Understanding your renting agreement

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

If an agreement seems unfair, it may not be valid. The law gives certain rights to people who rent privately and these cannot be taken away, no matter what your tenancy agreement or licence says. 

Is your rental agreement a tenancy or a licence?

The main difference between a tenancy and a licence is that a licence usually gives you less protection from eviction. A tenancy agreement gives you a legal right to live in a certain property, whereas a licence gives you personal permission to live there.

In practice, however, the dividing line between a licence and certain types of tenancy is often unclear. You will not necessarily 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 you have. 

Legal rights with a verbal renting agreement

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.

The rules apply to everyone renting a home and don't have to be written down. However, 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.

What type of tenancy do you have?

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 share living space with them, will have an assured shorthold tenancy, which means the landlord can only evict them by giving proper notice and following the correct eviction process. But if your tenancy started before a certain date, you might actually have an assured tenancy or a regulated tenancy, which would give you much stronger tenant' s rights

The type of tenancy you have also depends on:

  • who your landlord is (for example a private landlord or the council)
  • the type of housing you live in (for example if support or services are provided)
  • who you live with (for example, in a shared house or with the owner of the property
  • the date you moved in (this can make a big difference, especially if you have lived in your home for a long time).

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

What to check for in a written renting agreement

If you have a written renting agreement, it should set out the rights and responsibilities you have while you're renting, and should list the terms and conditions you and your landlord need to stick to while you're living there. 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, and if so, what it covers, what circumstances will mean you don't get it back, and which deposit protection scheme your landlord uses
  • rules on ending your tenancy.

Your tenancy agreement should 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 also tell you about any 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
  • that you have to pay for, or arrange, structural repairs – these are the landlord's responsibility
  • that your landlord can come round whenever they like, without giving notice (this might be classed as 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 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. This does not apply if you have a fixed-term tenancy agreement, and if one of you wants to leave, those who want to stay could try to negotiate a new tenancy agreement before the original one ends.

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.

In most cases, your landlord has to give you notice and can't just ask you to move out on the last day. If you know you want to leave at the end of the fixed-term it is best to give the landlord notice. Landlords must follow a set of rules to end most types of tenancy. These 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 your landlord wants to evict you

If your landlord tries to evict you before your tenancy has ended, they must follow a set procedure, regardless of the reason for the eviction

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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