When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Your tenancy agreement

Once you agree to take on a tenancy, you need to get your paperwork sorted out. In most private rental agreements your landlord will provide you with a tenancy agreement. It’s important that you read this carefully before signing it. Find out if you will need to provide a guarantor or references and if there are any charges associated with applying for this property. Be careful about paying excessive charges, as these may not be legal.

What is a tenancy agreement?

When you agree to take on a tenancy you will normally be asked to sign a tenancy agreement. Although the law says that your landlord must give you a rent book, your landlord will only have a legal responsibility to provide you with a written contract if the tenancy is for a period longer than one year. Some landlords may offer you a verbal tenancy agreement, but it’s always best to have something in writing. 

If your tenancy is for a year and a day or longer your tenancy agreement must be in writing.  You should read this agreement very carefully; it is a legally binding contract between yourself and your new landlord. Your tenancy agreement outlines the terms and conditions that apply to you living in your new home.  If you break this agreement, your landlord can ask you to leave the tenancy.

Agreeing the terms of a tenancy agreement

Before you move into private accommodation discuss the terms of the tenancy with your landlord or estate agent.  While some of the terms may not be negotiable, you should be familiar with all the terms and conditions in a tenancy agreement before signing it.

You need to agree:

  • the amount of rent payable
  • when rent is due
  • what expenses the deposit can be used to cover
  • how to pay rates if you are legally liable
  • the length of the tenancy
  • if you can leave before the end of the tenancy
  • if furniture will be provided
  • if you are responsible for internal decoration and, if so, to what extent
  • who is responsible for external and structural repairs
  • if you can sublet
  • if you can take in lodgers
  • if you can keep pets
  • if you can smoke in the property.

In many cases a landlord may have a solicitor draw up the tenancy agreement.  This could mean that the tenancy agreement is written in complex language.  If this is the case, ask your landlord to provide a tenancy agreement written in plain English. Remember; never sign anything which you do not understand.

If you are moving in to a property with a group of friends, you should carefully check what the tenancy agreement says about rent liability.  It the agreement states that you are jointly and severally liable for rent, this means that if one of the tenants moves out the landlord can choose to either pursue that tenant for any rent arrears or insist that the remaining tenants make up the entire rental payment between them. This will also be the case for any guarantors signing up to the agreement, who may find themselves liable for the entire household’s rent arrears.

Things to look out for

Moving into a new home is a stressful and exciting experience.  It can be easy to overlook things that might turn out to be very important a couple of months down the line.  You should read the agreement carefully in case it contains any unusual terms.  Some of the more unusual terms that might be contained in your tenancy agreement are:

  • Viewing arrangements if the landlord wants to sell the property or let the property to someone else once your contract is at an end
  • Decorating arrangements, requiring you to redecorate the interior before moving out
  • Any arrangements allowing the landlord to renegotiate the contract after issuing notice
  • A break clause allowing either the landlord, or the tenant to terminate the tenancy after issuing notice
  • A statement allowing your landlord to charge you a late fee if your rent is not paid on time.

Unfair terms in a tenancy agreement

Your tenancy agreement cannot take away your basic rights.  Any terms in the tenancy agreement that attempt to do this could be seen as unfair. All terms in your tenancy agreement must be written in plain language, prominent and fair.  Schedule 2 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015 gives examples of the types of terms which might be considered unfair.  A contract term could be considered unfair if it

  • allows the landlord to charge an excessive late fee for non payment of rent
  • requires you to pay any fees that the landlord is liable for in carrying out his business as a landlord (e.g. HMO registration fees, or fees for a Fitness Inspection)
  • allows the landlord complete freedom in deciding whether you have breached the tenancy agreement
  • requires you to pay for repairs that are the landlord’s responsibility
  • allows the landlord freedom to enter the property without giving you reasonable notice
  • requires you to hand the property back to the landlord in a better condition than you received it.

If your landlord tries to enforce a term in the tenancy agreement, which you feel is unfair you should contact Trading Standards for assistance.

Will you need a guarantor?

Many landlords will ask you to provide a guarantor before agreeing to rent a property to you, especially if you are a student or you are not working.  It’s important to remember that your guarantor will be liable for any rent you owe to the landlord as well as any damage that you may cause to the property, where repairs will cost more than your security deposit.  The landlord is entitled to pursue your guarantor through the Small Claims Court if you leave the tenancy with any outstanding debts.

When you ask someone to be your guarantor, you should make sure they understand what they are agreeing to.  It’s a good idea to provide your guarantor with a copy of your tenancy agreement, so they can fully understand their potential liabilities.  Check if your guarantor is also jointly and severally liable.  If this is the case, your guarantor may be sued for damage caused by one of your flatmates.

The agreement that your guarantor signs should state what circumstances they may be asked to provide restitution to the landlord and should clearly state the period for which the guarantor is liable.

Application and credit check fees

When you apply for a property, some landlords or estate agents may require you to pay an “application fee”.  Any fee that you pay should not be greater than the cost incurred to the landlord or agent.  For example, if an estate agent requires a credit check company to process all new applications, it should not charge applicants any more than the cost of the credit check and any directly associated administration costs.  The agent or landlord should not profit from these charges. If you pay a fee, make sure that you get a receipt and keep this safe.  You should also ask for a written explanation of what the fee is for and in what circumstances it will be refunded. 

Agents cannot charge you a fee simply for adding you to a client list or accommodation list.