Tenancy agreements for private rentals

Tenancy agreements are there to protect the rights of both the tenant and the landlord and clearly set out the responsibilities and obligations between them. Find out more about them below.

gocompare author
Updated 28 October 2021  | 3 min read

What is a tenancy agreement?

A tenancy agreement is a legal contract between a tenant and a landlord that sets out everything about the terms and conditions of the tenancy.

As a tenant, you need to make sure that you and your visitors follow the rules of the agreement and as a landlord you need to meet the responsibilities laid out in the contract.

While not yet a legal requirement in England and Wales, these agreements are legally binding and exist to protect the rights of both the landlord and tenant. They are usually signed before the property is let.

Key points

  • Tenancy agreements are there to protect the rights of both the tenant and the landlord and clearly set out the responsibilities and obligations between them
  • There are several types of tenancy but an assured shorthold tenancy is most commonly used in the UK
  • Depending on the tenancy, agreements can provide protection and security for a fixed term from six months up to a lifetime
  • It’s usually only possible to end a contract before the fixed term if both the landlord and tenant agree or if the tenancy conditions have been breached

Types of tenancy

In the UK you’ll come across different types of tenancy agreement, each designed for a particular set of circumstances:

Assured shorthold tenancy

Assured Shorthold Tenancies (ASTs) are the most popular form of tenancy agreement in the UK and are used by landlords to let private residential properties to tenants.

An AST can be used when the tenants will be using the accommodation as their main home, the landlord doesn’t live in the property and the tenancy started after 1989.

The rent can’t be more than £100,000 or less than £250 a year (or less than £1,000 in London) and the tenant’s deposit must be put in a government-approved protection scheme.

These agreements are typically for a fixed period of six or 12 months but can be for longer - this fixed term guarantees the tenancy for both the landlord and the tenant.

After this, the landlord can reclaim the property by giving the tenant the correct notice - but if the tenant hasn’t left on the day the notice ends the landlord can’t force them to leave, instead, they’ll need to get a court order to have them removed.

Excluded tenancy

When a tenant shares the accommodation with their landlord an excluded tenancy should be used. This tenancy agreement gives the tenant exclusive use of the area they pay rent for.

For example, if you rented a room in your landlord’s house, they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the room without your permission. This applies even if there’s not a lock on the door.

If you’re an excluded tenant, the landlord doesn’t have to wait until the end of the tenancy term to end the letting. They only have to give you reasonable notice, which is usually the length of the rental payment period.

This means there’s less protection from eviction - if you pay rent weekly, the landlord only needs to give you one week’s notice and they don’t need a court order to get you to leave.

Assured tenancy

This type of tenancy is used for properties owned by private individuals or companies, and is typically used for tenants of housing associations and housing trusts.

Assured tenancies provide more security, allowing tenants to live in the property indefinitely, as long as they continue to pay rent and stick to the tenancy agreement conditions.

Although this is a lifetime tenancy, it can be ended if the tenant breaches any of their obligations.

To make an eviction, the landlord needs to get a court order and provide evidence the tenant has broken the tenancy conditions, like damage to the property.

Tenants can challenge an eviction from an assured tenancy and the court may have an option not to evict them.

Regulated tenancy

This type of tenancy agreement is for people who took out a private tenancy before 1989, or who signed a new tenancy agreement with the same landlord after that date.

Regulated tenants have certain rights - they’re entitled to fair rents and to stay for the length of their tenancy, so these agreements are sometimes called protected tenancies.

If the tenant dies, the regulated tenancy will automatically pass to the tenant’s spouse or any family member who’s lived with the tenant for two years immediately before their death.

For a landlord to evict a regulated tenant, they must get a possession order from the courts and there must be a proven reason, or ground, for the eviction.

What should be in a tenancy agreement?

When you are given a tenancy agreement it will usually include the following information:

  • Details of the tenants, landlord and any letting agents involved
  • The address of the accommodation to be rented
  • The amount of rent agreed and how and when it should be paid
  • What happens if the rent isn’t paid and how and when the rent can be reviewed
  • The amount of deposit needed and how it will be protected during the term
  • Details of the fixtures and fittings of the property and its outside space
  • The tenancy start and end date
  • The notice period needed to leave or regain possession of the property
  • A clear outline of the tenant’s and landlord’s obligations and responsibilities
  • The tenant’s and landlord’s signatures to make the agreement legally binding

If you’re unsure of any of your agreement terms you should get some legal advice. Once you’re happy you can sign the contract and make sure you keep a copy.

Can my landlord change or end my tenancy agreement?

Yes, a tenancy agreement can be changed, but this is normally only if both the landlord and tenant agree.

The changes should be put in writing and signed by the tenant and landlord, this could be done by creating a new tenancy agreement or amending the original one.

If you’re the tenant and you ask for a change to the agreement, your landlord may charge you a fee for doing this.

Can I end my tenancy agreement?

Whether you’re a tenant or a landlord, this will depend on the type of tenancy you have.

If you want to leave a fixed term agreement before the end of the contract, you’ll need to get permission from the other party - unless they’ve breached the tenancy conditions.

If you’re a tenant and the landlord doesn’t agree to you leaving the contract early, you’ll be liable for paying bills and rent until the last day of the fixed term.

Ending the tenancy after the fixed term period is more straightforward, you’ll just need to give the amount of notice stated in your tenancy agreement to your landlord or tenant.

What can I do if my landlord is treating me unfairly?

If your landlord isn’t treating you in the right way it’s best to speak to them first to try and resolve the problem.

It’s a crime for your landlord to harass you - for example, if they enter your home without your permission, or try to force you out of a property without using the proper procedures.

If problems persist and you’re not happy with your landlord’s behaviour you can make an official complaint.

You can also talk to your local council, legal advice organisations or speak to Citizens Advice to get support with this.

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