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Below are some common questions in relation to Covid-19 and its impact on househunting and tenancy agreements.

The latest information from the UK Government in relation COVID-19 and renting: guidance for landlords, tenants can be found here.

On Monday 4th January 2021, a National lockdown was announced. This will run until at least mid-February. Students studying most subjects have been asked to remain where they are currently, wherever possible, whether this is their term time university accommodation or another residence. Students should not move back and forward between their permanent home and student home during term time until further notice. Departments will be contacting students with updates on when they are able to return to Sheffield and undertake face-to-face study - for most people, this will be at least 22nd February.

You can find out more about the restrictions here:

www.gov.uk/guidance/national-lockdown-stay-at-home

If you'd like clarification on any of the information below / you're unable to find the information that you're looking for, please don't hesitate to get in contact with us by emailing smartmove@sheffield.ac.uk

 

Questions about current private tenancy agreements

 

Q) I want to move home/to alternative accommodation due to concerns about Covid-19 and the current lockdown restrictions. Can I cancel my tenancy?

The decision as to whether you can cease your contractual obligations lies with your Agent / Landlord. In many instances your Tenancy will remain valid and you may be asked to find a suitable replacement to take over your tenancy. If you’re unable to find a replacement tenant then it is likely that you will need to pay the rent, even if you’ve moved out.

If your contract has a ‘break clause’: this may mean that you can terminate your contract after a certain date, before the end of the fixed term, providing you give the required notice. You may have to pay rent until the required notice period has ended. Please note that break clauses are not very common especially in student lets in Sheffield. If you don’t know whether your contract has a break clause, please feel free to email us a copy and we will check for you. 

During the 2019/20 academic year when the first National Lockdown was announced, some individual accommodation providers were able to offer measures to help students such as tenancy release or rent changes. However, this is an individual business decision and there is no guarantee that these providers will be able to do so this time. The Emergency Legislation in place for Covid-19 seeks to strengthen tenancies rather than weaken it, and there is no requirement for landlords to change or cancel their agreements.

In the first instance we would recommend discussing this with your Agent / Landlord. Please be mindful that Landlord and Agents’ financial situations and entitlement to financial support will vary, and there may, therefore, be a range of responses.  Accommodation Providers have also been asked, in the Government’s guidance, to be “flexible” and to have an open and frank conversation with tenants, due to the various difficulties that are being faced by renters across the country. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, so negotiating in good-faith to reach an agreement is very important.

 

Q) If I’m experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the crisis and can’t pay the rent, what can I do? Will I get evicted? 

Smart Move Sheffield have asked that landlords with registered properties deal with matters resulting from Coronavirus in a sensitive manner.

If you are experiencing money troubles and are worried about your ability to pay rent, please speak to your Agent / Landlord  first of all to see if they can negotiate with you / arrange an alternative payment plan. 

Students at the University of Sheffield could also seek advice from the Student Advice Centre or the Financial Support team.

From 29 August 2020, with the exception of the most serious cases, Landlords have not been able to start possession proceedings unless they have given their tenants six months’ notice. These serious cases include those in relation to anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse, false statement and where a tenant has accrued rent arrears to the value of over six months’ rent.. If your landlord is threatening you with eviction for non payment of rent, please contact the Student Advice Centre as soon as possible.

Whilst possession proceedings are being heard in courts now, between 17th November and 21st February 2021, there has been pause on eviction enforcement action unless you are being evicted for:

  • Anti-social behaviour
  • Being in at least 6 months of rent arrears.
  • Being accused of domestic abuse by someone who has moved out
  • Committing fraud or lying to get your tenancy 
  • Trespassing or squatting in the home

 

 Q) I’m following the Government guidelines on self-isolating, what should I do?

 If you are self-isolating, either because of your own symptoms or because of the symptoms of friends or others in your house / flat it is important that you inform your Agent / Landlord of the period of their self-isolation straight away. It is highly likely that your Agent / Landlord will have already advised you on how to do this. Please do not visit your Agent / Landlord in person to advise them. If you are a student at the University of Sheffield, you must also let the University know on the Covid reporting form which can be found here. It’s really important that the Government’s guidelines are followed by yourself and your housemates, in relation to self-isolation. The person with symptoms will need to book a test as soon as they notice symptoms. You can do this here.

  

Q) There’s an issue in my property, should my Agent / Landlord still carry out repairs?

Yes, although your Landlord may be making slightly alternative arrangements than usual to safeguard their Contractors / Staff from the spread of Covid-19. It is important when you raise a repair with your Agent / Landlord you advise them as to whether anybody in your property is self-isolating. In some cases contractors may have problems obtaining supplies and that may slow down putting things right, however, we would expect this to be communicated to you.

It would not be unreasonable for any essential repairs / works to be curtailed / delayed as it is highly likely availability of contractors / staffing levels will cause a strain on operations. 

 

Questions about househunting

 

Q) I’d like to get some advice on House Hunting. Are Smart Move Sheffield still working?

Yes - We are working remotely currently but we have access to work phones, email, our website live chat and all of our internet-based systems. Please call us on 0114 222 6058 or email us on smartmove@sheffield.ac.uk. We work between 9am and 5pm, Monday-Friday. You can access our Live Chat as well as help pages on this website. We can also arrange one-to-one meetings online, please email to enquire about this.

 

Q) Do I need to sign for a property now? Letting agents are already advertising their properties and I’ve heard there’ll be nothing left after Christmas!

No. There are plenty of houses available throughout the year, so there’s no reason to rush to make a decision now. It’s really important that you’re happy with the property and your housemates before signing a contract. Once you’ve signed, you can’t just cancel it and will remain liable for all the obligations including the rent (usually until you can find a replacement tenant which can be difficult). The Covid-19 pandemic has taught us that nothing is certain and circumstances can change very quickly, often with little notice. You may decide to wait to search when it is safer to do so, after some of the Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

 

Q) Are viewings still able to take place? 

Unlike the earlier “Lockdown” restrictions, viewings can still take place if you’re looking for a house. However, organisations are required to ensure these are done in a safe manner, protecting their staff, tenants and prospective tenants. You may, therefore, find that letting Agents/Landlords will prefer to do virtual viewings or have alternative arrangements in place - Please be cautious if you’re just doing a virtual viewing, it’s important you’re aware that once you’ve signed a contract you’ll be legally bound to this and you can’t just cancel. We do recommend you do a viewing in person before committing to live there as photos and videos won’t always show you enough of a property.

The Government guidance also states the following: “All physical viewings where prospective buyers or renters will be entering the property should involve no more than 2 households inside the property at any one time.” It would be reasonable to expect that if a physical viewing takes place, it will either be when the current tenants are not in or the agent/landlord would wait outside. If you are wanting to live with people from a different household next year, then the landlord/agent will need to be aware of this so plans can be made accordingly. Again, you may prefer to wait to do property viewings in person until it is safer to do so.

Sheffield City Council has sent a letter containing guidance to landlords/agents with Houses In Multiple Occupation (HMOs) on viewings. This states that physical viewings should be done in agreement with tenants who currently live in the property. They should not take place where tenants have symptoms, are self-isolating or are clinically vulnerable. It has also outlined some guidance on conducting safe viewings. You can find a copy of the letter here.

 

Q) Can I move into a property?

As of 13th May 2020, the Government have provided guidance to state that people can move home if they wish to. A guidance page has been produced which outlines the key points of the new emergency legislation - this covers both rentals and house purchases. If you are moving or viewing a property, there are certain conditions that need to be met and recommendations made so that this is done in a safe way. You can find the full guidance here.

 

Q) Is my landlord still required to do a Right to Right check? Doesn't this breach social-distancing guidelines?

Yes - Landlords must still do a Right to Rent check for all tenants who are signing up for a property.

However, please note that the Government have announced that Right to Rent immigration checks have been temporarily adjusted due to coronavirus, to make it easier for landlords to carry them out and allow social distancing to be practiced.

As of 30 March 2020 the following temporary changes have been made:

  • Checks can now be carried out over video calls
  • Tenants can send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checks using email or a mobile app, rather than sending originals
  • Landlords should use the Landlord’s Checking Service if a prospective or existing tenant cannot provide any of the existing documents

An Online Right to Rent checking service also went live on 25th November 2020, allowing landlords and agents to check their tenant's Right to Rent remotely and online, rather than through checking their documents in person. This will continue even after the pandemic has passed.

You can find more information here: bit.ly/C19RightToRent

 

Further Advice to students from The University of Sheffield can be found here:

www.sheffield.ac.uk/coronavirus/faqs/students

 

General FAQs from The University of Sheffield on Covid-19 can be found here:

www.sheffield.ac.uk/coronavirus/faqs/

 

The latest advice from The University of Sheffield can be found here:

https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/coronavirus/index



 
Last updated 12/01/2021

 

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