What to look out for in a tenancy agreement

As a tenant, your tenancy agreement is something you should be paying extra special attention to. It will lay down the law on what you can and can’t do, what your landlord expects from you, how long your tenancy will last for and whether or not bills are inclusive as part of your rental package.

A tenancy agreement – which acts as a binding contract between you and your landlord – sets out the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy and what type of tenancy it is; whether it’s fixed-term (running for a set period, usually six months) or periodic (running on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis).


Special clauses

To reduce the chances of disputes or issues later, it’s a wise move to closely scrutinise your tenancy agreement before you sign it, to make sure you know exactly what your obligations are and what rules and conditions you must adhere to.

Does your landlord, for example, have specific rules around pets or smoking in their rental homes, or do they take a more relaxed approach? What are your obligations when it comes to cleaning? What time of the month is rent owed? How does your landlord prefer to receive rental payments? These are the sorts of questions that a thorough, comprehensive tenancy agreement will answer, putting it down in writing to ensure there can be no confusion or question marks.

In most cases, it’s unlikely that a landlord will allow pets or smoking in their properties – because of the potential risks involved and the increased likelihood of damage being caused – but every landlord’s different. Some may allow pets, for example, but could ask for a higher deposit to cover cleaning costs – or stipulate that you pay for a professional clean after the tenancy ends – it’s good to know your obligations so make sure you check the tenancy agreement for clauses like these.


Deposits

A tenancy agreement will also set out the required deposit amount and how it’ll be protected – in England and Wales landlords are legally obliged to place tenants’ deposits in one of three government-approved deposit protection schemes (the Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme). Separate deposit protection schemes exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

What’s more, the tenancy agreement will outline the scenarios in which a deposit can be partly or fully withheld (i.e. to repair damage you’ve caused during the tenancy).


Bills and rent payments

Bills you’ll be responsible for will also be outlined. Sometimes bills will be included as part of the rent, sometimes not. Again, it varies from tenancy to tenancy. Most often you’ll be liable for utility bills (water, gas, electric) and bills for things like phone and broadband.

Tenants also must pay council tax unless they live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO), in which case the landlord’s liable. 

The tenancy agreement will explicitly state the price of your rent and how it’ll need to be paid, as well as information on how and when the rent will be received. The start and end date of a tenancy will be set out and information on whether a tenancy can be ended early – and how this can be done – will also be outlined.


Repairs and decorating

Furthermore, your tenancy agreement will make clear who’s responsible for minor repairs. In some cases, landlords will be happy to let tenants carry out their own DIY tasks, in other cases they’d prefer to do this themselves or get the letting agent or property management company they employ to arrange repairs for them.

It’ll also be made clear whether or not you’re able to redecorate – and whether you need permission for this – as well as rules on sticking posters up, garden maintenance and adding your own furniture.


Subletting

An area that’s often grey when it comes to tenancies is subletting. It should be made apparent in your tenancy agreement whether you’re allowed to sublet the rental. This’ll once again be a very individual decision, with each landlord having different stipulations for their tenants. Those who’re caught out subletting illegally, without their landlord’s permission, face hefty fines and possible legal action being brought against them.


Making changes

As you can see, there’s a lot for a tenant to look out for and take in. This might prove overwhelming to some. Others might be so keen to move into a rental home that they brush over the tenancy agreement without a second look, potentially putting themselves at danger of issues and complications at a later date.

If you’re unsure about any of the terms of your tenancy agreement, ask your letting agent or landlord for clarification. If you feel that you need to seek legal advice, Citizens Advice offers helpful free online information about tenancy agreements.

If you want to change your tenancy agreement for any reason at a later date, you must agree with your landlord on the terms of the changes. You should also be aware that it’s against the law for your landlord to discriminate against you based on your age, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Also, if you’re pregnant or have a disability, there are laws in place to prevent discrimination on these grounds.

As an example - if you’re blind or partially sighted and require a guide dog in your home, but a landlord doesn’t allow pets, a landlord must change those terms to allow the guide dog unless there’s a very compelling reason not to.


Giving notice

Your tenancy agreement will also state how much notice you need to give if you want to end your tenancy. You’ll still be liable to pay rent for the entirety of your fixed-term tenancy unless your landlord agrees to end the tenancy early or if there’s a break clause in your tenancy agreement. Once again, this is another reason to study a tenancy agreement closely to understand what your rights and obligations are.

Moving home can be exciting so some people, in their eagerness to secure a rental home, might sign a tenancy agreement without giving it proper scrutiny. With so much important information included in a tenancy agreement, this isn’t a wise move. The tenancy agreement’s a key part – arguably the key part – of any tenancy, so it’s in your best interest to ensure you review it and make sure you understand what you’re expected to do.

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