Tenancy Agreement FAQ - United Kingdom-Northern Ireland

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A residential tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract made between a landlord and tenant. The tenancy agreement gives a tenant the right to exclusive use and enjoyment of the described residential property in exchange for money paid to the landlord. Additionally, the tenancy agreement outlines the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant during the tenancy agreement term. LawDepot provides a written tenancy agreement.

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Contents

General

Why isn't an oral tenancy agreement sufficient?

The problem with oral tenancy agreements is that they can be difficult to enforce. If a dispute arose, a court would have to hear evidence and decide whose version of the truth to accept. If there is a written agreement, courts will generally be obligated to uphold the terms of the written agreement even if they don't agree with them.

What is addressed in a residential tenancy agreement?

A residential tenancy agreement typically addresses the following:

  • the type of property being let;
  • the address of the property being let;
  • the term of the tenancy and whether the tenancy is fixed or periodic;
  • the amount of rent payable, how often and when the rent should be paid; and
  • the provisions of any security/damage deposit.

In addition, a residential tenancy agreement may also identify the following:

  • taxes that are payable by the tenant;
  • landlord improvements and signing incentives;
  • tenant improvements and signing incentives;
  • landlord and tenant repairing obligations;
  • who will pay for what utilities;
  • whether the tenant can assign or sublet the property;
  • notice provisions for termination of the tenancy; and
  • insurance provisions.

What makes a residential tenancy agreement different from a commercial tenancy agreement?

A residential tenancy agreement is a tenancy agreement for your home. Governments have recognised the sanctity of the home and have extended increased protections to tenants by enacting laws that provide a minimum set of rights for tenants. Tenants cannot contract out of the rights contained in these laws.


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Controlled and Uncontrolled Tenancies

What is a "controlled tenancy"?

Having a "controlled tenancy" means that the rent is fixed by government, the tenant can generally remain in the property for their lifetime and can ‘pass on’ the tenancy to their immediate family.

There are 3 types of controlled tenancies: restricted, regulated and protected shorthold.

Restricted

Restricted tenancies refer to properties generally in a poor state of repair with Net Annual Value (the "NAV") less than £60 and rent frozen at the 1978 level (usually less than £1.00 per week excluding rates). Landlords have few obligations to repair the property unless there is a tenancy agreement stating otherwise.

Regulated

Regulated tenancies are usually in better condition and normally have a rateable value of £60 or over. If a property has been registered with the Department of the Environment, a higher rent can be charged, although this is also strictly controlled. If the property has not been registered, only a restricted rent can be charged. You can check if a property has been registered by contacting the Department of the Environment, Rent Registration Branch, Clarence Court, Adelaide Street, Belfast Tel: (01232) 540540.

Protected Shorthold

Protected Shorthold tenancies refer to controlled tenancies where the initial term is limited to between 1 and 5 years. The landlord must register the rent with the Housing Executive within 28 days of the tenancy starting. The tenant may be obliged to pay the annual rates on his/her tenancy. The tenant can ask an independent rent assessment committee to reassess his/her rent in certain circumstances, for example, if the tenancy is in poor repair or if the tenant carried out significant repairs or improvements.

What is an "uncontrolled tenancy"?

Uncontrolled tenancies refer to properties built or converted after 1956, or which have an NAV over £140 or which were not previously let. You will probably have an uncontrolled tenancy if:

  • your accommodation was built or converted into self-contained dwellings after 1956
  • your accommodation was vacant or owner-occupied in 1978
  • your accommodation is a new fully furnished letting which had an NAV of £60 or over in 1978
  • your accommodation was let to a new tenant after 1978 and had an NAV of over £140.
  • Rent, repairing obligations and security of tenure are a matter between landlord and tenant to be specified in the tenancy agreement in an uncontrolled tenancy. Most properties in Northern Ireland are uncontrolled tenancies.

What rights are common to all private tenants?

All private tenants have certain basic legal rights which cannot be contracted out. These are:

  • the right to a rent book giving full details of the tenancy, including the name and address of both landlord and agent, and the amount of rent, rates and any other charges payable;
  • the right to claim Housing Benefit;
  • the right to four weeks Notice to Quit (unless the tenant has a ‘fixed term’ tenancy) before court action to evict commences; and
  • the right to freedom from harassment and illegal eviction (the tenant’s local district council Environmental Health Department can investigate and prosecute on the tenant’s behalf).


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The Parties

Who are the parties to the tenancy agreement?

The parties to a tenancy agreement are the landlord and the tenant. The landlord owns the property and allows the tenant to use the property in exchange for monetary payments called rent.

What is a "resident landlord"?

In general, resident landlords are landlords whose only or main home is in the same building as the house or rooms which the tenant is renting.

What are the landlord's obligations?

The landlord's obligations are defined by the terms and conditions contained in the tenancy agreement and the laws specific to where the property is located. The most important obligation the landlord has is to allow the tenant peaceful enjoyment of the property.

What are the tenant's obligations?

The tenant's obligations are defined by this tenancy agreement and the laws specific to where the property is located. The most important obligations of the tenant are to pay rent on time and to not cause damage to the premises.

What happens if I breach a term of the tenancy agreement?

If you breach a term of the tenancy agreement you are responsible for correcting it. If you are the tenant, this may involve you paying money to fix any problems caused by yourself or your guests. If you do not voluntarily pay to correct the breach you can be sued for damages sustained as a result of the breach or even possibly evicted by the landlord.

What is a guarantor or surety?

A guarantor or surety is a person who agrees to pay any losses directly to the landlord should the tenant be unable to pay the rent, or otherwise breach the tenancy agreement.


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The Premises

Is the property an HMO?

If the property is shared by three or more tenants who are not members of the same family, then the property may be classified as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). If you are a landlord, you may have to register your dwelling in accordance with the Statutory Registration Scheme for Houses in Multiple Occupation. You must also ensure that the dwelling complies with those standards set out by the Housing Executive. If you are not registered or if you have any concerns please contact a local solicitor.

Note: Family members include partners, same sex partners, parents, grandparents, children, stepchildren, foster children and adopted children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces.

Who can live in the premises?

Only tenants and people listed as occupants may reside in the premises. The parties must agree to change the people listed as occupants or tenants. Children born or adopted while the tenant lives in the premises are automatically added to the tenancy agreement as occupants. Also, there may be laws which restrict the number of tenants/occupants in the premises if that number violates local health or safety standards for housing. Health and safety standards are typically expressed as 1 person per X square feet. The standard varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction so if you are concerned, check with your local housing authority.


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Tenancy Agreement Term

Which tenancy agreement term should I use?

LawDepot allows you to choose from several different types of tenancy agreement terms.

Fixed End Date

A tenancy agreement with a fixed end date gives certainty of term for both the landlord and the tenant. It specifies the exact day the tenancy will end. The advantage here is that neither party has to give notice to terminate the tenancy agreement; it simply ends on the specified date. In a fixed end date tenancy agreement the landlord cannot increase the rent, or change any other terms of the tenancy agreement unless he specifically reserves the right in the agreement and the tenant agrees to the changes. If the tenant remains past the specified date the landlord can either accept rental payments and have the tenancy agreement continue as a month-to-month tenancy with the same rules as the expired fixed end date tenancy agreement, sign a new tenancy agreement, or start eviction proceedings against the tenant.

Fixed Number of Weeks/Months/Years

A tenancy agreement for a fixed number of weeks/months/years gives a start date for the tenancy agreement and the number of weeks/months/years that the tenancy agreement will run. (for example, the tenancy agreement could start on 1 September 2005 and then continue for a period of 18 weeks/months/years). The advantage here is that neither party has to give notice to terminate the tenancy agreement; it simply ends on the specified number of weeks/months/years. In a fixed term tenancy agreement, the landlord cannot increase the rent or change any other terms of the tenancy agreement unless he specifically reserves the right in the agreement, and the tenant agrees to the changes. At the end of the 18 weeks/months/years, the landlord can either accept rental payments and have the tenancy agreement continue as a weekly/monthly/yearly tenancy with the same rules as the expired fixed end date tenancy agreement, sign a new tenancy agreement, or start eviction proceedings against the tenant.

Periodic

A weekly/monthly/yearly tenancy agreement with automatic renewal (a periodic tenancy) will continue so long as neither party wishes to terminate the tenancy agreement. To terminate the tenancy agreement the landlord and tenant must give notice of their intention to leave as specified by statute. A landlord can raise the rent, or change the terms of the tenancy agreement in these types of agreements by providing proper notice as required by statute. At the end of the notice period the tenant must move out or the landlord can start eviction proceedings against them.


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Notice

How much notice do I need to give to terminate a tenancy?

Usually, under a fixed term tenancy, neither a landlord nor a tenant can give notice to terminate until the term has expired (unless one of the parties has made a substantive breach of the agreement). For periodic tenancies, there is a legal minimum notice required by most jurisdictions. The tenancy agreement can specify a period longer than the legal minimum. The tenancy agreement cannot specify a period shorter than the legal minimum. If it does, the legal minimum notice will be implied into the tenancy agreement.

What is notice to enter?

A landlord does not have the right to enter the let premises unless there is an emergency, for example a fire or gas leak, or he/she gives the tenant proper notice as defined by statute. So long as the proper notice is given, a tenant cannot refuse entry to a landlord.


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Security Deposit

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is a sum of money the tenant pays to the landlord to guarantee that the tenant will fulfill all obligations under the tenancy agreement. The landlord holds the security deposit for the term of the tenancy agreement to ensure that the tenant does not default on the terms of the tenancy agreement or otherwise damage the property. Should the tenant damage the property (normal “wear and tear” excluded) or if the tenant has not paid rent, the landlord is entitled to recoup the debt from the security deposit. Usually the tenant must provide the landlord with the security deposit at the start of the tenancy agreement. At the end of the term, the tenant will receive the deposit back minus any deductions for repairs/restoration.

How much can the security deposit be?

This is governed by statute and may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. The amount that can be charged is typically not more than the amount of two months rent for an unfurnished property, or up to three months rent for a furnished property.

When can the landlord deduct from the security deposit?

The landlord can deduct from the security deposit when the tenancy ends and the tenant owes the landlord money for either unpaid rent or damage to the premises. The landlord cannot deduct for reasonable wear and tear on the premises (i.e. wear and tear that occurs just from living in the premises). The landlord can deduct for stains on the carpet or countertops, large holes in the wall, and missing appliances and other such things that are beyond reasonable wear and tear.

What is an inspection report?

Prior to moving in the tenant and the landlord should walk through the premises and write down any existing damage. This written account is called an inspection report. The landlord and tenant should both get a copy of this report.

Why do I need an inspection report?

An inspection report will help prove what damage was or was not caused by the tenant for the purpose of deducting any damages from the security deposit.


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Repairs

What repairs is the landlord responsible for?

Under common law, the landlord is responsible for keeping the property wind and water tight and in good tenantable condition.

Additionally, the landlord is by law responsible for:

  • keeping in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling including, drains, gutters and external pipes;
  • keeping in repair and proper working order the basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary installations, installations for supplying water, gas or electricity, and installations for heating water and space heating; and
  • maintaining equipment which does not lie in the tenant's house but provides a service to that home, for example, a common heating boiler or water tank.

These obligations can be varied only with permission of the sheriff, and with the consent of both the landlord and tenant.

What repairs is the tenant responsible for?

Under common law, the tenant has a duty to use the property in a proper manner. The tenant must take proper care of the property (e.g. the tenant should turn off the water if there is a risk of pipes bursting and must unstop the sink when it is blocked by waste). Moreover, the tenant must not damage the property and must ensure that the tenant's family and guests do not do so either. If they do, the tenant is responsible for repairing the damage.

Over and above this, the tenant is responsible for repairs only if the tenancy agreement says so. The tenant cannot be made to do repairs that the landlord is legally responsible for.


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Miscellaneous

Why do tenants need insurance; doesn't the landlord already have it?

While the landlord typically has insurance, it only covers his/her property and liabilities. If the tenant wants coverage for his/her personal belongings or negligence, the tenant will need renter's insurance. The tenant should discuss what type of insurance he/she wants with an insurance agent.

What is an assignment and how does it differ from a subletting?

Assignments and sublettings both occur when the tenant gives his/her rights under the tenancy agreement to a third party. The landlord typically cannot block an assignment or subletting without a valid reason. An assignment occurs when the tenant gives to a third party all of his/her remaining rights under a tenancy agreement for the entire term of the tenancy agreement. The original tenant no longer has any rights in or claims to the property. If a tenant assigns property, he can no longer be sued by the landlord, and cannot sue the landlord as all his/her rights are transferred to the third party. In a subletting the tenant can transfer a portion of the let space (e.g. a room in a house) or a portion of the tenancy (e.g. for 5 of the remaining 6 months of the tenancy agreement) to a third party. The original tenant retains his/her rights in the property. The original tenant can still sue and be sued by the landlord for tenancy agreement violations.

What are signing incentives?

Signing incentives are bonuses the landlord gives to the tenant, typically for either signing a tenancy agreement or signing a fixed term tenancy agreement. They may include free month's rent or a rent decrease for the months of the fixed term tenancy. If the tenant breaches the tenancy agreement he/she typically has to pay back these incentives.

Rent Books

What information should be supplied in a rent book?

The Rent Book must contain the following:

  • the name and address of the tenancy;
  • the name of the tenant;
  • the name and address of the landlord and the agent (if any);
  • the rent and rates payable and the period to which these apply;
  • the amount and purpose of any other payments required; and
  • general information in relation to other terms and conditions of the tenancy, including entitlement to claim Housing Benefit.

LawDepot’s tenancy agreement automatically provides a rent book.

Do all private landlords have to provide rent books to their tenants?

Yes, private landlords must provide a rent book for their tenants free of charge. Tenants are obliged to make this rent book available to their landlord or agent for regular updating. The rent book provided must correspond to the type of tenancy.


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