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Understanding your tenancy agreement

This advice applies to Wales. See advice for See advice for England, See advice for Northern Ireland, See advice for Scotland

The tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. It may be written or verbal. The tenancy agreement gives certain rights to both you and your landlord. For example, your right to occupy the accommodation and your landlord’s right to receive rent for letting the accommodation.

You and your landlord may have made arrangements about the tenancy, and these will be part of the tenancy agreement as long as they do not conflict with law. Both you and your landlord have rights and responsibilities given by law. The tenancy agreement can give both you and your landlord more than your statutory rights, but can't give you less than your statutory rights. If a term in the tenancy agreement gives either you or your landlord less than your statutory rights, that term cannot be enforced.

A tenancy agreement can be made up of: 

  • express terms - these include what is in the written tenancy agreement (if there is one), in the rent book, and what was agreed verbally

  • implied terms - these are rights given by law or arrangements established by custom and practice, they don’t need to be written in your tenancy agreement

Express terms of tenancy agreements

Written tenancy agreements

Most tenants do not have a right in law to a written tenancy agreement. However, social housing landlords such as local authorities and housing associations will normally give you a written tenancy agreement.

If you are visually impaired, the tenancy agreement must be written in a format you can use - for example, in large print or Braille. You can find samples of written tenancy agreements online. Find out more about asking your landlord to make changes to help with your disability.

Your agreement might say you have a certain type of tenancy - but the type of tenancy you actually have might be different.

The tenancy you have depends on the facts of your situation, not what your agreement says. For example, if you pay rent to a private landlord who doesn’t live with you and you’ve agreed a 6 month tenancy, you’re likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy. This will be the case even if your agreement says something else. You can check what type of tenancy you have.

The tenancy agreement should be signed by all tenants and your landlord. If there are joint tenants, each tenant should receive a copy of the agreement.

It’s good practice for a written tenancy agreement to include the following details:

  • your name and your landlord’s name and the address of the property which is being let

  • the date the tenancy began

  • details of whether other people are allowed the use of the property and, if so, which rooms

  • the duration of the tenancy - if it’s a fixed term tenancy, this means the date when the fixed term ends

  • the amount of rent payable, how often and when it should be paid and how often and when it can be increased

  • what the rent includes - for example, council tax or fuel

  • whether your landlord will provide any services - for example, laundry, maintenance of common parts or meals and whether there are service charges for these

  • the notice period you and your landlord need to give to end the tenancy - there are statutory rules about how much notice to give and this will depend on the type of tenancy and why it's ending

The agreement may also contain details of your landlord’s obligations to repair the property. Your landlord’s obligations to repair will depend on the type of tenancy. Check your tenancy agreement - it might give you more rights than your basic rights under the law.

For more information on your landlord’s obligations to repair, see our advice on getting repairs done if you're renting.

If you are experiencing problems with repairs you can talk to an adviser

Verbal tenancy agreements

A tenancy agreement exists even if there is only a verbal agreement between you and your landlord. For example, you and your landlord may have agreed at the start of the tenancy:

  • how much the rent would be and when it's payable

  • whether the rent includes utilities

  • whether there are any restrictions on other people living in the accommodation with you

It’s harder to prove what was agreed if it isn’t in writing. This is because there’s often no proof of what has been agreed, or a particular problem may have arisen which the agreement did not cover. You might also be able to prove what was agreed in other ways - for example, with emails or text messages.

If you’re thinking of disputing or are trying to enforce a verbal agreement with your tenant or landlord, you can talk to an adviser.

Implied terms of tenancy agreements

There are obligations you and your landlord have which may not be set down in the agreement but which are given by law and are implied into all tenancy agreements. These terms form part of the contract, even though they haven't been specifically agreed between your landlord and you.

Some of the most common implied terms are:

  • your landlord must carry out basic repairs - for example, repairs on the structure of the property, and keeping the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating and heating water in working order

  • you have the right to live peacefully in the accommodation without nuisance from your landlord

  • you have an obligation to use your home in a 'tenant-like' way - for example, by not causing damage and by using any fixtures and fittings properly

  • you have an obligation to provide access for any repair work that needs to be done

Rights given by law will vary according to the type of tenancy.

What information and documents must the tenant receive

Your landlord can only charge you rent if they’ve given you their name and address - it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a written tenancy agreement.

Your landlord has to give you an address that’s in England or Wales - if their main address is in another country, they should give you a second address that’s in England or Wales.

You’ll need to use your landlord’s address in England or Wales when you send any official paperwork or formal letters, including your notice if you want to end the tenancy.

If you don't pay your rent while waiting to get your landlord’s contact details, you'll still need to pay the backdated rent when you get them.

If you don’t have your landlord’s details, you can make a written request to the person who receives the rent for the full name and address of your landlord. They must supply you with this information in writing within 21 days - if they don’t do this they’re committing an offence and the council can take them to court.

Before or at the start of your tenancy, your landlord must also give you:

  • a gas safety certificate

  • an energy performance certificate - unless you live in some types of shared home

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy

If the tenancy was created on or after 28 February 1997, your landlord must provide basic written terms of the agreement within 28 days of you requesting this in writing. The council can take them to court if they don’t do this.

If you’ve paid a deposit, your landlord should give you some information about it within 30 days. They have to include how much deposit you’ve paid and details about how it’s protected, including a leaflet about the protection scheme.

They also have to explain:

  • any reasons why they would keep some or all of your deposit

  • how you can apply to get your deposit back when your tenancy ends

  • what you can do if there’s a problem with your deposit

You can check if your landlord has to protect your deposit, including what happens if they haven’t protected your deposit when they should have.

If you have a weekly tenancy

Your landlord must provide a rent book or similar document - your landlord commits a criminal offence if they don’t.

If your landlord changes

Your new landlord must give you their name and address in writing when they take over the property. The date they have to give you their address by depends on how often you pay rent.

If you pay your rent either monthly or every 2 months, your new landlord must give you their address within 2 months of taking over the property.

If you pay rent less often, like every 3 months, your new landlord must give you their name and address either:

  • within 2 months

  • before your next payment is due - if your next payment is more than 2 months away

If your new landlord doesn’t give you their new address when they should, the council can take them to court.

Sham tenancy agreements

The rights laid down by law always override those which are stated in a written or oral agreement. An agreement which suggests that you or your landlord have less rights than those given by common law or statute is a sham tenancy agreement.

What an agreement states and what the tenancy actually is may be different. For example, your landlord may claim that the agreement is not a tenancy agreement but a ‘licence to occupy’.

You may also have signed an agreement stating that the property was granted under a licence to occupy. This is not enough to make the agreement a licence.

Paying fees to a landlord

If you’re an assured shorthold tenant who agreed or renewed your tenancy on or after 1 September 2019, your tenancy agreement can only include charges for:

  • rent

  • bills for utilities, phone, broadband and TV

  • a tenancy deposit

  • a holding deposit 

  • council tax

  • a TV licence

  • breaking the terms of your tenancy agreement - as long as the fee is described in the tenancy agreement

  • paying your rent late if it’s at least 7 days overdue

  • replacing a key, lock or other security device

If your landlord includes any other fees, it might be illegal. Ask your landlord to return the illegal fees. If they don't you can report your landlord to your local council or report your landlord to Rent Smart Wales. If your landlord still won't return the illegal fees you can make a small claim in the courts for an order that says the landlord must pay the money back.  

There are rules about how much a landlord can charge for a holding deposit - find out how much it costs to rent

Changing the tenancy agreement

A tenancy agreement can normally only be changed if both you and your landlord agree. If you both agree, the change should be recorded in writing, either by drawing up a new written document setting out the terms of the tenancy or by amending the existing written tenancy agreement.

Your landlord can’t charge a fee for changing your tenancy agreement if you agreed your original tenancy after 1 September 2019.

If your landlord charges you, you can ask for the money back, report them to your local council or report them to Rent Smart Wales.

If they don’t give the money back, you might be able to take further action - talk to an adviser.

A verbal agreement can also be changed. The change will usually be verbal too. In the case of a dispute, evidence of the change can be provided if:

  • they have written proof of the change - for example, an email or text message

  • there were witnesses to the new agreement

  • both parties have acted on the change - for example, by paying and accepting a new rent

If you’re disabled, your landlord might have to change the tenancy agreement if a term of the agreement means you’d be worse off than someone without your disability.

Find out more about asking your landlord for changes to help with your disability

Ending a tenancy agreement

Your, or your landlord’s, right to end a tenancy agreement and your right to stay and be protected from eviction will depend on the type of tenancy you have.

If you live in private sector housing

You can read more about eviction if you live in private sector housing.

You can find out how to end your tenancy if you rent from a private landlord.

If you live in social housing

You can check what to do if you live in social housing and have been sent an eviction notice.

If you rent from a housing authority or council and want to end your tenancy, talk to an adviser.

Is the tenancy agreement ‘unfair’

The tenancy agreement is a form of consumer contract and as such it must be in plain language which is clear and easy to understand. It must not contain any terms which could be ‘unfair’.

This means, for example, that the tenancy agreement must not put either you or your landlord in a disadvantageous position, enable one party to change terms unilaterally without a valid reason or irrevocably bind you to terms with which you have had no time to become familiar. An unfair term is not valid in law and can't be enforced.

If you think your tenancy agreement may contain unfair terms you can talk to an adviser.

Discrimination in tenancy agreements

Your landlord must not discriminate against you because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation. These are called ‘protected characteristics’.

This means they might be breaking the law if they:

  • rent a property to you on worse terms than other tenants

  • treat you differently from other tenants in the way you are allowed to use facilities such as a laundry or a garden

  • evict or harass you because of a protected characteristic

  • refuse to make reasonable changes to a term in the tenancy agreement which would allow a disabled person to live there.

If your landlord has broken the law, you might be able to take action against them - check if your problem is discrimination.

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Page last reviewed on 26 March 2021