Tenancy Agreements: Getting the Terms Right

According to the Office of National Statistics, 4.5 million people in the UK are living in private rental accommodation. With so many of us signing up to tenancy agreements, it’s important to know what should be included in a contract between you and your landlord. Sign up to a poor arrangement and you could be looking at an expensive and stressful tenancy dispute somewhere down the line. So, what are some of the key elements that should be detailed in your tenancy agreement?

Tenancy agreement must-haves

A written tenancy agreement is always advisable. While the contract can be agreed orally, it’s never a good idea to rely on anything that’s not set out in writing, even if you’re renting from friends or family. The agreement essentially sets out your rights and responsibilities as a tenant as well as those of your landlord. Some of the most important terms to include are:

  • Property and people: the document should have the full address of the property (and that of the landlord) and detail the use of any associated outbuildings or parking facilities that may fall under the agreement. As well as recording the names of the landlord/s and tenant/s and establishing access rights, it should also state whether lodgers or subletting of the property are allowed.
  • The tenancy’s start date and duration: most tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies (AST) and are fixed for 6-12 months, often reverting to periodic tenancies (month to month, for example) after the initial term. It’s important to record the start date of any tenancy so you know where you are should either party want to terminate the agreement.
  • Rent: the amount, frequency and payment method should be set out, along with details of when any rental increases may occur.
  • Other payments: most rental agreements do not include things like the electricity bill, Council Tax and water bills, for example. The tenant’s responsibilities for any separate bills related to the property should be detailed in the terms of the contract.
  • Deposit information: this should include the deposit amount and where the money will be held. Landlords are now required to use a government approved deposit scheme for your protection. Your terms should also state under what circumstances the landlord would be entitled to withhold any or all of your deposit. (As an addendum to the main tenancy agreement, it’s a good idea to attach a detailed inventory of any fixtures, fittings or furniture the landlord is providing as part of the tenancy. As well as recording what is there, it’s useful to detail the state of repair in case of deposit disputes when you move out.)
  • Additional services, rights, responsibilities and restrictions: while all parties have rights and responsibilities under the law, it’s useful to detail any other information that might be pertinent to your individual agreement. That might include anything from your landlord agreeing to take responsibility for cleaning communal areas to you mowing the lawn every month. Anything above and beyond the statutory rights and responsibilities should be recorded so that all parties have clarity.
  • Notice period: should either party want to terminate the tenancy, there should be a clear notice period and process in place.
  • Insurance: this gives details of the landlord’s building insurance and if there are any activities the tenant should be aware of/refrain from that might invalidate this.
  • Any repairs to be done: if there are repairs that need to be done before you move in and the landlords agrees to this, make it part of the contract. Landlords are required to do certain maintenance under the law, but further repairs and maintenance responsibilities can be included in addition to the statutory obligations if you’re all in agreement.

Ensuring your tenancy agreement is fair and legal

While you’re free to mutually agree upon any terms to be included in your rental contract, those terms must not conflict with either party’s statutory rights or leave anyone at a disadvantage. Any term that gives either party less than their rights under the law would be deemed unfair and is therefore not enforceable. This includes anything that could be classified as housing discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.

Penalty and forfeiture terms can often be unfair and void, so pay careful attention to any such clauses you find in a tenancy agreement. If have misgivings about any part of your contract, it’s a good idea to have a solicitor take a look before you sign on the dotted line. Taking on a tenancy is a huge commitment that needs to be handled with care.

If you’re a tenant who’d like more information on your tenancy agreement or a landlord who wants to make sure your tenancy terms fully comply with legislation, our experienced property lawyers are here to help. Just get in touch with your nearest Rowberry Morris office for more details.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.