Understanding your renting agreement

If you pay rent to a private landlord, you will have either a tenancy or a licence. Both tenancy and licence agreements can be written or verbal.

Is your agreement a tenancy or a licence?

The main difference between a tenancy and a licence is that a tenancy usually gives you more protection from eviction.

The dividing line between a licence and certain types of tenancy can be unclear. You will not have a licence or a tenancy just because the landlord says that's what you have.

The agreement you have with your landlord can give you extra rights but it cannot take away any rights that the law gives you. These depend upon the type of tenancy (or licence) you have. 

Verbal renting agreements

Most landlords will give you a written agreement but even if you don't have one, you still have legal rights. If the landlord accepts rent from you for living in the property, then any verbal agreement you have counts as a legal agreement. It will be either a tenancy or a licence (see below).

Your landlord can't take away your basic tenant's rights simply by not giving you a written agreement.

Many rules apply to everyone renting a home and don't have to be written down. Verbal agreements can be more difficult to enforce if there is any dispute, so it's worth asking your landlord to put your agreement in writing. It will be in their interest as well as yours to ensure that both sides understand their rights and responsibilities.

Tenancy types

Your tenancy agreement will tell you the type of tenancy you have. Though it's possible that you have a different type of tenancy than your agreement says, so it's worth double-checking – different types of tenancy give you very different rights. Most people who rent from a private landlord, and don't live in the same building, will have an assured shorthold tenancy. Some tenants with private landlords have an assured tenancy or a regulated tenancy, which would give you much stronger tenant' s rights.

The type of tenancy you have mainly depends on:

  • the date you moved in
  • who you live with (for example, in a shared house or with the landlord)
  • who your landlord is (for example a private landlord or, if you are a student, your university)
  • the type of housing you live in (for example if support or services are provided by your landlord).

Use Shelter's tenancy checker to check what type of tenancy you have. 

What to check for in a written agreement

If you have a written agreement, it will set out the rights and responsibilities of you and your landlord. Read it carefully before you sign it and ask the landlord to clarify anything you're unsure of. Certain rights and obligations will apply regardless of what the agreement says, for example a landlord's responsibility for repairs.

Check whether your agreement includes information such as:

  • the name of the tenant(s)
  • the address of the property (or room) you are renting
  • the name and address of the landlord and the letting agent if there is one
  • how much the rent is, when it is due, how it should be paid and whether it includes any bills, council tax, water rates or other charges
  • how long the agreement is for
  • whether you have to pay a deposit, what it covers, what circumstances will mean you don't get it back, and if you are an assured shorthold tenant which deposit protection scheme your landlord uses
  • rules on ending your tenancy.

Your tenancy agreement may also tell you about what furniture and other fittings will be provided (use an inventory to record this), who to contact about repairs, and the rules on lodgers, subletting and passing on your tenancy. The agreement may have other rules, for example, about pets, guests or smoking.

Unfair terms in a tenancy agreement

Whether it's a tenancy or a licence, your agreement should be written in language that you can understand. It shouldn't contain any unfair terms, such as clauses saying that:

  • the landlord can change the terms of the agreement whenever they like
  • you have to pay for, or arrange, structural repairs – these are the landlord's responsibility
  • your landlord can come round whenever they like, without giving notice (this could be harassment).

Unfair terms are not legally binding contract terms. If you think your agreement includes unfair terms or your landlord is holding you to something you don't think is fair, ask an adviser to look at the agreement for you.

Use Shelter's directory to find an advice centre in your local area.

Rights in a joint tenancy agreement

If you sign a joint tenancy agreement with another person or group of people, you have exactly the same rights and obligations as each other. You are all equally responsible for sticking to the conditions of the agreement. For example:

  • If one person doesn't pay their share of the rent, the others will have to pay it for them. As a group, each of you is responsible for ensuring that the whole rent is paid
  • If one of you wants to leave and gives the landlord notice to end the agreement, it will normally be ended for everyone - those who want to stay could try to negotiate a new tenancy agreement with the landlord before the original one ends. This does not apply during a fixed-term tenancy agreement

When a tenancy agreement runs out

Some tenancy agreements are granted for a fixed-term, such as six months or one year. When the fixed-term ends one of two things will happen:

  • your landlord might give you a new agreement for a further fixed-term, or
  • your tenancy will automatically continue on the same basis as before but will roll from month to month or week to week rather than being for a set period.

If you know you want to leave at the end of the fixed-term it is best to give the landlord written notice - your tennacy agreement may say you have to do this.

If your landlord wants you to leave they must follow a set of rules to end your tenancy. Unless you are a lodger this will normally mean they have to go to court to get an order for possession. The rules depend on the type of tenancy you have.

Read Shelter guide's How do I end my tenancy for more information on correctly ending your tenancy. 

If a landlord wants to evict you

A landlord who wants to evict you before your tenancy has ended must follow a set procedure for eviction, regardless of the reason.

Get advice if your landlord has told you that you must leave.

Use Shelter's directory to find face-to-face advice in your local area.

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