Joint council tenancies and relationship breakdown

This page is for people living in a council or housing association home.

We have different advice for private renters.

You have a joint tenancy if you're both named as tenants on the agreement. Find out how to check who is a tenant.

Joint tenants have the same:

  • rights to live in or return to the home

  • responsibilities to pay rent, even if they move out

This can mean that you have to share a home for a while after breaking up. It can take time to work out what happens in the longer term.

Even if you are not a tenant, you could have rights to stay if you're married or civil partners.

If you've experienced domestic abuse

You should not have to share a home.

Get free legal advice from a family law specialist.

Find out about emergency housing and refuge spaces.

Talk to your ex about the tenancy if you can

Your options could include:

  • the joint tenancy continues but one of you moves out

  • you ask your landlord for a tenancy in just one person's name

  • you or your ex end the joint tenancy for both of you

You need to talk to your landlord even if you and your ex agree what you want to happen.

Family mediation

Some people use family mediation to sort things out when they split up.

It can help you agree things like who lives in the family home and where your children stay.

Many separating couples come to an agreement without going to court.

It's not relationship counselling. The mediator will not try to get you back together.

Family mediation is free if you have a low income and can get legal aid.

It's much cheaper than going to court if you cannot get legal aid.

Find out more from the Family Mediation Council.

What happens if one joint tenant moves out

The joint tenancy continues if no one takes any steps to end it.

Your landlord cannot just take someone's name off the agreement.

You're both still responsible for the rent and any arrears.

But the landlord is likely to ask the person who still lives there for the whole rent.

If you stay and your ex moves out

There is a risk that your ex could:

  • end the tenancy while you are still living there

  • want to move back in at a later date

  • inherit the tenancy, even if you have a new partner who lives with you

If you leave but are still a joint tenant

There is a risk that:

  • your ex will build up rent arrears that you are still legally responsible for

  • you cannot go on the housing register for another tenancy

Benefits to help with rent if you split up

Report the change to universal credit if you claim as a couple and:

  • your ex moves out

  • you separate but continue to live in the same home for a time

Report the change to the council if you get housing benefit.

If you do not get benefits at the moment, check if you could get:

  • universal credit - if you're working age

  • housing benefit - if you're pension age

Your benefits should be worked out based on your full rent if your ex is not paying the rent.

How to get a tenancy in just your name

Your landlord cannot just remove a name from the tenancy agreement.

There are legal rules about ending, granting and changing tenancies.

You and your ex could:

  • assign the joint tenancy to just you – if you're housing association tenants

  • ask your landlord to give you a new tenancy to replace the old joint tenancy

If you agree about what you want, you could contact your landlord together. This could speed up the process.

Check your landlord's policies

Look on the council or housing association website for:

  • information about tenancies and relationship breakdown

  • an allocations or lettings policy

This could tell you how your landlord deals with relationship breakdown in a joint tenancy. Councils and housing associations should follow their own written policies.

Get permission to assign your joint tenancy

Housing association tenants can sometimes use this process. Council tenants cannot.

Assignment means transferring a tenancy into another name using a legal document called a 'deed of assignment'.

You usually need your landlord's permission even if it does not say this in your agreement.

The tenancy continues on the same terms but the tenant changes.

Example: Assigning a housing association tenancy

You have a joint tenancy with your ex. They moved out when your relationship broke down.

You get the housing association's permission to assign the tenancy to you.

You then both sign a deed of assignment that makes you the new sole tenant.

Your tenancy rights and responsibilities stay the same.

Your ex's tenancy rights and responsibilities end.

Find out more about assigning a housing association tenancy.

Ask for a new replacement tenancy

Your landlord might give you a new tenancy. But they do not have to.

Read any new tenancy agreement before you sign it

Compare the new tenancy agreement to your old agreement.

Check that it gives you the same or similar rights.

For example, a council cannot give you an introductory tenancy if your joint tenancy is a 'lifetime tenancy' like a secure or assured tenancy.

If you've experienced domestic abuse and have a lifetime tenancy, a council must give you a secure tenancy if they offer a new tenancy because of the abuse.

Get help to check the new agreement

A family law or housing solicitor can check the tenancy agreement if they are already helping you. For example, because of domestic abuse.

You could also ask a legal advice clinic. Law students provide free advice under the supervision of a solicitor.

Search for a legal advice clinic on LawWorks.

Ending a joint tenancy

You can end most council and housing association tenancies by giving at least 4 weeks' notice in writing. This is called a 'notice to quit'.

You do not need your ex's agreement to give notice. But you should think things through before taking this step.

The tenancy will end for both of you. Anyone living there may have to leave, unless the council or housing association agree to a new tenancy in the same home.

It could mean that you both end up without a settled home. Your council or housing association do not have to offer either of you a new tenancy if you end your tenancy.

Agree a new tenancy before you give notice

Ask your landlord to confirm in writing that you will get a new council or housing association tenancy in the same home or a different home.

If you ask for homeless help, the council could decide you're 'intentionally homeless' if you ended your tenancy when it was reasonable for you to stay there. This can mean they will not help with longer term housing even if you have children or another priority need.

If your ex ends the tenancy without your knowledge or agreement then the council should not treat you as intentionally homeless.

Housing options for your ex if they move out

Your ex may not get another council or housing association home.

They will probably have to rent privately when they first move out.

They might get another council or housing association home if they:

They should get some priority on the housing register if they are homeless.

The council might not agree that your ex is homeless if it's reasonable for them to stay in your joint tenancy.

Find out more about homeless help from the council after a relationship breakdown.

If you have children together

Children usually count as living with the person who gets child benefit.

This applies even if you share care and the children stay with both of you at different times.

If you get the child benefit then your ex is unlikely to count as having dependent children. If they are offered a tenancy it is unlikely to include bedrooms for the children.

Ask a family court to transfer the tenancy

If you cannot come to an agreement with your ex or with your landlord then you can sometimes get a tenancy transferred from both tenants to one tenant through the courts.

This is done as part of divorce, dissolution or family law proceedings if you have children.

You will need legal advice from a family law specialist.

Last updated: 11 December 2023

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