Tenancy agreements: what every tenant should watch out for

Before you sign your tenancy agreement

In the excitement of finding a new home don't be in too much of a hurry to sign the tenancy agreement. Shorthold Tenancy Agreements are NOT standard and can include clauses very specific to the property, area and landlord. So we urge you to read them, line by line.

Does it prevent smoking inside? Pets? Or maybe it has clauses that set out what you're responsible for - the garden, for example - and what behaviours it expects? Does it allow you to use bluetack and picture hooks? Minimum standards of ventilation to prevent mould? Or maybe it exludes bringing in pianos or treadmills into the property?

Get it in writing

Ensure you have a a written agreement. Verbal agreements are much less common than they used to and are difficult to enforce. If your mate is a landlord and you both agree a handshake is enought - be careful. You are horribly exposed.

Make sure it's an AST

If you are renting from a private landlord 99 times out of 100 you'll be offered an assured shorthold tenancy or AST.

These enable the landlord to regain possession of the property at the end of the agreed period, which is usually six months but can be longer. It is the agreement used by most landlords and letting agents - but you can ask for them to run for longer period - such as a year - if the landlord agrees.

There are two other types of agreement you might be offered but they're very rare these days. This is because, landlords argue, an AST offer a guaranteed period of rental after which either side can walk away.

Make sure the basics are right

Every tenancy agreement should contain basic information about the tenant, the landlord, and their responsibilities. Make sure your written agreement includes:

  • Your name/s;
  • The address of the property being rented;
  • How much the rent is;
  • When the rent should be paid, e.g., last day of the month;
  • How the rent should be paid, direct debit, BACs etc;
  • The landlord's name, address, and contact numbers;
  • The letting agents name, address, and contact number (if applicable);
  • Whether the rent includes council tax, electricity, gas etc. If not, whose responsibility is it to pay those bills;
  • Whether a deposit needs to be paid and how much that deposit is;
  • If a deposit is payable which deposit scheme is it protected by;
  • How long the rental agreement is for. This is usually a fixed period of six months or a year;
  • Date the rent may be increased;
  • Procedures for ending the tenancy.

It should be emphasised here that if there are terms and conditions in the agreement which you don't understand, make sure the landlord or the agent clarifies them for you.

Finally, if there are rules in your tenancy agreement which you consider unfair, get some independent advice. The Citizens Advice Bureau are a very good source of information.

Remember, unfair rules, such as the landlord being able to access the property at any time and without due notice, are not allowed. They are not legally binding.

At the end of the tenancy

When your tenancy agreement ends there are three different outcomes:

  1. You leave the property (your agreement may specify a notice period you must adhere to);
  2. You agree a new fixed term agreement with the landlord at the same or increased rent;
  3. Your tenancy continues on the same terms but on a rolling month to month basis.

Are you currently renting a property?

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