The guidelines on visitors and social interaction will be changing constantly but both students’ unions and the educational institutions themselves will have an important role in communicating expectations to students. Some institutions are developing “Community Responsibility Agreements” (or something similarly titled) to encourage appropriate behaviour.


Mental Health and Wellbeing

Mental health and wellbeing have been recognised as areas of serious concern for students.  The Minister for Universities announced a 3M funding award to the Office for Students (OfS) on 17th June that would see a new online platform delivering targeted and high-quality mental health support, designed to respond to additional pressures caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Student Space is designed to complement the mental health support already in place through universities, colleges and NHS services in England and Wales – filling potential gaps in provision and ensuring that all students have access to support they need.

Other news in the HE Sector

On 4th May 2020 the Government announced a package of measures aimed at supporting students and the HE sector. The full statement can be accessed here.

The U-turn on A levels is likely to impact middle and lower tariff universities.  An article from Universities UK details the potential financial crisis faced by a number of institutions

Rent and Contracts

Please note if you are living in a student hall of residence the advice on the National Codes Website will be the most relevant for you.  If you are living in a smaller shared property in the private rented sector please see information below.

Earlier in the year during the first national lockdown Unipol, along with many landlords received requests and questions from their tenants and their parents about paying rent.  Unipol's Board met in May and June 2020 and decided a number of measures affecting rent across the Summer period and next year's tenancies. Unipol will be writing to our own tenants again after the Government review of Higher Education on 18th January 2021. 

Find out more here: Unipol's current position on rent reductions and travel

Find out what universities and private providers of accommodation have announced about rent rebates HERE

The information below will hopefully provide some clarity based on the latest information from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), the Department for Education DfE, the Office for Students (OfS), Universities UK (UUK), the National Residential Landlord Association (NRLA) and Unipol.  

This Section has two sub-sections:

Tenancies and Rent Refunds

Q: What is Unipol doing around rent reductions?

A: Unipol's own response can be found elsewhere on the website on the button below

Unipol's response to Rent Payments

Q: Should my landlord stop charging rent during the latest National lockdown (January 2021)?

A: The Government issued guidance on 1st June 2020 which states:

"Landlords are not required to do this. Most tenants will be able to pay rent as normal and should continue to do so, as they will remain liable for the rent during this period. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, as each tenant’s circumstance is different and some will be worse affected in terms of their ability to pay than others. It is important for landlords to be flexible and have a frank and open conversation with their tenants at the earliest opportunity, to allow both parties to agree a sensible way forward."

This guidance remains current.

Unipol is a charity and is guided by its values.  Our operation and setup is very different to private landlords, who in most cases will not be able to sustain a drop in rental income.  Unipol wrote to current tenants on 5th January 2021 to explain our position and will write again after the promised Government review of Higher Education on 18th January 2021. 

An excerpt from the letter that went to Unipol tenants in early January 2021
 
"Although Unipol offered a rent deduction previously in April-August 2020 that was entirely voluntary and this reflected the position that last year’s students entered into contractual relationships with no knowledge of the pandemic. In June and September (as relevant to the tenancy start date), we offered tenants an opportunity to leave their tenancy agreement at that stage, after that, the risk was theirs. This was not something done by many, if any other provider and for those tenants who chose not to take up the offer, it does not provide an entitlement to receive rent refunds going forward.That said Unipol is not unsympathetic to what is happening, but this is not our fault and we have made it clear that refunding rent in a not-for-profit operation simply has to be paid by future students. This is not just “someone else’s problem”.
 
Unipol is holding a special Board meeting on 21st January 2021 to consider the question of rent rebates.  Representatives from the University of Leeds, Leeds Beckett University and their students' unions, along with representation from Nottingham Trent University sit on the Board.  Unipol tenants will be written to again following that meeting. 

Q: I've moved in to my student property but no longer want to live there as all my courses are now online.  Can i give notice?

If you have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you will be bound by the terms of that agreement and will be financially liable for the rent.  The vast majority of agreements do not contain break clauses or allow  you to give notice.   You can speak to your landlord and explain your situation but it is very unlikely that you will be released.

During December 2020 some universities reduced rent to students where a so-called “lockdown” has been implemented earlier in the academic year, often in the face of media and student criticism of their actions. These rent refunds are effectively “sweeteners” and leave the key question of academic fee refunds in the case of lower than expected face-to-face teaching unanswered. For private accommodation providers, where their main business is sustained by rent (rather than academic fees paid to HEIs) it is unlikely that the rent refunds that took place in the previous academic year will be repeated.

With the new National Lockdown now in place and many students facing an uncertain time over their courses and whether to return to university many providers are seeing an increased call for rent reductions.  Some universities are already reviewing their position, however most private providers are unlikely to offer refunds. 

Q: I no longer want to move in to my accommodation for next academic year, what can i do? (You may have changed your mind about attending university or due to a change in your course delivery you are looking to stay at home).

A: If you have signed an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you will be bound by the terms of that agreement and will be financially liable for the rent.  The vast majority of agreements do not contain break clauses or allow  you to give notice.  In normal circumstances this would only be possible if you came to a mutual agreement with the provider or found a suitable replacement for yourself.  You are recommended to talk to your landlord at the earliest opportunity to talk through your options.  If you live in Leeds, Nottingham or Bradford you can use Unipol's Student Noticeboard to advertise your room. 

There are ongoing discussions between the Govenment, the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Office for Students (OfS) and the OfS has issued a guidance document on consumer protection, stressing the importance for HE Providers to be clear in what they will be providing by way of teaching and services so students can make informed decisions.  It is possible that students may be entitled to a rent refund where what is provided differs significantly to what was stated beforehand and students entered in to accommodation agreements with their institution as a result i.e. a link between the rental and the course. This would mainly affect 1st year UGs going in to university provided accommodation and is unlikely to be applicable to students renting in the wider private rented sector.   

Q: I am due to pay my rent but due to my changed circumstances I don’t think I am going to be able to do that.

A: Speak to your landlord if you're struggling to pay rent. Most will be sympathetic, especially if you and/or the person who assists you with paying the rent has lost that source of income due to the Coronavirus situation.  They might agree to a rent reduction for a period or to accept rent at a later date.  However if you come to an agreement to delay your rent payment the full rent will still be due at a later date. Repayable rent reductions are where rent is reduced for a period but the overall amount will still be due just at a later date by mutual agreement.

If you agree a plan with your landlord to pay off arrears at a later date, it is important that you both stick to this plan, and that you talk to your landlord immediately if you are unable to do so.

If you are struggling and would like advice around other options open to you and how to access financial assistance contact your university AND Student Advice Service at your Students’ Union. You may be able to access certain hardship funds.

The Government has worked with the OfS to help clarify that providers can use existing funds, totalling £46m, to boost their hardship funds for students in financial difficulty. This can include help for IT equipment and internet access.

Additionally, students are also able to claim Universal Credit under certain circumstances. Find more information about Universal Credit

Q: I heard that in Scotland students can give notice to leave a contract.  Is that likely to happen in England?

The Scottish Government has introduced emergency coronavirus legislation in the Scottish Parliament relating to student accommodation. If the legislation is approved, it would put in place in Scotland:

  • a 7-day notice to leave period for those currently tied into a student accommodation contract; and
  • a 28-day notice to leave period for new agreements entered into.

There is no indication from Whitehall currently that a similar approach is likely to be adopted in England. Given the new guidance issued on 1st June maintaining the position that rent should be paid it looks unlikely that the Scottish approach will be adopted in England.

Q: Now there are more local and national lockdowns will my landlord release me from my contract?

Government advice issued through the DfE on 7th January 2021 says that you should stay where you are, wherever possible until your face-to-face teaching resumes, indicating that this could be a term-time address.  The guidance also says that students can return in exceptional circumstances where they do not have access to appropriate alternative accommodation, facilities or study space, or who need to return for health or safety reasons. This guidance does not reference a student's right under earlier guidance to move house, which appears to still be allowed.  

In any case there is no legal requirement on landlords to provide rent refunds.  It is our understanding that many landlords will not be in a position to offer any rent reductions.  You should check with your landlord directly.  In any case if your rent is due you should pay it as normal and discuss any payment difficulties with  them as soon as possible.  Any decisions on rent reductions will be up to your landlord and will be an individual business decision. Where this is not possible landlords should be working with their tenants to offer support and guidance.

The Government have been clear in their guidance and updated this on 1 June 2020 and this states:

"In the case of private landlords and letting agencies, the negotiation of rent waivers with student tenants is a matter between the parties concerned. We encourage landlords, letting agencies and tenants to adopt an understanding, common-sense approach to issues that may arise in the current circumstances."

This guidance remains unchanged.

It is also important to say that this was not a foreseeable set of circumstances and no one will be covered by insurance or would have had it on their risk register. It should also be noted that for many landlords in off-street housing, this is their only asset and pension.

Two Warwick University students give their views on rent reductions

Q: Should I stop paying my rent during the outbreak?

A: Tenants should continue to pay rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. The government has a strong package of financial support available to tenants, and where they can pay the rent as normal, they should do. Tenants who are unable to do so should speak to their landlord at the earliest opportunity. 

For students experiencing financial hardship the Government has issued additional advice that students should contact their higher education provider to see if any hardship funding would be available and the Office for Students (OfS) has published guidance for those providers to support this.

In many cases, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect tenants’ ability to pay rent. however if your circumstances have changed it is really important to have an early conversation with your landlord. Rent levels agreed in your tenancy agreement remain legally due and you should discuss with your landlord if you are in difficulty.

House Hunting for Next Academic Year

Q: I've received information about house hunting for next academic year and don't know what i should be doing?

A: In many university cities across the country students will be facing decisions on what to do about their accommodation for next academic year.  Although many providers will be making these properties available for students to sign.  Students are advised to take their time and give proper consideration to what the situation is likely to be in the next few months. 

It is generally thought that 'house hunting' will be a slower process than in previous years and students can take their time.  In most cases it is unlikely that you would get released if you changed your mind.  This is particularly important if you are considering entering a joint contract with friends. 

Always seek independant advice and get your contract checked with your Students' Union advice centre. 

Q: What is happening about viewing properties for next academic year?

A: Viewings are a bit of a tricky due to the restrictions currently in place.  One thing we are recommending to landlords is to create videos tours and virtual viewings online which will minimise interaction between current/future tenants and landlords.  

There are a number of different types of virtual viewings currently being used by landlords.  These are the virtual tour, the pre-recorded video walk-through and the live-streaming video.

The virtual tour is a self-guided 'fly-through' of the home, created by capturing a series of 360 degree footage shots that are then stitched together to allow the viewer to navigate through the property.  

The pre-recorded video walk-through is the most straightforward and can be filmed on a mobile, this may include music or a voice over talking about the property.

The live streaming video is where the landlord hosts a WhatsApp or FaceTime call and the viewers are added to the video call.  The landlord would walk around the property and the prospective tenants can ask questions whilst seeing the property live.

Physical Viewings will be very limited and will need to adhere to the current Government Guidance on viewings available here

Please note that this current under review 

Q: Is Unipol doing anything different during house hunting this year?

A: Yes. In order to give you peace of mind, all students renting a room in a complex for next year will be able to give notice on any agreement they sign with Unipol up to 1st March 2021 and this would end their 2021-2022 obligations. If you are renting a shared student house where occupancy is 6 or under then you can also give notice but this must include all the occupants of the house. For houses 7 and above Unipol will accept individual notices. We will give you this Peace of Mind Promise when you sign up and you will be able to withdraw on-line from your contract any time before 12.00 midnight on the 1st March 2021. This information relates to the Unipol Housing Portfolio is Leeds and Nottingham.

This way, you can secure a room or house of your choice, but allow yourselves more time to take stock of the situation in early spring. We hope that is fair and helpful at this difficult time.

Q: Should i sign a contract when i don't know what is happening to my course across the academic year?

At present, Unipol is simply advising “if you are not happy signing a contract then don’t” try and negotiate a period of time (say a month) with the landlord where they will hold the accommodation whilst you work out what to do. In the case of students renting as groups under joint contracts a single failure to sign up (or a parent refusing to act as a guarantor) may bounce back on the other tenants rather than the landlord.

Some student suppliers are giving students who have not already entered into contracts a promise of flexibility. This seems more prevalent in the PBSA sector.  

Moving In and Out of Properties

Q: Will i be able to go on viewings when i start searching for a property for next academic year?

A: Physical Viewings have become a lot harder under current restrictions, particularly where there is a group wanting to view a property.  For example, if you are in a group of six and are all currently living in different households and then want to view a property that is currently occupied and shown around by the landlord/ agent, you can see that this becomes unmanageable under the current restrictions. 

Many accommodation providers are offering viewings virtually.  There are two pre-recorded options a video walkthrough or 360 degree footage where you can navigate your way around a property.  The third option is via live streaming.  In this option the landlord would be in the property and the viewer would connect to the call and could ask questions during the viewing.

To find out more please see the current Government Guidance on viewings available here

Q: Will i need to book a move-in time slot to ensure social distancing is achieved?

A: The majority of suppliers are asking students to book timeslots ahead of their arrival, with many also making contactless arrangements for the collection of keys and making of any payments required.

A number of providers have issued videos to help explain to students what to expect, both on arrival and throughout the period of their stay.

If you are moving in soon contact your supplier and ask what arrangements are in operation.

Q: Will any other restrictions be placed on my parents or friends helping me to move in? 

A: Most PBSA suppliers have indicated that they would be restricting numbers who could accompany students on arrival, some were going to allow just one parent whilst others would permit two.

Most providers had ceased offering assistance to students with the movement of belongings on their arrival.

For off-street properties it is important that you take precautions and that help from parents and friends is kept to a minimum once you reach the property and due care is taken such as following guidelines for the cleaning of hands and wearing face coverings as appropriate.  You are forming a new household with your fellow housemates and your parents and friends are not part of that household so appropriate precautions should be taken.

Q: Will I be able to move in to my new student home after vacating my current one?

The Government guidance issued on 21st May and last updated on 7th January states: 

In terms of preparing properties for incoming tenants the Government advice states:

"Moves into student accommodation are allowed. Letting agents, universities and accommodation providers should consider how best to conduct tenancy check-ins, following the latest public health advice and taking reasonable steps to reduce transmission.

There is no specific Government advice for student accommodation.  However there was some advice issued on 16th October 2020 for decontamination in non-health care settings which states:

“The infection risk from a COVID-19 contaminated environment decreases over time. It is not yet clear at what point there is no risk from the virus, however, studies suggest that, in non-healthcare settings, the risk of residual infectious virus is likely to be significantly reduced after 48 hours.”

So although it not mandatory for properties to be deep cleaned before new tenants move in, Unipol has recommended an approach to landlords that takes in to account this guidance.  In any case it will be important to communicate any cleaning arrangements to incoming tenants in advance of the start of the new tenancy.  If you are intending to take up residence in your new accommodation from the first day of your tenancy it would be really helpful to communicate with your landlord so they can make plans to prepare the property for you.

Q: I will be moving in to a new property with friends who will all be coming from different households, is this permitted?

A: The current Government advice envisages people moving house and the formation of new households. Although you are from different households you are essentially joining and becoming one new household and therefore social interaction is permitted. This means that interactions with others outside of the household must follow the guidance issued in respect of visitors. This will change over time but social activity with other houses, flats or parents falls under guidance for visitors. Even where local lockdowns are in operation students are still permitted to take up residence in their new accommodation.

After you become a new household there are number of things to consider:

If you join a new household and someone develop symptoms you should self-isolate at home for 7 days from when the symptoms started. In line with Government guidance, all other residents of the home must also stay at home and not leave the house for 14 days, providing they remain well for that time. Should they develop symptoms they should then self-isolate for 7 days from the onset of symptoms or longer if symptoms persist. Where possible, individuals should not go out even to buy food or other essentials, and any exercise should be taken within your home. 

If you share facilities or common areas with other people, all residents should always do their very best to follow guidance to stay at home and away from others. Everyone in the household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces. 

Travel between your new household and parental or previous home. An area of public health concern relates to the interplay between the old household (parental home or previous residence) and the new household. Again, the guidance is quite clear: the household is the main viable unit and conditions for visitors are laid down.  

From 5th January the Governemt introduced the third national lockdown. 

To see the full guidance click here

Q: My accommodation provider is pressuring me to travel back to my room to pick up my belongings. What should I do?

A: On the 21st May 2020 the Government further amended the guidance for moving home and made it clear that people who wished to move home are now able to do so as long as the necessary public health guidance is followed.  Wider travel in England is permitted but restrictions remain in place in certain areas of the UK.  If you are living in England you are able to come and collect your belongings.  If you have not already received information from your accommodation provider on the moving out procedure it is strongly recommended that you contact them before coming to collect your belongings however now that travel is permitted you should make sure that you collect your belongings and arrange to clean the property before the end of your contract.

Transport will be almost entirely by car and some parents/students will have a long “there and back” drive with only limited opportunities to stop for refreshments and toilet facilities. Many parents travelling long distances frequently break their journeys by staying part-way in a hotel and that will not be possible. Those returning should be aware of the lack of facilities en-route. Motorway service stations and their toilet facilities are, however, open

Q: I cannot get back to collect my belongings before the end of my tenancy.  What should i do?

If you are unable to return you will need to get in touch with your landlord to let them know. You should arrange for your possessions to be packed and sent to your home address.  If you don’t have anyone locally who can help you there are companies who can make the necessary arrangements.  There are costs involved so you need to check how much the service will be and you will have to arrange with your landlord a suitable time when they can let the company have access to the property.  You will need to ensure that your belongings are removed by the end of your tenancy agreement or the landlord may charge you rent/storage costs and may dispose of anything if you have not been in contact with them.  

Q: Will I still be expected to clean my property?  All my housemates went home at the beginning of the lockdown and will not be back together again.

 A: Most landlords will have already issued end of tenancy information detailing what you need to do concerning cleaning and returning your keys.  If you have not received this information you are recommended to get in touch with your landlord so you understand what is expected of you. In shared properties it will be important for you to communicate with each other and decide how any required cleaning will be split and agree the timings for your visit to ensure social distancing is maintained.  

Unipol will expect our own properties to be clean.  Our guidance to our tenants states:

  • Ensure your room and the communal areas of the property are left in a reasonable condition, free of waste and that the keys are returned in a timely manner.
  • Remove all waste to the outside bins.
  • If an item is unwanted, please take this home with you to recycle/re-use to avoid being charged for waste removal.

It is important to remember that communal areas need cleaning as well as your bedroom. Unipol's end of tenancy information can be found here

Q: I am currently self-isolating and will not be finished by the end of my contract, what should i do?

You should stay where you are in line with the current Government guidance but you should contact your landlord as soon as possible to explain your situation and update them on the date your isolation period will end.  It is likely that your landlord will have contractual responsibilities to incoming tenants so this will cause a significant level of inconvenience. You will be expected to pay rent for the period you are remaining in the property.

Living in a student property

Q: I need a repair doing in my home, what should I do?

A: It is important to report repairs to your landlord as you would normally do.  Tradespeople can visit people’s homes to carry out any work or maintenance provided it is carried out in accordance with guidance for professionals working in people’s homes. Further guidance on visits to properties to make repairs

If you are not shielding or self-isolating, you can allow your landlord or contractors access to your home in order to carry out a range of works. This includes:

  • routine inspections, including annual gas safety checks;
  • essential and non-essential repairs and maintenance;
  • planned maintenance activity inside and outside the home.

Services should be designed to ensure appropriate social distancing is maintained (insofar as possible) and hygiene procedures should be followed. Some landlords will have a backlog of repairs that they will need to address, so it may take longer than normal to carry out more non-essential work.

Q: My landlord wants to carry out viewings, do i have to let them in?

Your safety will be your letting agent's and landlord's top priority. Landlords and letting agents should not conduct viewings in properties where tenants are symptomatic or self-isolating, or where they have been determined clinically extremely vulnerable and are shielding. In other cases, where viewings can proceed, they should be conducted in line with the guidance on viewings.  

Q: I live in a shared student property, some of my house mates are symptomatic and my landlord is refusing to find alternative accommodation for me.  What can I do?

A: Nobody can be removed from their home because of the virus. Landlords are not obliged to provide alternative accommodation for tenants if others in the property contract the virus.

If you are living in accommodation which you share with other people, or share facilities with other people, you should follow current Public Health England guidance.

You can find Government guidance on cleaning your home to minimise the risk of infection.

The Government has issued guidance for households with possible coronavirus (covid19) infection. The same guidance applies to occupants of shared properties. All the occupants of the home should behave in the same way as a single household if one or more occupants have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)

And on what to do if you are in a shared home with someone who may have the virus

Q: My landlord wants to arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out what should I do?

A: Gas safety inspections save lives. Landlords should take all reasonable steps to carry out annual gas safety checks at this time as failure to do so could put tenants at risk of serious illness or fatalities from gas explosions or carbon monoxide poisoning, particularly as people are spending all or most of their time at home.

If you are clinically vulnerable, but have not been asked to shield, you should inform your landlord. Before undertaking the check, prior arrangements should be made to ensure that appropriate social distancing is maintained during the visit. 

If you are self-isolating or shielding, you should inform your landlord. The gas safety check can be delayed until after your isolation period has ended. Your landlord will be best placed to determine whether an inspection is required – further guidance is available from Gas Safe the regulator. In such circumstances, prior arrangements should be made to avoid any face to face contact and the engineer must follow the latest guidance on working safely in people’s homes.

Q: My neighbours/other tenants in the property are disrupting my life with their anti-social behaviour. What can I do?

A: If you have already attempted to resolve instances of anti-social behaviour or feel uncomfortable resolving the matter yourself, you should contact your landlord, the local authority and the police to report anti-social behaviour. You can also contact ASB Help who can provide specific advice on dealing with anti-social behaviour.

Local authorities and the police have strong powers to tackle anti-social behaviour available through the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. These include the use of Civil Injunctions, Community Protection Notices, and Closure Orders, 24 which can be used to address instances of anti-social behaviour. We expect these powers to continue to be used during the period affected by coronavirus.

If you or the tenant causing the problem live in a licensed House in Multiple Occupation, the landlord will be required by their licence to take action to prevent and alleviate the effects anti-social behaviour in the property. You should therefore contact your local authority regarding your concerns. 

Q. How can I avoid spreading coronavirus to people I live with?

A: If you are self-isolating because of coronavirus, there are things you can do to reduce the chances of spreading any infection to the people you live with.

Try to stay away from people you live with

If you have symptoms, you should stay away from other people you live with as much as possible.

If you can:

  • stay on your own in one room as much as possible and keep the door closed
  • avoid using shared spaces (such as the kitchen) at the same time as other people – eat your meals in your room
  • use a separate bathroom - otherwise, use the bathroom after everyone else and clean it each time you use it, for example, by wiping the surfaces you've touched using strong household cleaner (disinfectant).

How to reduce the spread of infection in your home

DO

  • Wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze.
  • Put used tissues in the bin immediately and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (such as door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products.
  • Consider wearing a face covering when in shared spaces.
  • Keep windows open in the room you're staying in and shared spaces as much as possible.

DON’T

  • Do not share towels, including hand towels and tea towels.

Q.  What should my household do to try to do stop the virus spreading?

A:

  • Use a different bathroom if possible. If you use the same bathroom clean it each time after you use it. Wipe all surfaces you have touched using strong household cleaner (disinfectant).
  • Use different towels.
  • Do not share a bed.
  • Do not use the kitchen at the same time.
  • Clean surfaces that you often touch several times a day. Use household cleaner (detergent).
  • Use a dishwasher. If this is not possible, wash and dry each person’s things separately. Use a different sponge and tea towels for each person.
  • Do not shake dirty washing before putting it in the washing machine. If you do not have a washing machine, wait 3 days after your staying at home period ends before taking it to be washed.
  • Put rubbish such as tissues and disposable wiping cloths into rubbish bags that are tied shut. Then put these bags inside a second bag. You should wait 3 days before you put them outside for the rubbish collection.

Q.  What are the new rules from 5th January 2021? Can I see my friends and family?

A: This will depend on what your local COVID alert level is.  Find out here

Q: Do I have to socially distance from my partner/boyfriend/girlfriend?

A:  People in an established relationship do not need to socially distance. If in the early stages of a relationship, you should take particular care to follow the guidance on social distancing. If you intend to have close contact with someone, you should discuss how you can help to prevent risks of transmission as a couple, for example, by ensuring you are both avoiding close contact with people you do not live with.