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The Tenancy Agreement and Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)

The tenancy agreement is the contract that governs the relationship between landlord and tenant. This document sets the rights and responsibilities of each party and defines how the rented property should be used. In England and Wales the predominant type of tenancy agreement (contract) used is Assured Shorthold Tenancy. Read more below to learn what it’s for and how it applies to you.

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Fast facts

  • The tenancy agreement is a contract that defines the relationships between the landlord, their tenants and the rented property.
  • Don’t sign the tenancy agreement before you fully understand every line. Once signed it becomes a binding contract for the fixed term period.
  • You can still have a legitimate tenancy without a written tenancy agreement.
  • As long as you pay rent (and the landlord accepts it) and occupy the property, you have a legitimate tenancy.
  • The tenancy agreement cannot override your statutory rights and responsibilities as dictated by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Any agreement that does is illegal.
  • Your landlord is obliged to give you contact information – name and address, where you can reach them. This is true regardless if there is a managing agent.
  • The most common tenancy agreement used in private renting is Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST).
  • You have an AST if you rent from a private landlord, occupy the property exclusively and your tenancy has started after 27 February 1997.
  • You have to pay rent and according utility bills and council tax.
  • Your landlord is in charge of repairs and maintenance. You’re in charge of informing them when a repair is due in the property.
  • The landlord is obliged to remove all health hazards and perform the necessary gas safety and electricity safety checks and uphold necessary fire safety standards.
  • You have a right to private enjoyment of your home. You can change the locks and keep everybody out, including the landlord and the police.
  • You can only end a tenancy in it’s fixed term with the agreement of the landlord or a break clause included in the tenancy agreement.
  • If you rent with a periodic tenancy, you can end your tenancy with a standard one month’s notice, unless otherwise stated.
  • Your landlord can use a Section 21 eviction notice to reclaim back their property, but have to meet certain criteria.
  • Your landlord can use a Section 8 eviction to obtain a possession order from the court if you have went into rent arrears or have broken other critical terms of the tenancy agreement.
  • Your landlord can never physically enter and remove you and your belongings from the property.
  • Only the county bailiffs can physically expel you from the property.

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The tenancy agreement is a type of contract that regulates the relationship between a landlord, their tenants, and the rented property. It is very important to know that once signed, the tenancy agreement is binding and each party has legal responsibilities.

Many tenants make the mistake of signing a tenancy agreement without fully understanding the legal obligations in doing so. You should read every tenancy agreement thoroughly – regardless of how experienced you are in renting – because it details exactly what to expect for your money and what is expected of you. It is important that you understand and agree with each point and check to see if there are any unusual clauses compared to the standard T&Cs.

If you have any confusion or doubts about your rights and responsibilities, take your time and do not feel pressured to sign. Discuss points in detail with your landlord or letting agent. The good ones will welcome a clear and shared understanding. If you are unhappy despite negotiations, simply walk away. You must not commit yourself financially or emotionally to an unfair deal.

What if you don’t have a written tenancy agreement

If you have not received a written tenancy agreement, there is no need to worry. In England and Wales, it’s not mandatory to have a written tenancy agreement. It can be agreed verbally.

If you have a verbal agreement with your landlord, it’s still regulated by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, where most core landlord responsibilities and tenant rights are defined. What’s more, all tenancy agreement, regardless of their format, are derived from this law.

Any rights and responsibilities that are regarded in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 are statutory and any tenancy agreement that contradicts with them is invalid and illegal.

Written tenancy agreements don’t cover the full extent of the law anyway. Core rights and responsibilities are covered by the official legislations and are not present in the agreement. These are called implied terms.

Even if you don’t have a verbal agreement, but live in a property provided by your landlord and pay rent to them, which is accepted, the law will acknowledge that a tenancy between you two exist.

Your landlord is obliged by law to give you their name and address, regardless of whether or not you have a written tenancy agreement.

Assured shorthold tenancy agreement (AST)

The most common tenancy agreements in England and Wales are Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) Agreements. If you rent from a private landlord, you’re almost certainly going to use to use this type of tenancy agreement.

In Scotland the correct version is Short Assured Tenancy (SAT). Although Scotland and England have different legal systems, there is no significant difference between an AST and SAT.

How do you know if you have AST

By law, you have an AST if the following is true:

  • You moved into your home after 27 February 1997
  • You pay rent to a private landlord
  • You have control over your home so that your landlord and other people cannot come in whenever they want to
  • Your landlord does not live on the premises

The Assured Shorthold Tenancy has fairly standard terms and conditions (see here for Scottish T&Cs).

What information should a tenancy agreement include:

  • The names of all parties involved – the tenant(s), the landlord, the letting agent (if there is one)
  • Contact details of the above listed and the property’s address
  • The rent amount, based on rent period (week, month, year) and the method of payment
  • Information about the tenancy duration – start and end dates
  • The duration of any fixed terms and information about what happens when the fixed term expires
  • Information about renewal or rent reviews
  • Tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities (repairs, maintenance, etc)
  • Outline of the bills you have to pay (council tax, gas, electricity, etc)
  • The deposit amount and the company which is going to protect it
  • The terms under which the landlord can make deductions from the deposit at the end of the tenancy (e.g. for repairs, cleaning, rent arrears etc.)
  • The terms under which the tenancy can be ended by either side
  • Any break clauses, which allow either party to terminate the contract
  • Information about whether subletting is allowed and how the property can be shared

Tenant responsibilities and common clauses included in the AST:

  • Pay your rent on time (usually a month in advance)
  • Pay utility bills (such as electricity, gas, water, council tax, telephone and television license)
  • Respect the neighbours

This may include disposing of your rubbish in the appropriate place, not making unacceptable noise, not causing an obstruction and not engaging in anti-social behaviour.

  • Take good care of the property

The landlord is responsible for maintaining the building, but as a tenant, you must ensure it is properly looked after.

  • Basic maintenance (such as replacing smoke alarm batteries and changing the light bulbs).
  • Report repairs that are needed promptly so that problems are not made worse with the passage of time (such as leaking pipes that could result in serious damage)
  • Ensure the property is locked and secure when you are out; you will usually be expected to agree not to give the keys of the property to anyone else.
  • Not to make alterations to the property without permission in writing from the landlord (often includes hanging pictures on the walls and changing the decoration)
  • Not to use the property for commercial purposes (e.g. running a business from it)
  • Not, without the express permission in writing from the landlord, to sublet the whole or any part of the property
  • Not to engage in illegal activity in the property
  • Not to have pets without the knowledge of the landlord and their written permission
  • Not to smoke in the property
  • Inform the landlord if you intend to leave the property vacant for more than two weeks (as this may adversely affect their insurance policy)

Basic right to information

If your tenancy started after 27 February 1997, you can ask your landlord for a statement of terms of your tenancy and it must be provided to you within 28 days. This information must include:

  • The start and end dates of the tenancy
  • The amount of rent and when you have to pay it
  • How and when the rent may be changed
  • The length of any fixed-term
  • Your landlord’s name and address

You are legally entitled to know the contact details of your landlord regardless of whether the property is being managed by a letting agent. If these details are not contained in the agreement, do not sign until they have been provided.

Basic right to a safe home

Your landlord is responsible for the repairs and maintenance of the property. This is dictated by law. However, some repairs are more important than other. As a tenant, you have a right to a hazard-free home. This means that the property must be absolutely safe and all systems must be fully functioning.

Your landlord is responsible for performing a gas safety check every year and obtaining a “gas safety certificate”, which indicates if the property and its gas supply and appliances are safe to use. The gas safety check must be done by a Gas Safe registered engineer or it is illegal. The membership card and ID of the engineer need to be present on the gas safety certificate. You can use the ID number to check if the engineer is indeed registered at Gas Safe Register.

Every five years, the landlord has to perform an electrical safety check, which must be made by a certified electrician.

The furniture and furnishings at the property must meet the fire safety regulations and pass the match and cigarette test. Additionally, if you live in an HMO, fire fighting equipment and alarms must be installed in all kitchens and on each storey of the property.

The fire and smoke alarms must be regularly checked and their batteries replace when needed. This is most often a responsibility to the tenants.

Basic right to privacy

As a tenant, you have the right to exclusive occupation of your home. You dictate who comes in and goes out and can deny access to everybody including the landlord and the police, without the required court order.

When you move in, you can change the locks to prevent anyone else from having access to your home, without your consent.

You will be requested access by the landlord for various activities – repairs, maintenance, inspection, viewing purposes, etc. The landlord must give you at least 24 hour notice and must come around at a reasonable time of the day. You can deny this access, but this means you prevent necessary work to be done, which is not recommended.

If you’re unreasonable with allowing access, the landlord may try to evict you, or become less responsive about repairs and maintenance.

Basic right to share your home

It is reasonable that there will be times when you invite guests to stay overnight or for several days at a time. If you decide you would like other people to live with you as sub-tenants or lodgers, then you must request permission from your landlord first, even if the tenancy agreement says it is allowed.

Landlords are often willing to accept such requests, especially in the case of couples moving in together. However, your landlord has the right to know who is living in their property and carry out relevant reference checks; if you do not request permission, she or he will have grounds to evict you.

Ending a tenancy

The tenancy agreement has to include information about how the tenancy can be ended by either side. When you rent with a fixed term, the tenancy can be ended only if both sides agree, or if either side has broken the terms of the tenancy agreement, which can give the other rights to terminate the contract.

If the tenancy agreement features a break clause, it will give both sides to terminate the contract, usually at the six month mark. The exact information will be in the tenancy agreement.

When the fixed term expires, the tenancy can be ended by either side, or it will automatically renew as a periodic tenancy, running from month to month.

Usually, tenants need to serve a notice to leave at least one month before moving out, if they rent with a periodic tenancy.

Eviction from the property

Under the rules of Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements, the landlord has certain rights to reclaim back their property. They can do this without any particular reason, but must meet a big list of criteria to be able to do this legally.

Section 21 Eviction Notice

The landlord can use this notice to evict you when they want to get their property back and you haven’t broken the terms of the tenancy agreement. They don’t need to provide any reason, but must meet the following:

  • The section 21 notice must give you at least two months of time between the date served and the date you need to move out.
  • The section 21 notice must respect the fixed term and end no sooner than the last day of the fixed term
  • The section 21 notice must end no sooner than six months of the start of the tenancy
  • The section 21 notice must be in writing (and with correct spelling and grammar)
  • The tenancy deposit must be protected in a government authorised scheme and prescribed information served in 30 days of receiving the deposit

Additional rules applied if your tenancy has started after 30 September 2015:

Landlords need to use the correct form – ‘Notice seeking possession of a property let on an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (Form 6a)’.

Find more information in our dedicated guide – Section 21 Notice to Quit.

Section 8 Notice of seeking possession

This notice can be used when the tenant has broken the terms of eviction and the landlord is seeking to expel them of the property. This eviction notice aims to acquire a possession order from the court based on already defined grounds.

The common scenarios where this notice is used are:

  • The landlord has served a Section 21 notice, it has expired, but the tenant remains in the property
  • The tenant has fallen into rent arrears for more than two months
  • The tenant is acting violently and anti-socially towards the landlord, the letting agent, the neighbours or other tenants in the property
  • The tenant has severely damaged the property
  • The tenant has lied or provided false information to facilitate the renting process
  • The tenant uses the property for illegal activities (e.g. to produce, sell or distribute drugs)

When the landlord obtains a possession order from the court, they can summon the county bailiffs to execute the order. The bailiffs will schedule a date for your eviction and serve you with the notice. On the day, they will come and physically remove you from the property.

Only the council bailiffs can physically remove you from the property ! Regardless of what stage the eviction is in, the landlord is never allowed to enter into the property or remove you and your belongings without your consent. If they do, they are committing a criminal offence.

Find more information in our dedicated guide – Section 8 – Notice seeking possession.

Freedom from harassment

Regardless of who you’re renting from, what type of tenancy agreement you use, what special terms are agreed, every person is entitled to freedom from harassment. Your landlord cannot discriminate against you based on any personality or physiological trait.

Common harassment examples:

  • Threatening you with eviction
  • Threatening you physically
  • Insults and violent behaviour
  • Going in the property without your consent
  • Letting other people into your home
  • Stealing your belongings or purposely making a mess at your home
  • Coming around the property late at night
  • Blocking utility services to the property (water, power, gas, etc)
  • Insisting on carrying out unnecessary repairs to annoy the tenant
  • Allowing the property to deteriorate into a harmful and hazardous environment
  • Forcing you to sign additional agreements that reduce your rights or introduce unfair terms
  • Imposing unfair charges for services that are part of the landlord’s basic responsibilities

If you feel you’re being harassed from your landlord, or if you feel there are health hazards in your rented property, contact your local council. If your landlord is physically harassing you, acting anti-socially or violently, call the police.

If you think you’re illegally evicted, contact the local council. For more information check out our dedicated guide – Illegal eviction and harassment.

Where to go for help

Do not sign the document until you have understood your legal responsibilities and the financial demands.

  • Ask your letting agent or landlord for clarification – the good ones will be happy to go through the document and explain things to you
  • Use the Citizens Advice Bureau’s online service

If you are in the situation where you have already signed a tenancy agreement and feel your rights have been denied, then you should speak to an advisor at Shelter, or seek advice from a solicitor.

If you feel you’re being harassed or feel your health and well-being threatened, contact the local council.

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This article is provided as a guide. Any information should be used for research purposes and not as the base for taking legal action. The Tenants' Voice does not provide legal advice and our content does not constitute a client-solicitor relationship.

We advise all tenants to act respectfully with their landlords and letting agents and seek a peaceful resolution to problems with their rented property. For more information, explore the articles in our All advice category.

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