What is a Tenancy Agreement?

7 minutes

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As a renter, understanding your rights and responsibilities can initially be confusing. That’s why having a formal tenancy agreement in place between you and your landlord is so important. 

Your tenancy agreement can offer protection if there are any disputes between you and the person you’re renting from. The agreement will outline what is required from you and what the landlord agrees to take responsibility for throughout your tenancy. 

While it may seem as simple as signing a piece of paper and paying your rent on time every month, there’s a lot more to it. Read on to find out more about what a tenancy agreement is, how it works and how it can protect you. 


What is a tenancy agreement? 

A tenancy agreement is a contract between the landlord of a property and the tenant paying to rent the space from the landlord. 

The tenancy agreement is a detailed document that allows you, as the tenant, to continue living in the landlord’s property while you’re paying rent on the agreed date and complying with the agreed rules. The document also outlines the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy. Your tenancy agreement will either be fixed term – which means it ends at a specific time – or a periodic running contract that will roll on a weekly or monthly basis. 

A tenancy agreement protects both the tenants’ rights and those of the landlord. It should be noted that while tenancy agreements are not currently a legal requirement in England and Wales, as a tenant you’re likely to get one. This can either be a written contract  or a verbal one. 

Your tenancy agreement should include: 

  • The property address.
  • The name(s) of the tenant(s).
  • The landlord’s name and contact details. 
  • The name and contact details of any contributing agents.
  • A full inventory on the condition of the property from the date the tenant arrives.
  • The cost of rent and when it must be paid.

Written tenancy agreements 

While it isn’t a requirement by law to have a tenancy agreement, it’s a good idea to have one in place. Often this agreement will be a written document. If you have a fixed-term tenancy of more than three years then it’s one of your rights as a tenant to have a written agreement in place.

The agreement will give a detailed overview of your tenancy, outlining the date you moved in, whether it’s a fixed-term contract, how much rent you’ll pay and when it needs to be paid to the landlord. Your tenancy agreement should also include the name and contact details of each tenant living in the property, the landlord’s name, the address of the property, and what your notice period is should you wish to move out. 

As the tenant, you should also be given a full inventory of the property’s condition when you moved in. This will outline any pre-existing issues such as carpet stains or scuff marks.

If the property is furnished, it should also detail what’s provided and its condition. Make sure you review the inventory carefully and mention anything you think has been missed, taking photos and sending them to your landlord. At the end of your tenancy, the landlord may charge you for any damaged or missing items. 

Verbal tenancy agreements 

While a written tenancy agreement is more common, there could be a verbal agreement between tenant and landlord instead. 

A verbal tenancy agreement will outline the same sort of things as a written one, such as the cost of rent and when it’s due, if there are restrictions around other people living with you and whether the rent includes the cost of utilities.

However, with a verbal tenancy agreement it can be difficult to prove what was agreed as it’s not written down.

Which is better?

Written tenancy agreements are arguably better than verbal ones because what’s been agreed between you and your landlord is clearly written down. With a verbal agreement, there’s often no record of what exactly has been agreed.

Tenant’s rights

Even if there’s no tenancy agreement in place, as a renter you still have a number of tenant’s rights that your landlord has to honour.

As a tenant, it’s your right to:

  • Live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair
  • Get your deposit back when the tenancy ends
  • Be able to challenge any charges that are excessively high
  • Know who your landlord is
  • Live in the property undisturbed – this means your landlord can’t harass you or evict you without a court order
  • See an Energy Performance Certificate for the property – this will give you an idea of how much you can expect to pay for things like heating bills
  • Be protected from unfair eviction and unfair rent
  •  Have a written agreement in place if you’ve agreed a fixed-term tenancy of more than three years.

If you’re a new renter, it’s a good idea to know what your responsibilities are as a tenant.

You’re responsible for:

  • Taking good care of the property
  • Paying the rent and other charges you agreed with the landlord
  • Repairing or paying for any damage you cause
  • Not subletting the property unless the landlord gives permission.

Changing your tenancy agreement 

You can normally only make changes to your tenancy agreement if both you and your landlord agree. This could involve switching from a fixed-term contract to a monthly rolling one or the landlord increasing the cost of rent to better reflect the value of the property. 

If both the tenant and landlord agree on the contractual changes, these should be formally recorded in writing. Both parties may wish to create a new contract from scratch or simply amend the one that already exists. 

If you as the tenant are the one requesting a change to the contract, then the landlord may choose to charge a fee. However, should the landlord charge you for a change made at their request then you can either ask for the money back or contact Trading Standards, which supports tenants against unfair treatment. 

Ending a tenancy agreement 

How easy it is to end a tenancy agreement will usually depend on the type of tenancy you have contractually agreed to. 

Most tenants with a periodic running contract are only expected to give one month’s notice when ending their tenancy agreement. This means you can easily move out when you need to and give the landlord enough time to find new tenants. 

If you have a fixed term tenancy agreement, then it’s unlikely you will be able to end it early. However, in some cases your fixed term tenancy agreement may include a break clause and tell you when this can apply. For example, you may be able to end your tenancy after six months as long as you give one month’s notice. If you’re taking out a fixed term tenancy agreement it might be a good idea to ask for a break clause to be added before you sign.

Here are the steps you should take when you want to end your tenancy agreement: 

  • Confirm whether your tenancy agreement is fixed term or periodic. 
  • Decide which date you will need to move out of the property.
  • Inform your landlord in writing that you want to end your tenancy, giving the agreed amount of notice. 

Along with all your research into renting, you should also consider taking out contents insurance. Flow monthly renters insurance is a convenient way to protect your belongings when you’re renting.