Buying a property with tenants in situ

It can mean immediate rental income from the day you own it, but is buying a property with tenants already living in it really a good idea? Read on to find out the pros and cons.

Kim jones
Kim Jones
Updated 25 May 2022  | 3 mins read

Key points

  • Buying with a tenant in situ means you can earn rental income from day one
  • It’s wise to hire a solicitor with commercial experience for this type of property purchase
  • You’ll need to conduct careful checks on safety at the property, the tenancy agreement and the tenants themselves, before you commit

What is a sitting tenant/ tenant in situ?

When a buy-to-let property is sold with a sitting tenant (also known as a tenant in situ), it means there’s a tenant currently renting the property. Depending on the terms of the tenancy, the tenant will continue to live in the property when the purchase has gone through.

What happens when you buy a house with tenants in situ?

When you complete on a property with tenants in situ, the tenants and furniture (if it’s furnished) can remain in the house and you take on the tenants, as well as the previous landlord’s tenancy agreement.

The terms of the agreement and the amount of rent charged will remain the same until the fixed-term contract ends. If you want to make amends to the tenancy agreement, you’ll need to discuss this with the tenant, but you can’t force any new terms on them.

Should you buy a property with a tenant in situ?

Buying with a tenant already in place can have its benefits. You’ll be earning rental income from the day you purchase the property, for starters, and you could inherit long-standing and trustworthy tenants.

But you should consider a few things before going ahead.

For example, are you happy with the condition of the property or would you prefer to refurbish? Does the property properly and adequately comply with safety regulations?

If you think a complete overhaul of the property is needed, it can be difficult to get that done with tenants already in place.

For these sorts of reasons, some landlords prefer to buy a vacant property, so they can make all necessary changes before renting out the house.

It’s also important to ask the current seller for a copy of the tenancy agreement and investigate whether the tenants in situ are reliable, trustworthy and a good fit for you. Check on things like if the tenants have a history of rent arrears and if there are any ongoing issues between them and the landlord or neighbours that are yet to be resolved.

What are the advantages of buying with a tenant in situ?

Buying a property with existing tenants can make life easier for you because:

  • Having a tenant in situ means you don’t have to search for a tenant yourself, which could take up a lot of time and can cost you money
  • You’re guaranteed rental income from day one of ownership until at least the end of the tenancy agreement
  • The tenant vetting process has been done for you. You can check with the current landlord about the tenants’ payment history plus, when you visit the property for a viewing, you can see how well the tenants look after the home
  • Things like gas, boiler and electrical safety certificates should already be in place, meaning less admin for you

Things to be aware of when buying a property with tenants in situ

It’s vital you use a solicitor who’s experienced in dealing with these sorts of purchases. As well as the usual conveyancing checks and legal processes involved in transferring ownership of the property to you, there’ll be other necessary checks regarding the property, tenants and the tenancy agreement.

For example:

  1. Safety

    Does the property have a valid energy performance certificate (EPC)? Has it had a gas check? Are smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in place?

  2. Property inventory

    Was this carried out to show exactly what was in the property when the tenant moved in? If not, you’ll need to compile one

  3. Tenancy agreement

    Get a copy of this so you know what type of tenancy was in place when it started, and where the tenant’s deposit is being held. If they have a protected tenancy, it might prove difficult to make changes to it or to remove the tenants, if required

  4. Tenant checks

    Investigate whether there’s any history of rent arrears and if the tenant takes adequate care of the property. Can you see the references and checks made on the tenants? Do they have rent guarantors? Are there any ongoing disputes with neighbours?

Viewing the property with a tenant in situ

It’s always a good idea to take the time to view the property in person, rather than rely on a video tour.

That way, you can see the condition of the house and if it’s in good order, whether it needs any updating, or if there are any obvious problems.

Meet with the tenant, too, to gauge whether you’ll get along.

Deposits when buying a house with tenants

Any cash deposit paid by a tenant to a landlord should be protected with one of the government-approved tenancy deposit protection schemes. You’ll need to confirm with the seller that they did this and then arrange to have the deposit transferred to you. You’ll then need to re-protect the deposit under a tenancy protection scheme.

What rights does a tenant in situ have?

While their tenancy agreement is still in force, the tenant has a contractual right to remain in the property, even if it’s sold, until the agreement ends.

After that, if the tenancy is an assured shorthold tenancy agreement (AST), then as the landlord, you can give tenants a section 21 notice of possession if you want them to vacate the property after a fixed-term tenancy agreement ends.

Or you can give them a section 8 eviction notice if they’ve broken the terms of the tenancy (such as non-payment of rent).

However, if the tenancy began before 15 January 1989, the tenant will be protected by the Rent Act 1977. This gives the tenant stronger rights and means the landlord can’t issue a section 21 ‘no-fault’ eviction notice. Instead, you would need to get a court order and have a legal reason for eviction, such as rent arrears or unauthorised subletting.

Can you sell a house with a tenant in situ?

You may find it more difficult to sell a house with tenants in situ due to the extra risk and complications. It may even affect the value of the property.

You’ll need to inform your tenants about the sale in advance and you should give them at least 24-hours’ notice before every viewing.

They’ll naturally be concerned they’re at risk of being evicted by the new buyer, so you’ll need to reassure them that their tenancy agreement will remain valid until it ends.

Also, let them know that their deposit will be passed to the new buyer who will re-protect it.

Can you get a buy-to-let mortgage with a tenant in situ?

It’s not impossible, but there’ll be a smaller pool of lenders to choose from.

That’s because some mortgage providers see properties with tenants in situ as more of a risk, especially those who have protected tenancies. It might be wise to enlist the help of a specialist mortgage broker.