Signing a tenancy agreement

Find out everything you need to know about a tenancy agreement, including what happens before you sign, types of tenancy and what’s included in your agreement.

Find out about: 


Before you sign your tenancy agreement

You may be asked to provide a reference and/or guarantor before your landlord or letting agent draws up your tenancy agreement to sign. This is to check you are eligible to rent the property.

References

Your new landlord or letting agent may want to see evidence that you have been a good tenant, for example, paying your rent on time.

To prove this, you can usually request a reference from your previous landlord, or if your last address was in University-managed accommodation, you can ask for a reference from us.

If you are unable to provide a reference from a previous landlord, you may be asked for a character reference or an employer reference. You should check the kind of reference your landlord or letting agent requires. They may also ask for proof that you are, or will be, a student.

Guarantors

You may be asked to nominate someone to act as your guarantor before you sign your tenancy agreement.

A guarantor agrees to cover the costs of things like rent, bills or damages, if you fail to pay.

A guarantor can be a:

  • parent
  • guardian
  • family member
  • friend.

Your guarantor must be:

  • based in the UK
  • a homeowner
  • have a specific household income per year.

You should ask your landlord or letting agent what their guarantor requirements are.

A guarantor signs their own legal agreement, which outlines their responsibilities.

Important: Be aware that if you live with other students and you sign a joint tenancy agreement, your guarantor may be responsible for the costs of the entire property (such as the whole rent and not just your share) if your housemates do not pay.

You and your guarantor should understand the responsibilities you both have before you commit to the agreement.

If you are unable to provide a guarantor, the landlord or letting agent may ask for six or 12 months rent to be paid in advance.

If you can’t pay there are private guarantor companies that, for a fee, will act as your guarantor. Before choosing a private guarantor, you must do your research – find a company suitable for you, check their terms and conditions, and look through reviews from previous customers.

In some cases, we can act as a guarantor for you. Find out about our guarantor scheme.


Types of tenancy agreement 

You may be asked to sign either an assured shorthold tenancy or a licence to occupy agreement.

The agreement you are given depends on:

  • whether your landlord lives with you, or in the same building
  • the type of housing you live in.

The type of agreement you are given outlines the rights and responsibilities for you and your landlord.

You should ensure you have received a written agreement before moving into the property.

Agreements usually include:

  • full name of the landlord and all tenants living in the property
  • address of the property that you will be renting
  • start and end date of the tenancy
  • how much the rent will be and how it should be paid
  • a rent review clause after the initial fixed term
  • who will be responsible for paying any utility bills, internet or council tax
  • information outlining your responsibilities, for example, reporting any repairs promptly
  • landlords responsibilities, for example, maintenance obligations 
  • how your tenancy deposit will be protected and any reasons the landlord or letting agent may have for taking money from the deposit 
  • rules on ending the tenancy
  • information about how the landlord can take back possession of the property.

Assured shorthold tenancy

If you live in a private house or an apartment by yourself or with housemates, and the landlord does not live there, you are most likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement.

The agreement is usually for a fixed period of six or 12 months, or you could be given a periodic tenancy, which runs weekly or monthly. You may sign a joint tenancy agreement or an individual tenancy agreement.

By law, when signing an assured shorthold tenancy, your landlord or letting agent must provide you with the following documents:

  • gas safety certificate: if the property has gas appliances and/or gas central heating the landlord must by law have a gas registered engineer check the safety of these every year
  • energy performance certificate: the property must have a rating of E or above to be let. The closer the rating is to A the more energy efficient the property will be
  • the Government's How to Rent guide: this guide takes you through the process of renting
  • deposit protection information: this will outline which government protection scheme the landlord or letting agent has registered your deposit with.

In addition to the documents required by law above, you should ask for the following:

  • electrical condition report: this is an assessment of the condition of the electrics in the property and will be carried out periodically
  • House of Multiple Occupancy Licence: this is issued by the city council to landlords or letting agents who let out properties with three or more unrelated people living together across two floors. You should check that your property has a licence if required.

Important: Once the agreement is signed and dated by you and the landlord, it becomes a legally binding document. You should always read through it carefully before signing and seek advice on any terms you do not understand. Our housing services team will read through your tenancy agreement and advise you on the terms for free.

Joint tenancy

You will have a joint tenancy if you signed one single agreement that includes you and your housemates names on the contract. This means you all have equal responsibility for the property and payments connected with the agreement, including rent.

Rent

You will each pay a share of the rent, however if one of your housemates does not pay their share, the landlord will be entitled to ask that any of the other tenants in the house cover the costs.

Damages

You are all responsible for looking after the whole property, so the security deposit that everyone contributed towards will cover any damage regardless of who caused it.

Leaving a joint tenancy

Leaving a tenancy once it has started can be difficult, unless there is a specific break clause in the agreement, which states that after a certain amount of time you can give notice to the landlord.

If there is no break clause you will be responsible for the property until the end of the tenancy.

In certain agreements there will be a clause allowing you to leave if you find someone to replace you. The landlord will have to agree to this and your housemates will usually have a choice in whether they accept your replacement. There may also be a fee of £50 (or more if the landlord can prove it has been more costly).

Individual tenancy

On occasion landlords and letting agents will provide an individual tenancy to each person sharing the house, so you will have a contract that is just between you and the landlord.

The agreement will be specific for a room that you alone are responsible for and paying the rent for, but you will still have joint access to the communal areas such as the kitchen or bathroom.

You will have sole responsibility for any damage done to your room, but may also still have responsibility for the communal areas.

If any of your housemates do not pay their rent and you have an individual tenancy then this will not affect you, as you will only be responsible for your rent.

There are some disadvantages to individual tenancies for example, if one of your housemates leaves, you will have no say in who replaces them and you also may have to buy your own TV Licence.

Unfair clauses

When you receive an agreement, it should be written so that it is easy for you to understand.

You should always be given at least 24 hours to take your agreement away and have it checked. Never be pressured to sign a tenancy on the spot.

Terms and conditions in the agreement must be fair to both parties and legal.

Some clauses written into the agreement are not automatically legal and enforceable.

Sometimes, an agreement may include ‘unfair clauses’ such as:

  • increasing the rent during the fixed term without notice
  • the landlord or letting agent not taking any maintenance responsibilities
  • stating that the landlord or letting agent can make spot check visits without giving notice (unless it is an emergency).

If you are concerned by any clauses in the agreement get in touch with Housing Services for advice.


Licence to occupy agreements

If you live with a resident landlord or host family, your agreement will be a licence agreement rather than an assured shorthold tenancy.

The differences between these agreements are:

  • a licence gives you permission to occupy a room within the landlord’s home, whereas an assured shorthold tenancy gives you exclusive use of a property
  • your protection from eviction will be different, if you have a licence your landlord can ask you to leave after giving you appropriate notice (usually one month’s notice if you pay monthly or a week’s notice if you pay weekly). If you have an assured shorthold tenancy you will usually have the right to stay until the end of the fixed term, and if the landlord wants you to leave during the tenancy they have to apply for a court order
  • a licence gives the landlord access to your room and they do not need to give you notice to go in, whether that’s for cleaning or decoration. With an assured shorthold tenancy the landlord has to give at least 24 hours notice to visit the property (unless it’s an emergency)
  • a licence means that if the landlord sells their property the new owner does not have to honour the agreement and can ask that you leave
  • under a licence agreement the landlord does not have to protect your deposit in a protection scheme.

When entering into a licence agreement, make sure you ask for receipt of payment and never pay in cash.

Check that you are receiving the right kind of agreement when you are moving into a property. Shelter’s tenancy checker can help you understand which agreement you have been given.

See more from Living in private sector housing