The percentage of people renting in the UK has gone up year-on-year, with the number of middle-aged renters in the UK doubling in the space of a decade. In fact, such is the magnitude of the modern day rental market that in 2017 tenants paid a record £50bn in rent. Due to the rising impact of the rental market, it’s now more important than ever that tenants understand their tenancy agreement and the terms within it.

If you’re a young person starting out on their journey into the rental market, or even if you are an older adult who is experiencing their first tenancy, the tenancy agreement and what it entails can be a pretty confusing obstacle to get your head around. In essence, your tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. The agreement can be either verbal or written and aims to protect the rights of both you and your landlord. The agreement will cover key issues, such as your right to live in the accommodation and your landlord’s right to receive rent for letting the accommodation to you.

You may have made certain arrangements with your landlord already, and these will also be featured as part of the tenancy agreement – provided they don’t conflict with the law. The agreement may give both you and your landlord more than your statutory rights (your legal rights), but it will never give you anything less than your statutory rights.

Written vs. Oral Tenancy Agreements

There are two different methods of agreement in the UK: oral agreements and written agreements. Both of these do exactly what they say on the tin, but oral tenancy agreements can lead to trouble between tenants and landlords.

Written Tenancy Agreements

In the UK, it’s common practice for a tenancy agreement to be written down and signed by both the landlord and the tenant. If you’re visually impaired, the written tenancy agreement needs to be written down in a format that you can use, such as large print or Braille. If you’re in a joint tenancy, all tenants need to sign the document and all tenants should receive a copy of the written agreement. The tenancy agreement should also have the landlord’s name and address on it.

In England and Wales, most tenants do not have a right to a written tenancy agreement. In Scotland, however, the majority of cases require that a landlord provide a written tenancy agreement. If you’re concerned about what should be on the agreement, there are a few things that you should look out for.

All written agreements should have your name, your landlord’s name and the address of the property being let and the date that the tenancy began. The agreement should outline the details of the property, the amount owed in rent, how often rent should be paid and whether bills are included or not. It’s also worth checking the notice period that is required to end the agreement and check it against statutory rules regarding how much notice should be given.

Alongside the aforementioned list of things to look out for within the tenancy agreement, all agreements will have implied terms that may not be set down in writing but are given by law. Common implied terms include

  • the responsibility of your landlord to carry about basic repairs
  • the tenant’s right to live peacefully without interruption from the landlord
  • the tenant’s responsibility to treat the property respectfully and not cause damage to the fixtures and fittings

For me on the basic responsibilities of tenants and landlords towards properties, check out our recent post on Tenant Liability.

While a written tenancy agreement will list the rights of both the tenant and the landlord, these rights can be overridden by those imposed by law. Any agreement that suggests that the tenant or the landlord has fewer rights than those given to you by law will be considered a sham tenancy agreement.

While instances of sham tenancy agreements are rare, there are times when what an agreement states and what a tenancy actually is may be different. For example, a landlord may claim that your tenancy is an assured tenancy when it is, in fact, an assured shorthold tenancy. Likewise, the agreement may not be a tenancy, but may actually be a “licence to occupy”. If you find yourself in any of these situations, get in touch with a professional in order to find out what your rights are and how to move forward.

Oral Tenancy Agreements

Oral tenancy agreements are legally binding but come with quite a few difficulties. Like written agreements, an oral tenancy agreement will cover the start of the tenancy, how much your rent will cost and when it is payable. It is also likely that you will have discussed whether the cost includes bills and if other people are also allowed to live in the accommodation.

While oral agreements may speed up the tenancy process, they are difficult to enforce due to there often being no proof as to what has been agreed and what the agreement covers. If you are in an oral tenancy and thinking about disputing an issue regarding the property, seek advice from a professional at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.

Different Types of Tenancy

There are several types of tenancy agreements available and it’s important that you understand the terms of yours.

Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST)

If you rent from either a landlord or letting agency, an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) is the most common type of tenancy in the U.K. You’ll usually have an AST if your tenancy started after the 28th of February 1997 and you’re not sharing the accommodation with your landlord. The contract tends to have a fixed term (6 or 12 months), and you will have to pay the rent for at least the length of the terms in the agreement.

Excluded Tenancies

An excluded tenancy agreement is a method of renting that’s becoming increasingly popular in the UK. It refers to having, or being, a lodger in a property that the landlord is currently living in. The agreement covers the amount of rent payable, whether a deposit is required, the rights of the lodger in communal areas, and the landlord’s responsibilities. The agreement tends to run from 6-12 months and will include an optional clause to allow either party to terminate the agreement.

Assured Tenancies

If you moved into a property between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997, you are likely to be an assured tenant. Assured tenants have long-term tenancy rights and pay their rent to private landlords who do not live within the same building as the tenant. If you moved into the property after 27 February 1997, you may be an assured tenant if your landlord gave you written notice before your tenancy started saying that you have an assured tenancy.

Regulated Tenancies

The final tenancy agreement to get your head around is a regulated tenancy. A regulated tenancy is a long-term agreement between a tenant and a private landlord. These agreements give the tenant the right to remain in the property for life, and the rent owed can often be much less than current rental values for the same kind of property under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. These agreements are pretty rare, but you do occasionally see them pop up in auctions and online.

Ending Your Tenancy Agreement

Like all things in life, tenancy agreements have to come to an end at some point. Your rights to end a tenancy agreement will vary depending on the type of tenancy that you have but, more often than not, you need to give your landlord or estate agent 1-2 months notice if you are not going to renew your tenancy agreement.

If, for whatever reason, you decide that you need to break the agreement, check to see if your tenancy has a ‘break clause’ that allows you to leave the agreement early. If your tenancy doesn’t have a break clause, seek help from a professional to see if you can get out of your agreement and how to go about negotiating this with your landlord.

If your landlord decides not to renew the tenancy agreement, they need to provide 21 days notice at least. However, if they decide that they want to end the contract early, they will need to agree to break the agreement with the tenant. Any such agreement should be in writing and both the landlord and the tenant should keep a copy of this. Similarly, if you want to change anything within the agreement, both the tenant and the landlord need to agree to the new terms. An oral agreement can also be struck but, as mentioned previously, this can lead to serious issues down the line.

Lastly, tenancy agreements can be plenty full of jargon and confusing terminology. While it’s tempting to skip it and not risk getting bogged down, it’s important that you understand what you are reading and are sure about what you’re agreeing to. In light of this, here’s a quick rundown of some of the terminology you can expect to come across and what it means.

Tenancy Agreements: Jargon Buster

Let property

This is the property that is being let for living purposes.

Term

The term refers to the start and end date of the rental agreement.

Quiet Enjoyment

If the tenant pays their rent on time and looks after the property, they are entitled to a peaceful life with little disruption from the landlord.

Absences

If the tenant is spending a period of time away from the property, they must inform the landlord.

Governing Law

This tells you by the laws of which jurisdiction your tenancy will be governed.

Severability

This clause essentially means that, if one part of the lease is deemed to be illegal, the rest of the contract is still legally binding.

Assignment and Subletting

This will stipulate whether the tenant is permitted to sublet rooms, or grant any concession or licence to use the property.

General provisions

These are the laws and regulations that apply to whatever tenancy agreement you’re in.

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Letting a property is a daunting and stressful affair, so it’s important that you understand exactly what you’re getting yourself into. If you’re unsure about anything, ask a professional for help. Don’t commit yourself to an agreement without being certain. Other than that, happy renting!

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