When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Lodgers, licensees and sub-tenants

Not everyone who pays rent for a room or a property is a tenant.  Some only have a license to remain in that property and are “licensees”. 

Tenant or licensee

You are a tenant if

  • you are the only person with a right to enter the room or property you are renting and can prevent others from entering it; and
  • you are required to pay rent for your room or property; and
  • you have a right to remain in the property for a set period of time, e.g. you are required to pay your rent at regular intervals.

Lodgers, licensees and subtenants won’t have the same amount of legal protection as a full tenant. You will normally fall into this category if you live

  • with your landlord
  • with family
  • in Halls of Residence
  • in a hostel
  • in housing that was provided as part of your job

Lodgers, licensees and subtenants are all slightly different from each other. Speak to one of our advisers if you’re not sure whether you’re a tenant or a licensee.

Licensees and lodgers

People who live in managed student accommodation, specialist foyers for young people and hostels will usually be licensees. 

A lodger is normally a person living in a room in the landlord’s home. However, "lodger" is not a legal term.  If you're lodging in your landlord's home, you'll need to figure out if your agreement to live there is a "licence agreement" or a "tenancy agreement".  

If your landlord has a right to enter your room from time to time, provides cleaning, cooking or other services and shares some common facilities with you, you're probably a licensee.  If you have a lock on your bedroom door or if  your landlord needs permission to enter the parts of the property that you rent, you are probably a tenant. 


You will be a sub-tenant if you have an agreement to rent a room or property from another tenant.  The original tenant needs to have the landlord’s permission to let the property to a sub-tenant.  Your landlord will be the actual tenant, rather than the owner of the building.  

Sub-tenants are usually tenants, rather than licensees.  As long as the landlord allowed the main tenant to create a sub-tenancy, the subtenant will have the same rights as the main tenant.  However, your tenancy is tied to the original tenant so if that person’s tenancy is ended or if that person decides to leave, your right to live in the property will normally end too. So, if Tom is a tenant and he gets the landlord's permission to sublet a room in the property to Cathy, Cathy has the same rights as Tom.  However, if Tom leaves Cathy won't have any rights to stay on in the property.  And, if the landlord gives Tom notice to quit the property, this notice will also apply to Cathy.  Of course, if Tom wasn't allowed to rent the property to Cathy and subletting is a breach of his tenancy, the landlord could try to evict both of them.

Rights of licensees

It’s much easier for a landlord to evict a licensee than it is to evict a tenant.  While landlords have to follow the correct legal process to evict a tenant, they only need to give reasonable verbal notice to a licensee.  This can be as little as a couple of hours or as long as a few weeks depending on your circumstances. The landlord must still apply for a court order to evict a licensee if the licensee refuses to go, but the court will view the licensee as an unauthorised occupant and the legal process is quite quick. 

Licensees are not protected by the laws that protect tenants. This means that licensees are not legally entitled to

  • have their deposits protected
  • minimum notice to quit periods, unless these are set out in a contract with the landlord
  • expect their landlord to be responsible for certain repairs

Licenees' rights are set out in whatever contract they signed with the landlord. They have very few legal rights outside of this agreement. 

Get advice from Housing Rights or another advice agency if your landlord is trying to evict you without giving you notice. This may be an illegal eviction. This is an offence and your landlord could be prosecuted.