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Tenancy Agreements: Landlords

The information covered in this guide about tenancy agreements is for landlords who are renting out properties in England and Wales. Find out what you need to include in a tenancy agreement, how the different types of tenancies work, and what to do if your tenant leaves.

Rights and Responsibilities for Landlords

Tenancy agreements create contracts of legal terms and conditions between landlords and their tenants.

Even so, a tenancy agreement can be in a written format or an oral understanding, and is usually (either):

  • Fixed-term (running for a set period of time)
  • Periodic (e.g. running weekly or monthly)

Important: Landlords and tenants have certain rights and responsibilities when
renting out a property
in the United Kingdom. This applies even in situations where there is no tenancy agreement.

Different Types of Tenancy Agreements

Assured Shorthold Tenancies (AST)

Nowadays, assured shorthold tenancy agreements are the most common – and by automatic process. But, to be an AST, it must be arranged with a private landlord or a housing association and (all):

  • Started since the 15th of January 1989.
  • Not occupied by the landlord (e.g. does not live in the property).
  • The main source of accommodation for the tenant.

Moreover, according to housing rules in the United Kingdom it cannot be an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) if it started (or agreed to) before the 15th of January 1989, or:

  • The agreement is for a business tenancy (including a licensed premises) or a holiday let.
  • A local council is the landlord.
  • The rent amounts to less than £250 (£1,000 in London) or more than £100,000 a year.

Several other types of tenancy agreements still exist, even though they are not as common as assured shorthold tenancies. They include:

Assured Tenancies

An agreement that started between the 15th of January 1989 and the 27th of February 1997 is likely to be an assured tenancy. Tenants get increased protection with this type of agreement

Excluded Tenancies or Licences

Having a lodger living in your home and sharing a common room with them (e.g. a bathroom, a kitchen) usually means you will have an excluded tenancy or licence.

As a rule, this type of tenancy agreement means the lodger would have less protection against being evicted by a landlord than others.

Regulated Tenancies

A regulated tenancy will have started before the 15th of January 1989. Tenants get increased protection against eviction from this type of agreement for private renting (e.g. they can apply for ‘fair’ or ‘market’ rates).

Note: Another section explains more about evicting tenants and how the eviction process works in the United Kingdom.

What Should a Tenancy Agreement Include?

There are several things that a tenancy agreement should include, such as the names of all people involved, as well as:

  • How much deposit is required and how the landlord will protect it (e.g. tenancy deposit protection).
  • When the landlord may partly or fully withhold the deposit (e.g. to pay for reparations to damage caused by tenants).
  • The rental price (including how it will be paid) and information on how and when the landlord will review it.
  • Any relevant tenant or landlord obligations.
  • The address of the property.
  • A start and end date for the tenancy.
  • Which bills the tenants will be responsible for (e.g. utility bills).

It is common to include certain other details and information on tenancy agreements, such as:

  • Whether, and how, the tenant can end the tenancy early.
  • Who will be responsible for carrying out minor repairs (excluding those for which the landlord is legally responsible).
  • Whether the tenant can have lodgers or sublet the property (e.g. let it out to someone else).

Note: The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government produce a model agreement template for a shorthold assured tenancy. It explains how the terms must be fair and comply with the law.

Making Changes to a Tenancy Agreement

Landlords need to get agreement from their tenants if they are going to make changes to the terms of a tenancy agreement.

Laws on Preventing Discrimination

As a landlord, you must not discriminate against your tenants, or harass them, on the grounds of (any):

An Example:

Supposing your tenant needs to keep a guide dog in the house. However, a term in the tenancy agreement states that tenants must not keep pets inside the property.

In this example, the landlord would need to change the term to allow the tenant to keep their guide dogs in the property. An exception may apply if another tenant in the property has a serious allergy to dogs.

Managed Payments from Local Councils

Some landlords will receive managed payments from the local council, such as when tenants move to Universal Credit. In this case, landlords have an obligation to help their tenants set up the new rental payments.

How to End a Tenancy Agreement

Ending a tenancy means the landlord wants the tenants to leave the property. If so, you would need to give them notice. The information and warnings required would depend on the type of tenancy agreement that exists – and the terms stated in it.

Ending Assured Shorthold Tenancies

As a rule, the landlord would be able to take back the property without giving any specific reason to the tenant, if the (all must apply):

  • Deposit has been protected in one of the approved deposit protection schemes.
  • Leaving date is at least six (6) months after the original tenancy date (e.g. signed when first moving in).
  • Agreement is a periodic tenancy (or it is a fixed-term tenancy and the landlord is not asking the tenants to leave before the end of the fixed term).

How Much Notice is Required?

The landlord would need to give ‘notice to quit’ to the tenant (e.g. a written document stating that you want to take back the property).

The notice to quit must state the ‘notice period’ (the date that you want the tenant to leave). It must be a period of at least:

  • Two (2) months (for notices given before the 26th of March 2020)
  • Three (3) months (for notices given between the 26th of March 2020 and the 28th of August 2020)
  • Six (6) months (for notices given since the 29th of August 2020)

In some cases, the notice period may be shorter when serving a section 8 notice. It would depend on the reason for conducting the eviction.

Note: You can read further guidance on the GOV.UK website about COVID-19 and renting and how the pandemic affects landlords and tenants in rented accommodation agreements.

Leaving During a Fixed Term Tenancy

Landlords can only ask tenants to leave during a fixed term if the reason for wanting possession is covered in the Housing Act 1988. Typical examples include:

  • The tenants are ‘in arrears’ (e.g. they fall behind with their rent payments).
  • The tenants used the property for illegal purposes (e.g. growing or selling drugs).

Giving a tenant notice before the 26th of March 2020 means you would have needed to give them notice of up to two months to leave.

But, landlords generally need to give a longer notice period because of the coronavirus outbreak in the United Kingdom.

Giving notice to a tenant between the 26th of March 2020 and the 28th of August 2020 means the period must have been at least three months.

Furthermore, giving your tenant notice since the 29th of August 2020 means it must have been a period of at least six months. But, it can be a shorter notice period in extreme cases (e.g. due to antisocial behaviour).

Note: The GOV.UK website has further guidance about gaining possession of a privately rented property let on an assured shorthold tenancy (AST).

Break Clauses in Tenancy Agreements

In some cases, there will be a break clause in the tenancy agreement. If so, the landlord can give notice to the tenants after the break clause finishes.

Even so, landlords do not have a guaranteed right to take possession of the property during the first six months of this kind of tenancy.

Excluded Tenancies or Licences

To end an excluded tenancy or licence you would only need to give your tenant ‘reasonable notice’ to quit – and it can be oral (e.g. not in writing).

As a rule, the length of notice will be the length of the rental payment period. Hence, you would need to give one (1) month of notice if you collect rent on a monthly basis.

Non-Excluded Tenancy or Licence

Serving a written ‘notice to quit’ at any time is the correct way of ending these types of tenancy agreements. In most cases, the notice period will be at least four weeks, but it will depend on the actual tenancy or agreement.

Assured Tenancies

Ending an assured tenancy agreement means you would need to use one of the reasons for possession covered in the Housing Act 1988 (see above).

If Tenants Will Not Leave the Property

Landlords cannot remove tenants by force even if they do not leave the property. Instead, you should start the eviction process through the courts if the notice period expires and your tenants refuse to leave.

Note: You can read more information about ending a tenancy as a landlord and how private residential tenancies work in Scotland

If Tenants Want to Leave the Property

Fixed-term Tenancies

As a rule, tenants have the responsibility of paying rent for the entire fixed-term tenancy. But, they can choose to move out early without having to pay rent for the full tenancy, if (either):

  • The tenancy agreement contains a break clause.
  • The landlord agrees to ending the tenancy agreement early.

Tenants can also leave the property once the tenancy ends after giving notice to the landlord. This option applies even if the tenancy agreement is not fixed-term.

Licence Agreements

Most licence agreements will expire (run out) after a specific date. Even so, the lodger should inform the landlord before it runs out if they want to end it early.

Important: The main section explains more about landlord responsibilities and the tenant evictions process in the United Kingdom

If a Tenant Dies Without a Will

The process changes if a tenant dies without an executor or without leaving a will. If this happens, the tenancy would transfer to the Public Trustee, albeit on a temporary basis.

So, landlords cannot take back their property as an automatic process, even if the tenancy was due to end. You can read more about will and probate services in another section.

Note: Trying to repossess a property without following the rules in the United Kingdom can result in a fine.

How to Reclaim a Property

To reclaim your property if your tenant dies without an executor or a will, you would need to:

  • Send a letter to the last known address of your tenant (by post or hand delivered) stating that you are giving written notice. Having proof of the notice is not a requirement.
  • Send a copy of the notice to the Public Trustee along with a completed NL1 form. The NL(1) form is an application for registration of notice affecting land (Public Trustee (Notices Affecting Land) (Title On Death) Regulations 1995).
  • Register the notice with the Public Trustee (it costs around £40). You can pay by cheque or postal order in UK sterling (made payable to ‘The Public Trustee’).

You can make your own version of the form (not a photocopy) providing you lay it out in the correct way and it contains all the relevant information.

The Public Trustee
PO Box 3010

Important: You should address the written notice to “The Personal Representative of [full name of the tenant who died] of [last known address for the tenant who died]”.

Getting a Decision about an Application

The Public Trustee will either register or reject the NL1 application. Following that, they will send a letter stating that the application is:

  • Registered (the letter will state the date that it was placed in the register).
  • Rejected with some information on why it was unsuccessful (e.g. incomplete).

It takes around fifteen (15) working days to get the letter back from the Public Trustee (after they have received an application and payment).

Landlords can also search the Public Trustee’s register. It provides a way to check whether you can ‘legally’ rent or sell the property after the death (e.g. confirming that a tenancy has been ended after a tenant’s death).

How to Check if a Tenancy is Ended?

As a rule, repossessing a property without giving proper statutory notice to quit is breaking the law, even if the tenant died. For this reason, you must be sure you can rent out, or sell, the property after a tenant’s death.

Landlords can apply to the Public Trustee and ask them to perform a search of the Law of Property database. The three steps are:

  1. Buying the search form NL(2) and filling it in (do not use a photocopy).
  2. Paying for the search using a cheque or postal order.
  3. Sending a completed NL(2) document and the current payment to the Public Trustee address.

In most cases, search results take around fifteen (15) working days to complete after they receive the form and payment. The letter will provide the latest information found by the Public Trustee.

The Public Trustee
PO Box 3010

Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 020 3681 2759
Monday to Friday: 9am to 5pm
Find out about call charges

Note: You may need to contact the Government Legal Department for tenancies ended due to a death occurring before the 1st of July 1995.

Tenancy Agreements Guide for Landlords in England and Wales