Isolating students told “no legal requirement” to stay in property by letting agent

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Five students forced to isolate after the end of their tenancies were left “fuming” after their letting agent said they had “no legal requirement” to remain in their property.

The students told Palatinate that their house of five had to isolate past the end of their tenancy after two members had positive lateral flow test results and a third received a notification from the NHS app to self-isolate.

The letting agent, Bow Residential, told Palatinate that they were “contractually bound” to allow the incoming tenants into the property. They highlighted that “although we were under no obligation to do so, [we] offered them alternative accommodation at very short notice, which they rejected”.

The students contacted Bow Residential, and were told that if they wished to stay in the property for ten days, they would have to pay a full month’s rent plus the cost of alternative accommodation fees for the incoming tenants.

Bow Residential offered the tenants alternative accommodation in another of their properties which was not fully furnished, at a cost of £200 each for 10 days. They informed the tenants that they would be able to provide safe transport for them and their belongings to the property on receipt of payment.

Bow Residential also suggested to the tenants that they contact the University to “seek alternative accommodation”.

The tenants responded to the offer of alternative accommodation, saying that not all housemates could afford the rate offered, and warned that moving out of their property would result in either “potentially infecting three other people” if they moved into their new university accommodation, or instead their own families if they were to travel home.

The tenants were required to self-isolate by , and government guidelines state that “we encourage all parties involved to be as flexible as possible and to be prepared to delay moves, for example if one of those involved becomes ill with COVID-19 during the moving process”. The guidance also states that “you should not expect to immediately be able to move into any home where people have COVID-19 or are self-isolating.”

In response to Palatinate‘s question of how they justified forcing the tenants to vacate the property, Bow Residential said: “we can confirm that the incoming tenants were made aware of the situation but still wanted to move into the property and we were contractually bound to provide the property to them.”

The outgoing tenants sent an email to Bow Residential on 30th June questioning the legality of the letting agent’s actions. Bow Residential confirmed at 9.27am the following day that “there is no legal requirement for us to extend your stay at the property, however we are legally obliged to allow the new tenants to move in today”.

They told the tenants “we understand the Government guidelines, however they are only guidelines and in circumstances such as these we must insist that you either agree to the fees mentioned above (if the incoming tenants agree to allowing this) or leave the property by 12 noon today”. The fee of £200 to rent the other property the tenants were offered also had to be paid by noon.

One of the students told The Guardian he was “still fuming”: “[The letting agent] said if we paid £100 a night, all five of us could go and stay in an unfurnished place with only three bedrooms. We called the university, council and trading standards asking if it was legal for him to evict us but no one could seem to give us a straight answer. We thought we were doing the right thing by wanting to stay put, but the landlord was having none of it.”

Bow Residential told Palatinate: “The house was fully sanitised and well ventilated before they [the incoming tenants] moved in.

“We sympathised with the previous tenants’ situation and although we were under no obligation to do so, offered them alternative accommodation at very short notice, which they rejected. Despite our efforts to find a solution, they refused to leave and as a result we were forced to take a more formal approach. After taking advice and contacting the tenants again it was finally agreed that they would leave the property.

“We have never found ourselves in this situation before and are disappointed at how our relationship with the previous tenants ended.”

Ewan Swift, Durham SU Welfare and Liberation Officer, told Palatinate: “It’s really sad and frustrating to hear these experiences from students despite our best efforts to work constructively with landlords during the pandemic. Students are being placed in precarious positions where they must choose between keeping others safe or paying extra fees, which in certain cases have been extortionate, to extend their tenancy.”

“Legally, it is understandable why landlords would have to put arrangements in place for the sake of their incoming tenants. Morally, however, these cases are just further examples of how students have been, and continue to be, exploited by landlords. We recommend that anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation and is unsure of how to proceed should get in touch with the SU Advice Service.”

The housemates were eventually able to secure accommodation in their respective colleges.

Last month, Palatinate revealed that letting agent’s Hope Estates were charging at least four weeks extra rent for students who have to isolate in Hope Estates properties beyond the end of their contracts.

The University confirmed that students in college accommodation whose self-isolation period extends beyond the end of their contracts can remain in their room, with food provided, at no additional cost.

On June 30th, when the tenants’ contract ended, Durham had the highest rate of Covid-19 cases in the country. According to government data, the infection rate in Durham at that time was over 2,000 cases per 100,000.

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