As a tenant, you should be paying extra attention to your tenancy agreement.
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, and whether bills are included in your rental package.
A tenancy agreement – which acts as a binding contract between you and your landlord – sets out your tenancy's legal terms and conditions and what type of tenancy it is. It can be either fixed-term (running for a set period, usually six months) or periodic (running on a week-by-week or month-by-month basis).
To reduce the chances of disputes or issues later, it's wise to closely scrutinise your tenancy agreement before you sign it to ensure you know your obligations and any rules and conditions to which you must adhere.
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 – but every landlord's different.
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.
The tenancy agreement will also outline scenarios in which a deposit can be partly or wholly withheld (i.e., repair the damage you've caused during the tenancy).
Bills and rent payments
The tenancy agreement will also outline the bills you'll be responsible for. Sometimes bills will be included as part of the rent, sometimes not. Again, it varies from tenancy to tenancy. You'll often be liable for utility bills (water, gas, electric) as well as 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 rent price, how it'll need to be paid, and 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 clarify 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 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.
An area that's often grey when it comes to tenancies is subletting. Your tenancy agreement should indicate whether you're allowed to sublet the rental. This once again is a very individual decision, with each landlord having different stipulations for their tenants. Those caught out subletting illegally without their landlord's permission face hefty fines and possible legal action against them.
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 in danger of issues and complications later.
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, laws prevent discrimination on these grounds.
For 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 compelling reason not to.
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 your rights and obligations.
Moving home can be exciting, so some people might sign a tenancy agreement without giving it proper scrutiny in their eagerness to secure a rental home. This isn't a wise move with so much important information included in a tenancy agreement. The tenancy agreement's a crucial part of any tenancy, so it's in your best interest to review it and understand what you're expected to do.