Before signing a housing contract, remember you are signing a legally binding document so it is important you understand it fully before signing. It is possible to have a verbal agreement, but it is more difficult to establish and enforce your legal position.
Assured Shorthold Tenancies
Most students who rent from private landlords have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, which gives them the exclusive right to occupy a room or house for at least 6 months or an agreed fixed-term period, and entitles them to 'quiet enjoyment' of the premises. Landlords can recover possession of the property at the end of the fixed term, but you are entitled to at least two months' written notice. You cannot be evicted unless the landlord obtains a court order. During the fixed-term a court order would only be available to a landlord on a limited number of grounds.
It is common for students to live together in a shared house with either an individual or joint Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement:
1. Individual tenancy
Each tenant has a separate agreement they alone have signed, with the exclusive right to occupy their room, and the shared right of access to the common areas e.g. bathroom, kitchen. Each tenant is individually responsible for paying the rent for their room. The landlord has the right of access to the common areas without your consent, and the right to bring in tenants to replace tenants who move out.
2. Joint tenancy
This is a single tenancy granted to, and signed by, a group of people. The whole of the house or flat is tenanted and the tenants, together, have the exclusive right to occupy all of the premises. The liability for observing the terms of the housing contract and paying rent is ‘joint and several’, meaning everyone in the house is responsible.
What if I live with my landlord?
If you have a 'resident' landlord you will not have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy - you will be either an 'unprotected tenant' or a 'licensee'. To qualify as a resident your landlord must have lived in the same building as you continuously since the start of the tenancy and it must be your landlord's only or main home.
Fixed-Term or Periodic Tenancy
A tenancy may either:
• Last for a fixed number of weeks, months or years - a fixed-term tenancy.
• Run indefinitely from one rent period to the next - a periodic tenancy.
What type of tenancy you have affects the notice you can or must give to end the tenancy.
What if the landlord has a mortgage on the house?
Where a landlord has a mortgage, but the lender is unaware that the property is being let, it is almost certain that the mortgage deeds prevent them from renting out the property. If the landlord should fall into arrears and it looks like the property will be repossessed, tenants are deemed to be illegal occupiers and have no security of tenure and will have to leave as soon as possible. Whoever your landlord has their mortgage with must send notice, at least 14 days before the hearing, to the property, addressed to the occupiers informing them of the action that is being taken against the landlord.
Unfair Tenancy Terms
Your landlord (or their agent) should not use unfair terms in the agreement, i.e. impose unfair penalties, restrictions or obligations on you, or be unclear about what you have to pay.
If you have any further queries concerning housing contracts or your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, please contact a Welfare Adviser at Students' Union Advice.
Shelter: Information on renting agreements
Unipol: Information on housing contracts
Directgov: Information on types of privately-rented tenancies
Citizens Advice: Information on tenancy agreements