If you pay rent to a private landlord, you have either a tenancy or a licence. Both tenancy and licence agreements can be written or verbal.
Different types of tenancy give you very different rights:
- most people who rent from a private landlord have an assured shorthold tenancy
- some have an assured tenancy or a regulated tenancy - these tenancies have stronger tenants' rights
- if you share accommodation with your landlord, you're probably a lodger
The type of tenancy you have mainly depends on:
- the date you moved in
- who you live with
- who your landlord is
- the type of housing you live in
You can usually tells you the type of tenancy you have buy looking at your tenancy agreement. It's sometimes possible that you have a different type of tenancy than your agreement says.
Use Shelter's tenancy checker to check what type of tenancy you have.
Written rental agreements
Your written agreement sets out the rights and responsibilities of you and your landlord.
Read the agreement carefully before you sign it. Ask the landlord to explain anything you're not sure of.
Certain rights and obligations 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 and how it should be paid
- if the rent includes bills such as council tax, water rates or other charges
- how long the agreement is for
- when the landlord can increase your rent
- rules on ending your tenancy
The agreement may also say who to contact about repairs, the rules on lodgers, subletting and passing on your tenancy.The agreement may have rules about pets, guests or smoking.
Your agreement should say whether you have to pay a deposit, what it covers and what circumstances mean you don't get your deposit back.
Verbal renting agreements
Some rules apply to everyone renting a home. These rules don't have to be written down.
Most landlords give their tenants a written agreement. If you don't have a written agreement, you still have legal rights. If the landlord accepts rent from you for living in the property, any verbal agreement you have counts as a legal agreement.
Ask your landlord to put your agreement in writing. Having a written agreement helps make sure that both you and your landlord understand your rights and responsibilities.
Verbal agreements can be more difficult to enforce if there is any dispute.
Fixed-term and periodic agreements
Some tenancy agreements are granted for a fixed-term, such as six months or one year.
When the fixed-term ends your landlord could either:
- give you a new agreement for a further fixed-term
- allow your tenancy to automatically continue by rolling on from roll from month to month or week to week
Your landlord must follow a set of rules to end your tenancy. This means they have to go to court to get an order for possession.
Give the landlord written notice if you want to leave at the end of the fixed-term. Your tenancy agreement may say you have to do this.
Different rules apply if you are a lodger.
Difference between a tenancy and a licence
Your renting agreement with your landlord is either 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.
You do not have a licence or a tenancy just because the landlord says that's what you have.
Your agreement with your landlord can give you extra rights. It cannot take away any rights that the law gives you. These rights depend upon the type of tenancy or licence you have.
Get advice if you're not sure what type of tenancy you have.
Use Shelter's directory to find a housing adviser
Joint tenancy agreements
When 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 keeping to the conditions of the agreement.
If one person doesn't pay their share of the rent, the others have to pay it for them. As a group, each of you is responsible for making sure that the whole rent is paid.
If one of you wants to leave and gives the landlord notice to end the agreement, it normally ends the agreement for everyone. Anyone who wants 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.
Right to rent checks
If you moved in on or after 1st February 2016, your landlord has to do right to rent immigration checks. They will ask you to prove you have the right to stay in the UK.
Your tenancy agreement may also tell you about what furniture and other fittings are provided.
Use an inventory to record the condition these are in.
An inventory can help if there are disputes about deductions from your tenancy deposit at the end of your tenancy.
Find out more about checking and agreeing your inventory.
Unfair terms in tenancy agreements
Your agreement should be written in language that you can understand.
Your tenancy agreement shouldn't contain any unfair terms.
Examples include 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 into your home whenever they like, without giving notice (this could be harassment)
Unfair terms in a tenancy agreement are not legally binding on you.
Find out more from Gov.uk about unfair terms in tenancy agreements.
Get advice if you think your agreement includes unfair terms or your landlord is holding you to something you don't think is fair.
Call Shelter’s free advice helpline on 0808 800 4444
Video: Does a landlord have to provide a tenancy agreement?
Last updated 09 Oct 2014 | © Shelter