The Private Rented Sector (PRS) is an important part of the housing market, accounting for 4.5m homes and representing around 19% of all housing in England. Most private renters have a tenancy agreement. Some tenancy agreements are granted for a fixed term, such as 6 months or 1 year. Other agreements are periodic, which means they roll on week by week or month by month.
An agreement could be written or verbal. A written agreement should set out the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and the landlord. Tenants should read the agreement carefully before signing it, asking the landlord to explain anything they're not sure of.
If a tenant doesn't have a written agreement, they still have legal rights. Some rules apply even if they are not written down (eg the rules landlords must follow to evict tenants or which repairs they need to do). If a landlord accepts rent from a tenant for living in the property any verbal agreement counts as a legal agreement. Verbal agreements can be more difficult to enforce if there is any dispute. Ask landlords to put agreements in writing. This can help both tenant and landlord to understand their respective rights and responsibilities.
Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)
There are many different types of tenancy, all affording very different rights. The most common form of tenancy is the Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Most new tenancies are automatically this type. ASTs are either in a sole name or as a joint agreement*, which always start with a fixed term, hence the "assured" part.
An AST is most likely if:
- The property is private (eg not commercial)
- The tenant moved in on or after 28 February 1997
- The property is the tenant's main accommodation and the landlord doesn't live there
- The tenant pays rent to the landlord or letting agent
- The tenant has control over their home and who visits
It is not an AST if:
- It is a business let, holiday let, college accommodation, or tenancy of licensed premises
- It began on or before 15 January 1989
- The rent is more than £100,000 per year
- The rent is less than £250 per year
- The landlord is a local council
Most AST agreements will stipulate an initial fixed term of six or 12 months. The agreement may say tenants can give notice if they need to move out early. This is called a break clause. It's a good idea to check whether a tenancy agreement has a break clause before signing. If it doesn't, one could be requested. Break clauses are a useful safety net in case things don't work out.
The fixed term guarantees the tenancy for both the tenant and the landlord. Ending the tenancy in its fixed term can only happen three ways:
- If both parties agree to terminate the contract early they can voluntarily agree to surrender the tenancy
- If both parties agree and the landlord serves a Section 21 Notice (also known as Form 6A)
- If the tenant breaks the terms of the tenancy agreement (eg if they stop paying their rent) the landlord can begin eviction procedures against them using a Section 8 Notice
At the end of the fixed term, if a new contract isn't signed, the tenancy agreement automatically becomes 'periodic', moving to a monthly rolling contract under the same contractual terms as the fixed term contract. This is more flexible for both sides. A periodic tenancy would continue indefinitely so long as the tenant and landlord both agree. Any new terms, for example, the tenant taking in pets or the landlord increasing rent, must be negotiated and re-agreed using an addendum agreement which is signed by both parties. Another method is to sign a new tenancy agreement with the updated terms.
Alternatively, the landlord can reclaim their property by serving a Section 21 Notice (also known as Form 6A) hence the "shorthold" part and the tenant can also choose to move out with no obligation to stay past the fixed term.
A landlord can end a periodic tenancy in the same way as during the fixed term; serving a Section 21 Notice giving the tenant two months of time to arrange their move (unless the rules for notice period have changed eg during coronavirus lockdown) or serving a Section 8 Notice, beginning the eviction procedures. A tenant can end the periodic tenancy by providing the landlord with once months' written notice from the day their rent is paid.
For further information on eviction notices, housing advice and homelessness, click on the following links:
A joint tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy contract signed by multiple tenants to rent a single property that makes each person 'jointly and severally' responsible for paying their share of the rent. Being jointly and severally liable means that all tenants are responsible for:
- rent arrears caused by any of the joint tenants
- damage caused by any of the tenants or their visitors (including communal areas)
Each tenant must pay their share of the rent but if another tenant doesn't pay, the landlord can ask any of the other tenants to make up the shortfall. The landlord may ask for a single tenancy deposit and can use this to cover things like damage or unpaid rent at the end of the tenancy.
If a tenant wants to leave and gives the landlord notice to end the agreement, it may end the agreement for everyone. It's a good idea for tenants to discuss their plans with the other tenants if they want to leave. Their actions will directly affect them. The agreement may contain a break clause allowing tenants to give notice if they need to move out early. All joint tenants need to agree if a break clause is to be included in the agreement.
For further information regarding other tenancy types click the link GOV.UK Tenancy agreements a guide for landlords/tenancy types
Any deposit taken by the landlord on ASTs that started after 6 April 2007 must be protected in a government authorised deposit protection scheme. The money will be governed there during the tenancy to prevent abuse and unfair deductions. Click the link for further information GOV.UK Deposit protection schemes
Repairs and maintenance
Structural repairs and maintaining the safety of the property are the responsibility of the landlord, with daily maintenance and care being the tenant's duty.
Click here to visit our Disrepairs webpage.
Landlords are required to provide tenants with the following up-to-date and valid documents:
- Gas safety certificates HSE Gas safety - Tenants (if applicable)
- Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR) GOV.UK Electrical safety standards in the private rented sector
- Energy Performance Certificate with a minimum rating of E or above Energy Performance Certificates (EPC)
Tenants have a right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. They are in control of who has access to their home including the landlord's entries which require the tenants' approval each time they visit. However, tenants are obliged to allow access to the property for contractors/other agencies/the landlord in order to adhere to safety requirements, providing reasonable notice has been given.
This leaflet is available in other languages - please visit our web page HMO information for tenants