Subtenancy definition

A subtenant's occupation rights and rules for different tenancy types when an existing mesne tenant lets their home to a subtenant.

This content applies to England

What is a subtenancy?

Many tenants rent accommodation from landlords who are themselves tenants of higher landlords. For example, a local authority may rent a house to a tenant who then sublets a room to a subtenant. In these cases the middle tenant is known as a 'mesne' tenant (pronounced 'mean').

A subtenancy arises when a tenant creates a tenancy out of their interest, but remains in the position of tenant against a higher landlord. The relationship between the parties is shown below:

Head landlord > Mesne Tenant > Subtenant

This ladder of letting does not have to be restricted to three parties; there can be any number of subtenancies of a dwelling. There may also be several joint tenants or joint landlords at each level in the ladder. In the case of a fixed term tenancy, the subtenancy can only be granted for a shorter period of time than the remainder of the mesne tenancy, such that the subtenancy must expire a day, or an hour, or some other period before the mesne tenancy.[1]

Tenure of a subtenant

While the mesne tenancy continues, there is no directly enforceable relationship between the subtenant and the head landlord. There is a relationship of landlord and tenant between the head landlord and the mesne tenant and a separate relationship of landlord and tenant between the mesne tenant and the subtenant, in which all the normal security of tenure rules apply.

It is possible for a subtenant to hold a regulated or assured tenancy if all the necessary conditions are met. However, a subtenant who lives in the same building as the mesne tenant may have little or no protection as they will have, in effect, a resident landlord (see Occupiers with limited security for the rights of these occupiers).

If the mesne tenant wishes to evict the subtenant, they must comply with whatever procedures the subtenant's status requires. Even if the mesne tenant is subletting illegally, for example where their tenancy agreement does not allow subletting, it will not affect the validity of the relationship between the mesne tenant and subtenant. However, the legality of the subletting may be of crucial importance if the mesne tenancy comes to an end.

See Position when mesne tenancy ends for more information.

Last updated: 16 March 2021


  • [1]

    Jameson v London and Canadian Loan Agency Co (1897) 27 SCR 435.