Law guide: Landlords

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Written versus oral agreements

Written versus oral agreements

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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).

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