When renting a home, your tenancy agreement is a crucial part of the process, laying down the law on what you can and can’t do, the length of your tenancy, whether bills are inclusive, and what your landlord will expect from you.
A tenancy agreement acts as a binding contract between you and your landlord and outlines the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy and what type of tenancy it is. The two types of tenancy typically on offer are fixed-term (running for a set period, normally six months) or periodic (which runs on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis).
Are there special clauses?
In order to minimise the potential for problems or disputes at a later date, you should pay very close attention to your tenancy agreement before you sign it. You should know exactly what your obligations are and be fully aware of the rules and conditions of the home you’re living in.
Your landlord, for example, may have specific rules when it comes to keeping pets or smoking in their rental home, or they may employ a more relaxed approach. It’s also important to know what time of the month rent is owed, whether you have any specific obligations when it comes to cleaning, and how your landlord would prefer to receive rental payments.
Such questions will be answered by a detailed, comprehensive tenancy agreement - putting everything down in writing so there can be limited scope for doubts and confusion.
The majority of landlords are unlikely to accept pets or smoking inside their rental properties – largely due to the potential risks involved and the greater chances of damage being caused. However, every landlord is different and you may find that some accept pets, so there is no harm in asking them where they stand on the issue.
It’s always a good idea to know your rights and obligations when it comes to your rental package and any clauses it involves.
What about deposits?
Your tenancy agreement will also outline the deposit amount you owe and how it’ll be protected. In England and Wales, it’s compulsory for landlords to place a tenant’s deposit in one of three government-approved deposit protection schemes (namely the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, the Deposit Protection Service and My Deposits), with separate deposit protection schemes operating in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Additionally, the tenancy agreement will set out the situations in which a deposit can be partly or fully withheld – for example to repair damage caused by you or guests of yours during the tenancy.
Can I sublet my rental property?
Subletting is a frequent grey area when it comes to tenancies – with confusion often abounding over whether tenants are allowed to do it or not.
It should, however, be made abundantly clear in the tenancy agreement whether you’re allowed to sublet the rental property or not. Once more, this is a very individual decision – for every landlord that allows it, another two might disallow it.
If you sublet without permission from your landlord, the consequences can be severe, with sizeable fines and potentially legal action brought against you.
Who pays for repairs to the property?
Your tenancy agreement will make it clear who is liable for minor repairs – in some cases, landlords are happy for tenants to carry out their own DIY work, but other landlords will prefer to carry out the work themselves or lean on the letting agent or property management company they employ to sort the repairs for them.
The tenancy agreement should also outline whether you are able to redecorate or not, and whether you require permission from your landlord for any works you undertake. It will also stipulate on things such as sticking posters up, adding your own furniture and maintaining garden space.
What about the tenant fees ban?
Effective as of June 1 2019, the tenant fees ban is officially known as the Tenant Fees Act. In a boost to the rights of tenants, a number of significant changes have been made to the fees that letting agents and landlords can charge throughout a tenancy.
You can now no longer be charged for administration fees, referencing fees, inventory fees, cleaning services, credit check fees and charges for guarantors.
Security and holding deposits have also now been capped - security deposits at five weeks' rent for a property with an annual rental below £50,000 or above six weeks' rent for a property with an annual rental over £50,000, while holding deposits must be capped at one week’s rent.
As well as rent and security deposits, you can still be charged for lost keys, late rental payments and a change to the tenancy. However, if landlords want to charge you these default fees, they must be included in your tenancy agreement.
Are bills included in my rental agreement?
As stated above, your tenancy agreement will make clear if bills are inclusive. It varies from tenancy to tenancy and is again an individual decision for each landlord. If bills are not included in the rent, the bills you’ll be responsible for will be stated in the document. This will typically include utilities (water, gas, electric) and bills for TV and broadband. What’s more, tenants are obliged to pay council tax unless they are students or live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO), where the landlord is then liable for this levy.
The cost of your rent and how it’ll need to be paid will explicitly be outlined in the tenancy agreement, while information on how and when the rent will be received will also be included. Furthermore, the start and end date of your tenancy will be made apparent, as well as information on whether your tenancy can be ended early – and how this can be achieved.
Money saving tip: Your tenancy agreement should detail if you or your landlord are responsible for paying for the gas or electricity. You don't necessarily have stick with your landlord's choice of energy supplier, as a tenant can shop around to get yourself the best deals on your. Using a comparison tool that looks at the whole of the market could help you save money.
How much notice do I need to give if I want to leave my property?
In your tenancy agreement, it should be made clear how much notice you need to give if you want to bring your tenancy to a close.
Unless your landlord agrees to end the tenancy early, or if there’s a break clause in your tenancy agreement, it’s important to remember that you’ll be obliged to pay rent for the whole of your fixed-term.
This proves again the importance of studying closely and understanding your tenancy agreement in full to get a good handle on what your rights and obligations are.
While moving home is often an exciting experience, people can, in their eagerness to secure a rental home, sign a tenancy agreement without giving it the necessary levels of scrutiny.
The tenancy agreement includes so much important information, so this isn’t a recommended or wise move. It’s a document that is a crucial part – arguably even the most important part – of any tenancy, so it’s absolutely in your best interests to make sure you review it and understand what you’re expected to do before signing.
Can I change my tenancy agreement?
If you need or want to change your tenancy agreement for any reason at a later juncture, you must come to an agreement with your landlord on the terms of the changes. It’s also important to be aware that it’s illegal for your landlord to discriminate against you based on your gender, race, age, religion or sexual orientation. Additionally, if you have a disability or are pregnant, laws also exist to stop discrimination on these grounds.
A good example is this if you’re blind or partially sighted and need a guide dog in your home, but a landlord doesn’t allow pets, they must change those terms to allow the guide dog unless there’s a very compelling reason not to do so.
As we can see from the above, there is an awful lot for a tenant to look out for and get their heads around. This might prove overwhelming to some, while others could be so keen to move into a rental home that they sign the tenancy agreement in haste, without properly scrutinising it, potentially leading to problems at a later date.
If you have any doubts about any of the terms of your tenancy agreement, you should ask your letting agent or landlord for further clarification. Meanwhile, if you feel that you need to seek legal advice, Citizens Advice is one organisation which offers helpful free online information regarding tenancy agreements.