Changing your tenancy agreement

Since the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic, we've been hearing from many students facing problems with obtaining rent reductions or ending their tenancy agreement for their private accommodation in Manchester.

As a Students' Union we completely understand the concerns being raised. We appreciate that paying for unoccupied or unwanted accommodation places extra financial strain on students. The main issue is the covid-19 outbreak doesn’t automatically invalidate private rental contracts.

Most fixed term housing contracts are legally binding. Occasionally, a contract may contain a break clause that allows the tenancy to be ended early, but they are very uncommon. You can use Shelter's video guide to help you check your contract for a break clause. Without a break clause, if your contract is for a set period of time it is most likely legally binding.

The Current Situation

Last academic year the University and some private halls agreed to release students from their contracts due to the covid-19 outbreak. However, this was a voluntary offer. The University has again agreed to release students from their contracts in halls. But when it comes to private accommodation, students are relying on the discretion of companies and landlords.

The Students’ Union and University are rolling out communications to private accommodation providers to explain the concessions that are being provided for students living in UoM Halls. The communication will encourage private halls and landlords to consider doing the same or offer rent reductions. Whilst there has been some movement with concessions being introduced by some private halls, this isn’t something we can force all private landlords to do.

See our list of private halls for details of concessions being offered.

Nationally, the NUS is lobbying the government to consider rent rebates for students.

What Action Can I Take?

The standard way to end your tenancy early has always been to find a replacement tenant. We appreciate that this could be much more difficult during the pandemic. But you may find that your landlord insists this is the only way they can release you from your contract.

Aside from finding a replacement tenant, the main action you can take individually is to negotiate with your landlord for a concession. There are different options to consider when you are negotiating:

  • Early release from your tenancy.
  • Paying reduced rent for the time the property is unoccupied.
  • A more affordable rent payment plan so that the cost of your rent is spread out over a longer period of time.

Unfortunately, the support your landlord may provide can depend on how willing or able they are to help. Some landlords may be facing financial difficulties if they rely on rental income to cover their living costs. Companies running private halls may feel that they cannot give concessions due to the financial impact this would have on their business. As an SU we are calling for landlords to show support for students and share the financial burden caused by the pandemic.

If you would like to try negotiation, there is more information on this below.

Finding a Replacement Tenant

You can use social media and the University's Housing Service, Manchester Student Homes to advertise for a replacement tenant free of charge. Manchester Student Homes has an online message board and Facebook page where you can post information about your room. You may also want to look at whether there are any ‘unofficial student groups’ where you can post.

If you are using the Manchester Student Homes’ message board, you can post as many messages as you like and in more than one section.

Try to include these details in your posts:

Whether it is a house or a private hall

  • The number of tenants the house/flat accommodates
  • How much the room is
  • Whether or not bills are included in the rent
  • Location of the property
  • Facilities
  • Distance from the University campus
  • Time it takes to get to the campus
  • Your contact number (if you are happy to share it)

It can also help to reply to existing posts where students are looking for accommodation.

If you find a replacement tenant, we recommend that the original contract is voided. To avoid any issues it is best if new one is signed by any remaining tenants and the person you have found to replace you. Make sure you have confirmation in writing that you have been released from liability.

Joint Tenancy Agreements:

A joint tenancy exists if the accommodation is shared and all the tenants are named on the same agreement. This creates a legal situation in which any tenant can be liable for costs associated with renting the property. If you stop paying your rent, the landlord could try to charge your housemates.

If you no longer need your room, discuss the situation with your housemates. Tell them if you are going to look for a replacement tenant. Everyone party to the contract must agree on this course of action. Your housemates do need to agree that the replacement tenant is suitable but they can't refuse someone unreasonably.

If you and all of your housemates are looking to leave the contract or obtain a rent reduction, it is possible to negotiate with the landlord as a group.

If you have any worries about a joint tenancy, please get in touch.

Negotiating your Contract:

Carry out your negotiation in writing so that you have a record of what has been discussed and agreed. E-mail can be the easiest way to do this. If you have already started to try and negotiate the contract with the landlord, we're advising students to keep the discussion open, even if a request to leave early has been refused. There is no harm in repeating your request. Sometimes this can lead a landlord to change their mind.

If you have tried asking to be released from the contract but the landlord has refused, you may want to think about asking for a rent reduction instead. You may have a better chance of success if you try to find a compromise. Your landlord may also be sympathetic if you can appeal to their compassionate side.

You could also ask your landlord if they are able to make use of the mortgage holiday scheme to support a request for a rent reduction. Under this scheme your landlord may qualify for a mortgage holiday for up to 6 months. It’s important to bear in mind that if your landlord has a mortgage, the scheme will allow them to take a break from making payments. However, it does not lead to a reduction in the overall cost of a mortgage. The scheme may not be relevant for private halls.

Download one of our template e-mails, which you can adapt to help you negotiate with your landlord. The sections in bold highlight text for you to add to, change or remove to fit your circumstances.

When adding detail try to appeal to the landlord’s compassionate side and that will help to persuade them to agree to your request.

These templates can be adapted for sending by a group of tenants. The templates are meant to be a guide so make sure your letter fits your circumstances before you send it. You are welcome to change them as much as you need.

Before you send your e-mail to the landlord, make sure to check if any deposit you have paid has been protected. If the landlord hasn't followed deposit protection rules, you can use this as an extra negotiation point.

Deposit Protection:

Having an assured shorthold tenancy means your landlord is required by law to protect your deposit using a government approved deposit protection scheme. The landlord is also required to provide you with information about this. This must all be done within 30 days of the date you paid the deposit.

Most tenancies fall under the category of assured shorthold. This may be confirmed on your contract or you can check what type of tenancy you have here.

When a landlord doesn't meet these legal obligations, they can be sued using a process called a tenancy deposit protection claim. This type of claim must be made using the UK civil court system. However, before going to court there is a process tenants can follow to use the threat of legal action as a tool for bargaining or negotiating with the landlord.

Threatening court action can be effective, as a tenancy deposit protection claim can lead to the landlord having to pay you a sum of money. The court can order the landlord to repay the deposit plus compensation. The compensation must be set at between 1 and 3 times the amount of your deposit. The threat a tenancy deposit protection claim, may persuade the landlord to agree to compromise on the outstanding rent.

We recommend seeking advice if you think your deposit hasn’t been protected.

Checking if your Deposit is Protected:

There are three Deposit Protection Schemes and you can find links to all three websites here. There should be a search facility on each website for you to check if your deposit is protected. If you have a joint tenancy with other tenants, it is worth completing a search using each person’s name.

Extra Financial Support:

If you are struggling to afford your student accommodation, consider applying to the University’s Living Cost Support Fund.

The Fund aims to provide some extra financial support to students who are facing unexpected financial difficulties.

This includes students who have been affected financially by the covid-19 pandemic or for any other reasons.

How we can help you:

If you would like to negotiate with your landlord, use one our templates to help you get started.

If you would like an advisor to check your negotiation e-mail before you send it to the landlord, please get in touch with us. Once you've adapted the relevant template, please e-mail your draft to the Advice Team. An advisor will be able to check if there's any further detail you could add and help you with editing to ensure you're putting forward the best possible case.

We can also help with any other questions you have about your housing situation that aren't covered by the information pages on our website:

  • If you haven't been able to confirm that your deposit is protected, let us know. We can explain your options and support you to add the relevant detail to your e-mail.
  • If you have tried negotiating with your landlord and would like advice on your next steps, please contact us.
  • Support with joint tenancy issues.

If you would like advice on a housing situation please provide the following information when you contact us:

  • A copy of your tenancy agreement.
  • Are you renting from a private landlord or private hall.
  • The amount of any deposit you have paid and if it is protected.
  • Do you have a joint or sole tenancy.
  • A summary of the issues you are facing and the action you have taken so far.
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