Law guide: Property

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Residential tenancies

Residential tenancies

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Contents

A tenancy agreement is a contract between one or more individuals ('tenants') who pay an agreed sum to exclusively occupy property belonging to other individuals or businesses (the 'landlord'). It gives the tenants the right to occupy the property for a period of time, and the landlord the right to receive the rent among other rights and obligations of both landlord and tenants. For example, since the tenancy agreement also gives the tenants the right to 'exclusively occupy', they have the right to control who can come into the property.

The difference between a tenancy and some other form of agreement isn't always straightforward. Even if the agreement isn't called a tenancy agreement it may, in fact, be one – for example, a tenancy will exist if a tenant has the exclusive use of one room (such as a bedroom), but shares all the other accommodation.

What's in a tenancy agreement?

The tenancy agreement should clearly set out the terms of the contract between you and the tenant. It should include all the terms that you and the tenant have agreed (as long as they don't conflict with the law), such as how long the tenancy will run for.

Main clauses in a tenancy agreement

A tenancy agreement should state the type of tenancy (for example, an assured shorthold tenancy or a private residential tenancy in Scotland).

A landlord must give the tenant their name and an address at which the tenant can send or give documents to the landlord. It's best to state the landlord's name and address in the tenancy agreement; if this isn't done, the landlord must give the tenant a separate notice of their address (in Northern Ireland this will be contained in the statement of tenancy terms).

These are the most important terms and other information to include in a tenancy agreement:

  • Landlord's full name and address
  • Full name of the tenant(s)
  • The address of the property being let
  • The type of tenancy (except in Northern Ireland, where it is not required)
  • The duration of the agreement (i.e. whether the tenancy will be fixed term or periodic) (Scotland no longer has fixed-term tenancies)
  • Details of the tenancy deposit, including the amount and which tenancy deposit scheme it is protected by
  • The amount of rent to be paid, when it's due, how it should be paid, and what it covers (for example, whether it includes the cost of any utilities or services)
  • For a fixed-term tenancy, whether the landlord or the tenant can end the tenancy before the end of the term (i.e. whether there's a break clause) and if so, the required notice period and how notice may be given

An inventory of any furniture and fittings supplied with the property should be attached to the tenancy agreement – see Inventory of furnishings and fittings.

Other terms you could include

You might also want to include in the tenancy agreement:

  • The name and address of an agent (for example, if the tenant must pay the rent to the agent)
  • Any express terms about the landlord's obligations to keep the structure and exterior in repair (although these will be implied by law if not specifically stated); if included, these terms mustn't be less generous to the tenant than the law provides
  • The tenant's obligation to allow the landlord access to inspect and repair the property and to allow viewings by new tenants/purchasers or to enter the premises in an emergency
  • Other agreed rules (for example, about children, pets, guests, smoking)
  • Information about the deposit scheme being used – see Registering the deposit
  • Breaches of the agreement by the tenant that will allow the landlord to recoup any losses caused by the tenant from the deposit paid at the start of the term
  • Rent review provisions (for longer-term tenancies), stating when (and how frequently) the rent can be reviewed, and how the rent will be reviewed. You could then reference the tenancy terms if you want to increase the rent during the tenancy – see Rent reviews (England & Wales).

Implied terms in a tenancy agreement

Some terms apply automatically by law (as a result of custom, past decisions in court cases and sometimes by statutes). They are not necessarily stated in the tenancy agreement and may even override terms that you and the tenant have agreed in the tenancy agreement. They're called implied terms.

These are some common implied terms:

  • Landlords must carry out basic repairs
  • If the property is furnished, the furniture must be safe and fit for use by the tenants
  • Landlords must keep installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating and water heating in good working order
  • Tenants have an obligation to use the property in a way that a reasonable tenant would do, such as not causing damage and using equipment provided by a landlord in a proper way (known as using the property in a 'tenant-like manner')
  • Tenants have an obligation to pay rent and provide access to the property for any repair work
  • Tenants have the right to live peacefully in the property without intrusion or disturbance from the landlord (known as the right to 'quiet enjoyment')

The landlord can't reduce their obligations by using a term in the tenancy agreement to do so. The same applies to health and safety requirements under the law – see Overview of landlord obligations.

Landlord responsibilities and the law

If you're letting (or thinking of letting), you must be aware of your rights, responsibilities and legal obligations to tenants.

Tenants are entitled to have tenancy agreements that strike a fair balance between the tenant and the landlord. The terms of the agreement must be fair and be set out in plain, intelligible language.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 protects tenants from unfair terms that may favour the landlord in a tenancy agreement. The only exceptions are for price-setting terms and for terms that give details of the property and the length of the tenancy – but these must still be in plain and intelligible language.

Prospective tenants should be given every opportunity to read and understand the terms of a tenancy agreement before becoming bound by them.

There are also laws and procedures that govern:

There are additional requirements in Scotland, where landlords must comply with the 'Repairing Standard' (under the Housing (Scotland) Act). They must carry out a check of their property before tenants are given the property, to identify work required to meet the Repairing Standard. This includes ensuring that the following is repaired or is working:

  • The structure and exterior of the premises, including drains, gutters and external pipes
  • Installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating and water heating
  • Electric wiring and any electrical appliances supplied by the landlord
  • Any furnishings provided as part of the tenancy

Written versus oral agreements

A tenancy agreement doesn't have to be written; it can be an oral agreement, unless the tenancy is for a fixed term of over 1 year in Northern Ireland or 3 years in England & Wales.

But, even if a written agreement is not required, it's usually in your and the tenant's interests to enter into a written agreement so that both of you are clear about the tenancy terms. If a dispute arises during the tenancy or when it ends, a written agreement makes it easier to sort out disagreements and, if necessary, evict the tenant.

Depending on where the property is located, you may have to provide a written statement of the main tenancy terms even if you're not required by law to provide a full written tenancy agreement.

England & Wales

The law only requires you to provide a written tenancy agreement for a fixed-term tenancy that will run for more than 3 years; but you're strongly advised to have a written agreement for all tenancies. A fixed-term tenancy that will run for more than 7 years must be registered with the local Land Registry office.

You must also have a written tenancy agreement before you can use the accelerated possession procedure – see Accelerated possession procedure.

Written statement of main tenancy terms

If you don't provide a full written tenancy agreement, a tenant who has an assured shorthold tenancy that started on or after 28 February 1997 has a right to ask for a written statement of the main terms of the tenancy, including:

  • The date the tenancy began
  • The amount of rent payable and the dates on which it should be paid
  • Any rent review arrangements
  • The length of any fixed term that's been agreed

The tenant must apply in writing for a written statement; you must provide it within 28 days of receiving the request. If you don't provide it, you could be fined.

Scotland

You must give your tenant a written copy of all the terms of their tenancy. This may be in the form of an electronic document. If you do not have a written agreement the tenancy terms will be determined by the First-tier Tribunal on an application by the tenant.

You're strongly advised to have a full written tenancy agreement (which may include additional tenancy terms or conditions) to give you full control of the terms of the tenancy.

There are nine tenancy terms that you must include in any private residential tenancy (PRT) agreement you use. The nine terms can be found in the legislation.

If you have a new tenant, you must give them a copy of the agreement before the end of the day that the tenancy starts.

If the tenant already lives in the property you must give them a copy of the new agreement within 28 days of the tenancy becoming a private residential tenancy.

If the terms of the tenancy change after it has started, you must give the tenant a copy of the amended agreement within 28 days of the change coming into effect.

The PRT has special rules on signatures. You and your tenant can agree to 'sign' the tenancy agreement by typing your names in the electronic document and sending it by email. You and your tenant can still sign a paper copy of the tenancy agreement if you prefer to do this instead.

You and your tenant can agree to communicate by email on all matters relating to the tenancy. This would include important notices, such as notices to tell the tenant that you are putting their rent up, or that you are evicting them.

Northern Ireland

You must provide a written tenancy agreement for a fixed-term tenancy that will run for more than 1 year. A fixed-term tenancy that will run for more than 21 years must be registered with the local Land Registry.

You're strongly advised to have a full written tenancy agreement (which may include additional tenancy terms or conditions) to give you full control of the terms of the tenancy.

Written statement of tenancy terms

You must provide a written statement of tenancy terms within 28 days from the tenancy start date (under the Private Tenancies (NI) Order 2006). If you don't provide it, you'll be committing an offence.

The written statement of tenancy terms must include the following information (under the Tenancy Terms Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2007):

Names and contact details

  • The address of the property being let
  • The name of the tenant(s)
  • The name and address of the landlord
  • The contact phone number of the landlord
  • The name and address of the landlord's agent (if any) and a description of the services provided for the landlord
  • The contact phone number of the agent (if any)
  • The emergency out-of-office hours telephone contact number for the landlord or agent (if any)

About the tenancy

  • The term of the tenancy (for example, weekly, monthly, quarterly)
  • The tenancy start date
  • The duration of the tenancy and the termination date (if any)
  • The length of notice of termination to be given by the landlord and the tenant (except for a fixed-term tenancy)

Rent and other obligations

  • The rent payable, the dates when the rent is due and the method of payment
  • The amount of rates payable and a statement as to whether the rent includes an amount for rates; and, if not, who is responsible for the payment of rates (i.e. the landlord or the tenant)
  • The amount and purpose of any returnable or non-returnable deposit payable and the conditions under which it will be repaid (if applicable), and details of the tenancy deposit scheme and scheme administrator (if the deposit was taken after 1 April 2013)
  • The amount and description of any other payment that the tenant is required to make in addition to rent and rates (for example, for heating or other utilities or services)
  • The repairing obligations of both the landlord and the tenant
  • Details of any other obligations on the landlord or tenant forming part of the tenancy agreement
  • An inventory of any furniture or furnishings provided under the tenancy
  • The additional information set out in the schedule to the regulations

This additional information includes a statement that the tenancy isn't a protected tenancy. It also sets out the landlord's obligations relating to repairs, fitness for human habitation and the rent book as well as other information about the tenant's rights. This information should be written exactly as it appears in the schedule, on the last page of the statement of tenancy terms.

If you don't provide a written statement of tenancy terms

You must provide a written statement of tenancy terms within 28 days from the tenancy start date. If you don't you'll be committing an offence; you also run the risk of having certain conditions being included automatically into the tenancy 'by operation of law', which you wouldn't necessarily have agreed to if you were negotiating them (such as the landlord's right to entry and inspection, the term of the tenancy and the length of the notice to quit).

Types of tenancy agreement

The type of tenancy you can set up will depend on where the property is located.

This section covers the types of tenancy you can set up depending on whether the property is located in England & Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

Note however that this guide only covers tenancies with a private landlord and not social or public tenancies.

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