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Guidance for tenants - Assured Shorthold Tenancies

Under current law any new tenancy will in most instances automatically be an 'assured shorthold tenancy' (AST). Exceptions are where the landlord lives in the same house, where the rent is over 25,000 per year, or the landlord specifically agrees in writing that the tenancy is not an AST.

In effect, having an AST means that you as a tenant will have the security of knowing that provided you do not break the terms of your tenancy agreement (giving their landlords grounds for possession), you can stay in the property for at least the first six months of the agreement.

Tenants who live in accommodation shared with a resident landlord are likely to be lodgers who have a licence to occupy, an arrangement which provides much less security of tenure.

The situation becomes complicated in the case of buildings divided into flats. Where a building has been converted into flats and the landlord lives in one of these as his or her main home but lets another, the landlord will be 'resident' (the landlord does not need to share any accommodation with tenants). However, if the landlord lives in a flat in a purpose built block but lets one or more of the other flats, he or she will not be a resident and tenants will hold ASTs.

Tenancies can be in sole or joint names. If in joint names each of the named tenants are responsible jointly and individually for meeting the terms of the tenancy in full, including paying the rent - so if one tenant defaults on his or her share of the rent, the other tenant or tenants must cover the shortfall. Against this, all joint tenants will have equal rights under the tenancy and are equally entitled to share possession of the whole of the house or flat.

Although tenants have security for the first six months of their ASTs, there is no minimum period. Most commonly tenancy agreements are for six months, at the expiring of which they can be terminated, replaced by new agreements, or allowed to run on as 'contractual periodic' tenancies. In the latter case the terms, obligations and responsibilities set out in the original tenancy agreements will remain in place, although the initial six month period of security will have expired and landlords will be free to give two month's notice should they require possession of the property (the notice period to coincide with the weekly or monthly rental periods).

If a landlord takes no action at the expiry of an AST and the tenant stays on, the tenancy will automatically become a contractual periodic tenancy.

Tenants seeking properties to rent may be charged a 'finding' fee for property which he or she subsequently agree to rent, but may not be charged simply for details of properties for rent. In the case of SkeletonLets.com the finding fee is 30% of the first month's rent and includes referencing.

Landlords can ask tenants for deposits before moving into their rented accommodation, the amount to be held as security in case rent is not paid, damage occurs or unpaid household bills are left at the end of the tenancy. The amount is negotiable but will be regarded as a premium if more than the equivalent of two month's rent (which may give the tenant the right to pass on the tenancy to someone else or to sublet). The uses to which the deposit can be put, and arrangements for its return, should be specified in the tenancy agreement.

Rents should be agreed between landlords and tenants before the commencement of tenancies and details should also be included in tenancy agreements. Once agreed, the landlord may not, except with the tenant's agreement, put up the rent by more than any amount written into the tenancy agreement.

Landlords who wish to increase the rent during a tenancy must give at least one month's notice using either a Landlord's notice proposing a new rent under an assured periodic tenancy of premises situated in England or Landlord's notice proposing a new rent under an Assured Periodic Tenancy of premises situated in Wales, as appropriate.

Tenants who do not agree to the increase should apply to a rent assessment committee using an Application referring a notice proposing a new rent under an assured periodic tenancy or agricultural occupancy to a rent assessment committee so that it can decide what the rent should be. Alternatively they can choose to submit notice and search for another property.

The terms within tenancy agreements are partly set out in law and partly for negotiation between tenants and landlords. Tenant rights set out in law, such as the right to 'quiet enjoyment' of their home, cannot be ceded away.

Tenants are generally responsible for paying rent as agreed and taking proper care of the property. The terms of ASTs usually pass responsibility for paying council tax, water and sewerage charges, and utility bills to tenants. Tenants may be made responsible for paying utility providers direct, or for paying amounts recharged by the landlord, for example through a coin meter - however, the resale of electricity and gas is subject to maximum resale prices, which depend on the gas or electricity supplier that the landlord uses (although the maximum resale charge does not apply if a flat rate is charged to cover usage, or rent is 'all inclusive').

Matters such as whether tenants can keep pets are a matter for negotiation between landlord and tenant and the agreed terms should be set out in the tenancy agreement.

Landlords are responsible for repairs to the structure and exterior of the property (unless the tenancy has a fixed term of more than seven years), heating and hot water installations, basins, sinks, baths and other sanitary installations, for the safety of gas and electrical appliances, and that furniture and furnishings provided under the tenancy meet the fire resistance requirements of the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988 (which in practice generally means that furniture will have a manufacturer's label indicating compliance).

Landlords are required to ensure that all gas appliances are maintained in good order and that an annual safety check is carried out by a CORGI (Council for Registered Gas Installers) registered gas installer. The landlord must keep a record of the safety checks provide details to tenants within 28 days of each annual check. However, landlords are not responsible for maintaining tenants' own gas appliances that they are entitled to take with them at the end of their tenancies. SkeletonLets.com strongly recommend you do not sign up to any tenancy without being shown a gas safety certificate. SkeletonLets.com will not let a property without such a certificate if there are gas appliances at the property.

Since 1st October 2008, any building which is rented out must have an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC). This must be issued by a qualified and accredited assessor in an independent manner. Once produced, an EPC is valid for 10 years. The certificate is accompanied by recommendations on how to improve energy efficiency however these do not have to be implemented.

For more information click here to visit the government website.

Landlords are only required to provide rent books in instances where rents are payable weekly. However, tenants are advised to request receipts for rent paid, where rent is paid in cash.

Tenants have the legal right to 'quite enjoyment' allowing them to live in the property as their homes - meaning that landlords should ask permission before entering the premises.

Subject to giving 24 hours written notice, landlords or their agent have the right to enter their rented properties at reasonable times of day to carry out the repairs for which they are responsible and to inspect the condition and state of repair of the property. Tenancy agreements should specify arrangements for access and procedures having repairs undertaken.

The Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations apply so that any term found to be unfair will not be enforceable. The Office of Fair Trading publishes guidance as to what is and is not considered 'unfair', and more specific Guidance on unfair terms in tenancy agreements

Tenants who are concerned about possible unfair terms in their tenancy agreements should contact the local Trading Standards Department.

Deposits can be the cause of dispute between landlords and tenants and it is important for tenants to be clear about their possible uses and also to take care that inventories reflect accurately any furniture and equipment supplied with the accommodation and their condition.

From April 6th 2007, all deposits paid under an AST have had to be protected within 14 calendar days of receipt by the landlord. The legislation aims to ensure that tenants who have paid a deposit to a landlord or letting agent and are entitled to receive all or part of it back at the end of that tenancy, actually get it.

Tenants should leave at the expiry of their agreement or of valid notice. However, it is a criminal offence for landlords to force tenants to leave their properties except through use of possession orders obtained from a court. Should tenants still refuse to leave when ordered by the court to do so, the landlord may apply for a warrant for eviction and subsequently for a bailiff to execute eviction. Tenants whose landlords are seeking possession via the courts are advised to read the Court Service's advice.

Tenants who leave before the expiry of their fixed term tenancies, or otherwise, than by taking advantage of 'break clauses' in their tenancy agreements, will still be liable for the rent for the unexpired periods, unless their landlords agree otherwise. However, in these circumstances landlords are legally obliged to mitigate their tenants' losses by trying to re-let the property.

In the case of periodic tenancies, tenants are required to give at least four weeks' (if rent is paid weekly) or one month's notice (if rent is paid monthly). The notice period should coincide with the rental periods (end on the day before rent is payable for the next period).

The following provide further information and advice:

Other Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's guidance:


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