This content applies to England only.
Housing laws vary between England and Scotland. Get advice relating to Scotland
If you are renting your home, you either have a tenancy or a licence to live in the property. 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 are renting and these cannot be taken away no matter what your agreement says.
Is the 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 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.
Renting agreements and tenancy rights
Your agreement 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 and who your landlord is - a private landlord, a council or a housing association, for example.
If you only have a verbal agreement
Most landlords will give you a written agreement but even if you don't have one, you still have rights. If the landlord accepts rent from you for living in the property, then any verbal agreement you have made counts as a legal agreement. It will be either a tenancy or a licence (see below).
Your landlord can't take away your basic 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 her/his interest as well as yours to ensure that both sides understand their rights and responsibilities.
What to check for in a written agreement
If you have a written 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 the landlord's repairing obligations.
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 and how it should be paid
- what the rent covers - does it include 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 and what circumstances will mean you don't get it back
- whether you can leave before the end of the tenancy, and if so, how much notice you have to give
- what furniture, if any, will be provided
- who is responsible for getting repairs done (the landlord will always be responsible for external and structural repairs, and safety, regardless of what it says)
- whether you can sublet
- whether you can have lodgers
- whether you can pass the tenancy on to anyone else
- whether there are any other rules, for example, about pets, guests or smoking.
Many landlords use standard tenancy agreements where these terms are already set out. If your agreement seems unfair or unclear, an adviser in your area may be able to help. Use the advice services directory to find one.
Types of tenancy agreement
In most cases it will be obvious what kind of tenancy agreement you have, but it's possible that you have a different type of tenancy than your agreement says. Although most tenancy agreements get this right, it's worth double-checking because different types of tenancy give you very different rights. You can use our tenancy checker to do this.
The type of tenancy you have doesn't just depend on what's written in your agreement. It also depends on:
- who your landlord is (eg a private landlord or the council)
- the type of housing you live in (eg if support or services are provided)
- who you share with (for example, if you live with the owner of the property (your landlord) you will normally have very limited rights)
- the date you moved in (this can make a big difference, especially if you have lived in your home for a long time).
For example, most people who rent from a private landlord, and don't share living space with them, will have an assured shorthold tenancy. This gives them some security, as the landlord can only evict them by giving proper notice and following the correct procedure. But if your tenancy started before a certain date, you might actually have an assured tenancy or a regulated tenancy, even if your tenancy agreement says otherwise. Both of these types of tenancy would give you much stronger rights, including the fact that your landlord would have to prove a special legal reason in court before you could be evicted.
If the agreement is unfair
Your agreement, whether a tenancy or a licence, should be written in straightforward 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. 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. The Office of Fair Trading website has more information about unfair terms and how to complain.
Rights in a joint tenancy agreement
If you sign a joint 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 agreement, and if one of you wants to leave, those who want to stay could try to negotiate a new agreement before the original one ends.
When an 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 special procedures to end most types of tenancy. These depend on the type of tenancy you have.