On my blog I cover most areas of consumer rights. However there are some topics where I ask a specialist to give expert advice.
I have asked Christian Weaver, barrister and author of The Law in 60 Seconds: A Pocket Guide to Your Rights – to explain your rights when it comes to problems with renting. He tells me:
“I am probably asked more questions on renting than I am any other area of law. It’s also an area where a real imbalance of power can exist, and therefore, just sitting back and hoping things will go smoothly between you and your landlord sometimes just isn’t good enough.”
Type of tenancies
Before we dive in, there are several different types of tenancies. The vast majority of you reading this will be in what is called an assured shorthold tenancy. If you don’t live with your landlord, your tenancy started on or after 28 February 1997, and you aren’t paying rent of more than £100,000 a year or less than £250 a year (less than £1,000 in London), you will usually have this type of tenancy. It is therefore the assured shorthold tenancy that I’ll focus on in this blog piece.
From my own experiences, those of my peers, and those I have seen as a barrister, there are three main things you ought to check and be sure of.
How long am I tied into the contract for and what does this mean?
For an AST, the tenancy agreement (or ‘contract’) will likely contain a fixed period of time (a ‘fixed term’) that the tenancy will last for, e.g. 6 months or 12 months. You will have to pay the rent until at least the end of the fixed term unless an agreement can be reached with your landlord or your contract allows you to end the tenancy early (i.e. through a break clause – more on this later).
Once the fixed term is over, a periodic tenancy will often automatically come into place. This is where the tenancy rolls over on a weekly or monthly basis. If you wish to leave a periodic tenancy, you will usually need to give at least 1 month’s notice if your rent is due monthly, or 4 weeks’ notice if it is weekly.
Before you sign, doublecheck your contract to ensure that you will not be required to give more notice than this (look for a heading in the contract stating ‘Notice period’ or something similar). If you will be required to give more notice than this and you think this could be a problem, now is your chance to say.
Is there a break clause in the tenancy agreement?
A break clause is a clause in the tenancy agreement enabling either party – whether that be you (the tenant) or the landlord – to give notice (i.e. advance warning) to terminate the tenancy agreement before the end of the fixed term. The amount of notice that needs to be given should be clearly stated in the break clause.
If a break clause is not included in your contract and you think this flexibility is important, consider asking for one to be put in. Just remember that your landlord can also make use of the break clause if they want to get rid of you!
Will you be a ‘sole tenant’ or a ‘joint tenant’?
You are a sole tenant if the tenancy agreement you are currently looking at is in your name only. Simple. Don’t let the fact that you may be moving into a property where others currently live confuse you. You can be a sole tenant and still live with others. A prime example of this is where each person has exclusive possession of a specific room – perhaps ‘bedroom 2’ is your room only, but you and others will share the kitchen and bathroom. have an idea of what your rights and responsibilities will be.
You are a joint tenant if, along with others, you all sign your names on one single tenancy agreement. This is a typical scenario for friends at university who are renting a house together. In this situation, rather than signing a contract for a room (as shown in the example above), you all sign a contract for the house, and then argue over who gets the best bedroom.
The rights and responsibilities you will have will vary, depending on whether you are a sole or joint tenant.
About the author
Christian is a barrister at a leading human rights chambers, where he regularly represents clients whose rights are at risk.
He previously worked at INQUEST and volunteered at Liberty and Nottingham Law School’s Legal Advice Clinic.
In 2018, concerned about the increasing number of people he knew being stopped and searched, he created the YouTube series ‘The Law in 60 Seconds’ to inform people of their rights and make the law accessible; those videos have now been viewed thousands of times, and been featured on BBC News, in the Guardian and the i Paper. The concept has since been turned into a book.