Here's what you need to know about tenancy agreements and contracts.
What is a tenancy agreement?
The tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. It may be written or oral. The tenancy agreement gives certain rights to both you and your landlord. For example, your right to occupy the accommodation and your landlord’s right to receive rent for letting the accommodation.
You and your landlord may have made arrangements about the tenancy, and these will be part of the tenancy agreement as long as they do not conflict with law. Both you and your landlord have rights and responsibilities given by law. The tenancy agreement can give both you and your landlord more than your statutory rights, but cannot give you less than your statutory rights. If a term in the tenancy agreement gives either you or your landlord less than your statutory rights, that term cannot be enforced.
What is a tenancy agreement made up of?
- Express Terms - these include what is in the written tenancy agreement, if there is one, in the rent book, and/or what was agreed orally
- Implied Terms - these are rights given by law or arrangements established by custom and practice
What types of agreements are there?
Written tenancy agreements
If you have a written agreement, it should indicate the type of tenancy you have. The tenancy agreement should be signed by both you and your landlord. Each tenant, if there are joint tenants, should receive a copy of the agreement. Your landlord is obliged by law to give you their name and address, regardless of whether or not you have a written tenancy agreement.
It is good practice for a written tenancy agreement to include the following details:
- Your name and your landlord’s name and the address of the property which is being let
- The date the tenancy began
- Details of whether other people are allowed the use of the property, and if so, which rooms
- The duration of the tenancy, that is, whether it runs out on a certain date
- The amount of rent payable, how often and when it should be paid and how often and when it can be increased. The agreement could also state what the payment includes, for example, council tax or fuel
- Whether your landlord will provide any services, for example, laundry, maintenance of common parts or meals and whether there are service charges for these
- The length of notice which you and your landlord need to give if the tenancy is to be ended. Note that there are statutory rules about how much notice should be given and these will depend on the type of tenancy and why it is due to end.
The agreement may also contain details of your landlord’s obligations to repair the property, although it is rare for agreements to go into details. Your landlord’s obligations to repair depend on the type of tenancy.
Oral tenancy agreements
A tenancy agreement exists even if there is only an oral agreement between you and your landlord. For example, you and your landlord may have agreed at the start of the tenancy how much the rent would be and when it is payable, whether it includes fuel and bills such as water rates or whether your landlord can decide who else can live in the accommodation.
Oral agreements can be difficult to enforce because there is often no proof of what has been agreed, or a particular problem may have arisen which the agreement did not cover. If you are thinking of disputing or are trying to enforce an oral agreement with your tenant or landlord you should consult an experienced adviser, for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. Search here for details of your nearest Citizen's Advice Bureau, including those that can give advice by email.
Implied terms of tenancy agreements
There are obligations you and your landlord have which may not be set down in the agreement but which are given by law and are implied into all tenancy agreements. These terms form part of the contract, even though they have not been specifically agreed between your landlord and you. Some of the most common implied terms are:
- Your landlord must carry out basic repairs, for example, keeping the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating and heating water in good working order
- You have the right to live peacefully in the accommodation without nuisance from your landlord
- You have an obligation to use your home in a 'tenant-like' way, for example, by not causing damage and by using any fixtures and fittings properly
- You have an obligation to provide access for any repair work that needs to be done
What are my rights as a tenant?
Rights given by law will vary according to the type of tenancy. In England and Wales, for information on the rights and obligations of social housing tenants and landlords click here, and for information on the rights and obligations of private sector tenants and landlords click here.
What documents should I be given?
By law, as a tenant, you must be given the following information.
- Rent Book - if you have a weekly tenancy (not a fixed term or monthly tenure), your landlord must provide a rent book or similar document. Your landlord commits a criminal offence if they fail to do so
- Your Landlord's Name - if you do not know the name of your landlord, you can make a written request to the person who receives the rent for the full name and address of your landlord. The agent must supply you with this information in writing within 21 days, after which they commit an offence
- Basic Terms - in England and Wales if the tenancy is an assured shorthold which was created on or after 28 February 1997, your landlord must provide basic written terms of the agreement within 28 days of you requesting this in writing
Be careful of sham tenancy agreements
The rights laid down by law always override those which are stated in a written or oral agreement. An agreement which suggests that you or your landlord have less rights than those given by common law or statute is a sham tenancy agreement.
What an agreement states and what the tenancy actually is may be different. For example, your landlord may claim that an assured tenancy is in fact an assured shorthold tenancy (short assured tenancy in Scotland), or that the agreement is not a tenancy agreement but a ‘licence to occupy’. In England and Wales, but not in Scotland, you may also have signed an agreement stating that the property was granted under a licence to occupy. This is not enough to make the agreement a licence.
How do I change a tenancy agreement?
A tenancy agreement can normally only be changed if both you and your landlord agree. If you both agree, the change should be recorded in writing, either by drawing up a new written document setting out the terms of the tenancy or by amending the existing written tenancy agreement.
An oral agreement can also be varied. Usually the variation will be oral too. In the case of a dispute, evidence of the variation can be provided if there were witnesses to the new agreement or simply by both parties acting on the variation, for example, by paying and accepting a new rent.
If you’re disabled, your landlord must take reasonable steps to change the tenancy agreement if a term of the agreement makes it impossible or difficult for you to live in the property because of your disability. Landlords who don't take reasonable steps to change the agreement are discriminating against you as a disabled person and they are breaking the law. What's reasonable will depend on the circumstances but, for example, your landlord must agree to change a term of the agreement so that you can make disability-related improvements to the property or so that you can have an assistance dog.
How do I end a tenancy agreement?
Your, or your landlord’s, right to end a tenancy agreement and your right to stay and be protected from eviction will depend on the type of tenancy you have.
What to do if your tenancy agreement is unfair
The tenancy agreement is a form of consumer contract and as such it must be in plain language which is clear and easy to understand. It must not contain any terms which could be ‘unfair’. This means, for example, that the tenancy agreement must not put either you or your landlord in a disadvantageous position, enable one party to change terms unilaterally without a valid reason or irrevocably bind you to terms with which you have had no time to become familiar. An unfair term is not valid in law and cannot be enforced.
At the commencement of each tenancy, and annually thereafter, the landlord should make a visual inspection of electrical appliances for defects. Check for frayed wiring, badly fitted plugs, cracks and chips in casings, charring, burn marks or any other obvious fault. Ensure that fuses of the correct type and rating are fitted.
Maintain records of the checks carried out and fuses fitted for all the appliances supplied. Check all appliances purchased carry the CE mark which confirms compliance with relevant European standards. When purchased new, direct from established retail outlets, appliances can be assumed safe without additional checks for the first 12 months.