As the UK enters a third lockdown, thousands of students are being forced to make a difficult decision between returning to university and continuing with blended learning, or remaining at home and studying purely online.
Universities are moving most teaching online for the foreseeable future, with some such as the London School of Economics (LSE) stopping all but essential in-person teaching for the remainder of the academic year.
As a consequence, many students are abandoning accommodation they are legally contracted to pay for until the summer.
Leaving a tenancy can be tricky as you have signed a contract, but you do have a few options. These differ depending on whether you are living in university halls, or renting privately.
However, in both cases, since tenancy agreements are legally binding documents, it is possible that you will have no choice but to continue paying until the end of your contract, even if you leave early.
Here’s what you can do if you want to end your tenancy early if you are in university halls.
1. Read your tenancy agreement
Make sure you know exactly what you have already agreed to, and whether the contract states anything about early release. If you have a break clause, you may be able to end your contract early. However, this is unusual in the case of student accommodation.
2. Speak to your accommodation office
The next best thing to do is contact your university’s accommodation office. It is possible they’ll have someone waiting for a space in halls to free up, so you may be able to end your tenancy early by getting them to take over.
If not, it is possible that they will allow you to leave if you find someone to take over your space - although this is less likely in halls than in private accommodation.
3. Contact your university or students’ union for specific advice
Assistance with housing will vary depending on your university, so if you’re unsure, the best thing to do is to get in touch with someone who can help you. Most Students’ Unions have advice services that are free to use for students, and allow you to talk to someone who knows the ins and outs of student housing.
Here’s what you can do if you want to end your tenancy early if you are renting privately.
4. Read your tenancy agreement
First be clear on exactly what it is you have agreed to, so that when you have a conversation with your landlord you’re clear on what the terms of your tenancy are in the first place.
5. Speak to your landlord or letting agent
This should always be your next step. To determine whether you will be able to be released from your tenancy early, you must first ask your landlord or letting agent about whether they will let you leave, or on what terms it might happen.
It’s always worth asking if they might release you early, although as you have signed a legal document, the answer will most likely be no.
The most realistic option is that you may be able to leave if someone else takes over your tenancy. However, it is very important that your landlord knows if this is happening - if not, this is known as subletting, and is often disallowed in tenancy agreements.
6. Hunt around for someone to take your room
If your landlord agrees that you can leave your tenancy if you find someone else to take over, then you’re free to start searching!
Facebook groups such as Manchester Students’ Group, Leeds Students’ Group etc are a great way to find people looking for spare accommodation. You can also try sites such as spareroom.com, or post in local community groups on social media.
However, be careful - sometimes your landlord may only want you to find another student to take over your room, as otherwise things can get a little complicated with council tax.
7. Speak to your university or students’ union
Again, advice and assistance on renting privately will vary from university to university, so the best way to make sure you know exactly what your options are is by speaking to your university.
Most students’ unions will have an advice service free to students, so this is a great place to start! You’ll be able to speak to someone who has experience in dealing with student tenancies, so knows exactly how to help.
There is currently no government advice for students who are unable to return to student accommodation due to COVID-19. For the latest information, you can follow @nicole_wc on Twitter, and keep up to date with the Edvoy news page.
You can also contact Shelter Legal for advice.