A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant that outlines the terms and conditions of renting a property, including the rent amount, lease duration, and rights and responsibilities of both parties.
Guide to tenancy agreements
Guide to leaving a tenancy
What happens when I sign a tenancy agreement?
Once you sign a tenancy agreement (housing contract), it is legally binding. This means you are bound by the terms of the agreement, including to pay the rent for the full length of the contract. This includes online bookings if you proceed to click through to ‘sign’ a contract online (this is sometimes called 'making a booking' or 'accepting an offer').
Even if you do not move in, do not pick up the keys, do not pay a deposit / provide ID / provide a guarantor’s details - once you have signed, you are bound by the terms of the agreement. Sometimes the agreement will indicate that your room will be re-let if you don't move in, but this is just an option that the landlord / housing provider has - generally they do not do this, and instead your tenancy (contract) will persist.
What does jointly and severally liable mean?
If a group of you are renting a property together and you are all named on the contract, it is likely that you will have what is called a joint tenancy.
A joint tenancy means that you are each liable for the whole rent of the premises and for any other obligations under the tenancy, including bills.
For example: There is a group of four tenants on a joint tenancy for 9 months and one tenant decides to leave in the sixth month because they are fed up that no one else does any cleaning. Each joint tenant was paying an equal share of the rent. In this case, the landlord is entitled to collect the shortfall in rent from any or all of the remaining tenants. These remaining tenants may subsequently be able to recover this money from the missing tenant.
In the above circumstances, the best solution is for the leaving tenant to find someone to replace them.
If none of you pay your rent, your landlord can ask any one of you to pay the full amount.
Sole (individual) tenancies
You may have a sole tenancy of a studio or a private flat. If this is the case, the agreement is between you and the landlord/agent. You and your guarantor, if you have one, will be solely liable for any rent arrears or damages.
Sometimes a group of tenants can have individual tenancies of their rooms, even though they are sharing a property. If a group of you are living in a property together, but you want to avoid the burdens of a joint tenancy, you could try and negotiate individual tenancies of your rooms. This means that you are only liable for the rent for your room but have access to all the joint facilities of the property (i.e. bathroom, kitchen etc.).
The disadvantages of this agreement are that:
- If someone leaves, you do not have any say over who the leaving tenant or the landlord finds to replace them
- You can still have claims made against you for damage to the common parts of the property, unless the person responsible is identified
- You may have to pay a separate licence fee for each TV in the house.
Read our detailed guide on tenancy agreements above for more information about how housing contracts work and what to look for.
I am struggling to pay my rent, what can I do?
If you don't pay your rent, then you risk losing your home. Therefore, it is very important that you take some action.
Talk to your landlord - explain what problems you are facing and they may be understanding and offer you an arrangement to pay what you owe (i.e. change the payment schedule, or wait until you receive your student funding). It's important to keep your landlord updated, as landlords might take further action if they think you are unwilling to pay your rent.
Don't ignore any letters regarding rent arrears as rent arrears are grounds to start legal proceedings to evict you from the property. Landlords can also take you to court to get the money you owe.
Contact us if you need help.
Did you know?
If you are persistently late with your rent, or owe rent to your landlord - and you are unable to reach an agreement with your landlord - they may apply to the court to evict you. What your landlord can do and what the court will decide depends partly on the type of tenancy you have and partly on the reason your landlord is applying to evict you. However, if you owe 8 weeks' or 2 months' rent, the court may make the eviction mandatory.
Your landlord must follow set procedures to evict you, and you do not have to leave the property while these procedures are under way. See this information from the Shelter website on eviction due to rent arrears.
If you are threatened with eviction or the landlord threatens to take you to court, please contact us as soon as possible.
National Debtline can advise you on managing your debts, and Shelter can provide advice if you are at immediate or imminent risk of homelessness.
I'm not happy where I am living, can I move out?
Below is a brief outline of the steps you may be able to take if you wish to try to leave your tenancy early. For more detailed information, please view our guide on leaving your tenancy, above.
If you do not have a break clause in your tenancy agreement, and you want to leave your contract earlier than it allows, you have 3 options:
- Negotiate with your landlord
- Find a replacement tenant (with your landlord's agreement)
- Take the risk and move out; however, you will remain liable for the rent until the end of the contract
Step-by-step guide to leaving your contract early:
1. Check your contract or your housing provider's booking conditions for any cancellation clause or cooling off period (particularly relevant if your contract has not started yet)
2. Check if your contract has a break clause in it
3. Negotiate with your landlord
Your landlord may be sympathetic to your circumstances and it may be possible to negotiate with them to bring your contract to an end. If your landlord does agree, you should get this in writing. If you are a joint tenant, you and your landlord will also need to get the agreement of the other tenants. If your landlord has not met some of their obligations, e.g. protecting your deposit, this may help in negotiating - however, it is best to seek advice on this first. Here are some suggestions that you could use to negotiate:
- Will your landlord accept a one off payment to allow you to leave your contract early?
- Will they accept your deposit as part payment?
- You could provide supporting evidence to back up your case, such as a letter from your tutor or GP.
4. Find a replacement tenant
Landlords do often agree to allow you to move out if you can find a replacement tenant. However, it is your responsibility to find a replacement, and it is important that everything is agreed properly in writing. Some landlords/agents will advertise on your behalf. If you are a joint tenant, you and your landlord will also need to get the agreement of the other tenants. In all cases, a new tenancy agreement should be signed with the replacement tenant (i.e., between them and your former housemates if it is a joint tenancy, or they should sign a new agreement if it was a sole tenancy). To find a replacement, put as many adverts up for the room as you can. You could put them in:
- Post offices
- The Star (local newspaper)
- Shop windows
- Contact the University Accommodation Service to see if they know of any students who are looking to take over a room
- Any relevant web forums, such as:
5. Move out / don't move in
It is very risky if you take this action, as you will be in breach of your contract and you will remain liable to pay your rent until the end of your contract. If you intend on taking this action please seek further advice first!