When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Will you be a tenant or a licensee?

You need to know whether you are going to be a tenant who will be protected in law or a licensee who has very few rights in law. It's important that you understand your legal status in your new home.


    You will usually be a tenant if:

    • you have a right to live in a room or a house, and
    • you pay rent to your landlord, and
    • your landlord has to notify you in advance if they want to enter your room or home.

    The law says that you are a tenant if you have "exclusive occupation" of some sort of area and you regularly pay rent. Rent doesn't have to be money, but can include other types of arrangements. Some types of occupation arrangement will never be a tenancy, such as people staying in holiday accommodation.


    Some landlords rent the whole property to one person, and that person is then allowed to rent each of the rooms out to other people. A subtenant is a person who has agreed to rent the property from the tenant. The subtenant's "landlord" is the person who rented the room to them. As long as the original tenant is still in the property, subtenants are treated as full legal tenants. 

    Sometimes a landlord doesn't know that their tenant has sublet rooms to other people. In this case, the subtenant is still a lawful tenant, but the landlord may be able to evict the original tenant for breaching the contract by subletting without permission. Once the original tenant has gone, the "subtenants" are no longer regarded as licensees. The landlord could give them proper tenancies or could take steps to evict them. 

    Speak to our advisers if you've ended up with this sort of arrangement. 


    A licensee is someone who has a license to occupy a room or home. They aren't protected by the laws that protect tenants, but they may have a contract which gives them extra rights. Often the landlord can move the licensee into another room or property and the landlord won't need permission to enter the licensee's space.

    It can be difficult to work out if you are a licensee or a tenant. You may be a licensee if:

    Sometimes an agreement might say that someone is a licensee, but the facts say that they are a tenant. Your landlord can't reduce your rights by saying you only have a license, if the reality of the situation is that you are a tenant.

    Rent issues for licensees

    You pay the rent you agreed with your landlord when you moved in. If you don't pay the rent your landlord can evict you. Licensees can get help to pay their housing costs by applying for Housing Benefit or Universal Credit. 

    Repairs issues for licensees

    If your accommodation needs repairs tell your landlord immediately. If the repairs are your landlord's responsibility, there may be ways you can force your landlord to carry out the work, but you should be aware that as a licensee you have very few rights to remain in a property if the landlord wants you out.

    Limited protection from eviction if you're a licensee

    Licensees have very little protection from eviction. Your landlord doesn't need to give you 28 days' notice to quit if you are a licensee. Your landlord usually only has to give you reasonable time to leave the property. This can be as little as a couple of hours or as long as a few weeks depending on your circumstances. If you don't leave the property, your landlord will have to get a court order. However, the court hearing is a formality and you could be held responsible for the costs of this legal action.

    Check your agreement with your landlord if you have one. Your landlord will have to give you the amount of notice stated in this agreement. If there is no time limit mentioned then you are only entitled to a reasonable time to leave the property. 

    Get advice from Housing Rights or another advice agency if your landlord is trying to force you out of your home without serving notice or without having been to court.

    Advice on occupation rights

    The laws about different types of tenancy are very complicated. Contact an advice agency if you are still unsure about what type of tenancy you have, or have been offered. You may have more rights than you think.