What should you look for before signing your tenancy agreement?

What should you look for before signing your tenancy agreement?

A tenancy agreement is a contract between a renter and their landlord which defines responsibilities for both parties in a legally binding written document. Tenancy agreements also stipulate details of what either party can do if the other breaks any of the terms outlined in the document.

Tenancy agreements are one of the most important parts of renting a home. So, before you sign on the dotted line make sure you read our advice about what should be included in your agreement.

The first and most important step is to fully read and understand your tenancy agreement before signing it and ask your landlord for clarification if there are any points you are unsure about.

 

Types of tenancy agreements

What should you look for before signing your tenancy agreement?

Most of the private rented sector utilises Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreements.

Your AST should include, at the very minimum:

  • The names and contact details of the landlord and renter(s)
  • The property address
  • The amount of rent to be paid, when, and how often it will be collected and if it includes council tax, utilities, and any other services
  • The total deposit to be paid and how that money will be protected if opting for an upfront deposit, or the terms and conditions of a deposit replacement scheme
  • How long the tenancy will last for, and any break clause
  • The rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and renter(s)
  • Assignment and sub-letting rules
  • The criteria for ending the tenancy

ASTs are very common, but there are other types of tenancy such as:

  • Excluded tenancies or ‘licences’ – these are often in place for lodgers and offer less protection from eviction
  • Assured tenancies – these older tenancies provide increased protection from eviction these are older tenancies but also apply to tenancies fixed for more than 3 years
  • Regulated tenancies commonly referred to as ‘protected tenancies’ – these older tenancies offer increased protection from eviction and can apply for fair rent to be set by the Rent Officer
  • Periodic tenancies – otherwise known as rolling contracts, these typically roll on a monthly basis. When an AST expires the tenancy does not terminate, it automatically becomes a statutory periodic tenancy if the tenancy agreement is silent, however if there is a clause in the original fixed term agreement stating that the tenancy will become periodic on expiry of the fixed term, this will create a ‘contractual periodic tenancy’

Who pays the bills?

Some rental properties come with bills included, but in most cases your tenancy agreement will require you to agree to pay household bills and sometimes to even set up your own accounts to pay for utilities.

What should you look for before signing your tenancy agreement?Some household bills you could be responsible for include:

  • Water
  • Broadband
  • TV licence
  • Gas and electricity

Make sure you read your tenancy agreement carefully to establish which bills you are responsible for paying and which are included in your monthly rent payment.

If you are setting up broadband, water or gas and electricity accounts yourself, why not switch provider, negotiate, and try to find a cheaper tariff? For more tips on saving the pennies during the pandemic, read Ome’s ‘Money saving guide to real-world renting: Coronavirus edition.’

 

Who is responsible for maintenance and repairs?

The rights and responsibilities of both landlord and tenant should be clearly stated in the tenancy agreement.

It can often be the case that both landlords and tenants are unsure about their responsibilities when it comes to home repairs. Check out the Hamilton Fraser guide To landlords’ and tenants’ property repair responsibilities, which discusses the legal repairing responsibilities of both parties, in order to avoid disputes and resolve issues quickly and efficiently.

Generally speaking:

  • Your landlord is responsible for making sure the property is safe and inhabitable
  • You are responsible for general maintenance i.e. keeping the property clean and tidy as per the tenancy agreement, and for paying for damage to the property if it is incurred by you

The cold weather is well and truly here, and winter can throw many logistical challenges at renters. So, if you are worried about looking after your rented home this winter, check out the Hamilton Fraser guide, Top maintenance tips for tenants this winter and for general guidance on how to look after your rented property download the Hamilton Fraser advice sheet, here.

Having a good relationship with your landlord from the outset will help you to navigate the ground and resolve any issues that may arise. If you need pointers on how to build a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with your landlord, read the Ome guide How to build a positive relationship with your landlord.

It is key for your relationship with your landlord that you have fully read, understand and complied with the terms of your tenancy agreement since day one. This will promote a healthy level of understanding and respect between tenant and landlord and stand your relationship in good stead for the tenancy.

 

How much is the rent?

By signing your tenancy agreement, you are committing to paying the amount of rent stated. Find out when payments are due and how to make payments in the tenancy agreement.

 

Other essential details to look for when reviewing a tenancy agreement include:

What should you look for before signing your tenancy agreement?

  • The start and end date of the tenancy are all important for both the landlord and the tenant
  • How often the cost of rent may be reviewed
  • The deposit amount and how this will be protected, such as through mydeposits or a Deposit Replacement Scheme like Ome
  • Specific details of the circumstances that would lead to the deposit being withheld
  • The address of the property
  • Whether it is possible for the tenancy to end early and the circumstances that can lead to this
  • Any special clauses relating to behaviour that might result in the tenancy ending, for example repeated noise complaints
  • A commitment to providing 24 hours’ written notice to tenants before property inspections
  • Whether the property can be sublet or have lodgers
  • Whether smoking is permitted
  • Whether pets are permitted
  • Who is responsible for garden maintenance?

More information on what should be included in a tenancy agreement is available on GOV.UK.

What happens when my AST comes to an end?

It can be tricky for landlords and agents to know what their tenants are thinking, when they want to leave the property, and what arrangements to make to avoid having an empty property and therefore reduced income.

Therefore, it is polite to notify your landlord/ agent if you will be moving out at the end of the tenancy, when the date is still a few months away so that they can prepare for new tenants. Of course, if you have cultivated a positive relationship with your landlord you will be in frequent dialogue with them and they will be aware of your plans.

We encourage tenants to let their landlord, or agent, know what their intentions are a month or two months before the contract is due to end, so everyone is kept in the loop and arrangements can be made.

On the day that an AST contract expires, tenants should move out of the property by midnight to avoid the tenancy automatically becoming a periodic or rolling tenancy, which would require them to continue to pay rent on a rolling basis.

 

Summary

In conclusion, the importance of understanding and abiding by your tenancy agreement cannot be understated. It is fundamental in order to facilitate a smooth tenancy with no hidden surprises and accidentally incurred costs.

By carefully reading and understanding your tenancy agreement you are preparing yourself as best you can for living in your new property and equipping yourself with all the relevant information to be the best tenant you can and avoid any issues.

In cases where the tenancy agreement has not been sufficiently understood, issues with rights and responsibilities can arise later in the tenancy. For example, a renter might fail to read their tenancy agreement fully and they may not realise that they are responsible for maintaining the garden area. Then, at the end of the tenancy could be stuck with a hefty gardeners’ bill.

Coronavirus may have impacted your renting or moving experience, so make sure to abide by government advice and your tenancy agreement, and for tips and advice on staying safe as a renter during the pandemic, read the Ome guide here.

Ome is a Deposit Replacement Scheme and part of the Hamilton Fraser family. Ome offers renters an alternative to traditional upfront deposits, with the option to chose small monthly payments instead.