What is security of tenure?

Security of tenure means the rights of occupation and depend on whether an occupier is owner-occupier, tenant, licensee or trespasser.

This content applies to England

Sources of housing rights

Security of tenure is the security, or rights of occupation, of an occupier.

An occupier's rights are derived from:

  • statute

  • common law

  • law of equity

Statute refers to laws made by parliament; this covers Acts (primary legislation) and statutory instruments (secondary legislation). Common law is the body of rules established in the courts through the centuries. The law of equity developed alongside common law as a means of achieving a fair (equitable) outcome between parties. Although its application is limited, the courts may apply principles derived from the law of equity when other legal remedies are insufficient or inadequate.

Statute takes precedence over common law and equity.

Categories of occupier

The security of tenure of an occupier depends upon the type of occupier they are. The four broad types of occupier are owner-occupier, tenant, licensee and trespasser.


There are three broad categories of owner-occupier:

  • freeholder

  • commonholder

  • long leaseholder.

Tenant and licensee

A tenancy is a legal interest in land for a period of time. 'Tenancy' and 'lease' mean the same thing, but commonly the term 'tenancy' is used to refer to short(er) term tenancies, whilst the term 'lease' is used to describe long-term leases of over 21 years (a category of owner-occupier).

A licence is personal permission for someone to occupy accommodation.


A trespasser is someone who has no permission to occupy the accommodation. A person who remain in accommodation after her/his lawful right to occupy has ended becomes a trespasser.

Some trespassers are known as squatters. A squatter is a person who enters and occupies property without permission from the person entitled to possession of the property.

Last updated: 10 March 2021