You’ve looked around a few houses, found one, and the landlord has given you a contract to sign. What should you consider?

What should I look out for in a contract?

There is more to contract checking than asking ‘is this contract alright?’ You need to know what type of contract you have (an Assured Shorthold Tenancy or a Licence) and what your rights and responsibilities are.

The best way to do this is to:

  • Read this information
  • Read your contract (highlighting any sections you don’t understand/are concerned about)
  • Book an appointment to go through the contract with an adviser

What is an Assured Shorthold Contract?

Most landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause in your contract that allows you to give notice and quit the agreement early (this is very rare). This type of agreement means that as a tenant you have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property(e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only contact you during reasonable working hours.

Further information can be found here.

What is a Licence Agreement?

A type of rental agreement (often when you share the property with your landlord) where you have fewer rights than if you live in an Assured Shorthold Tenancy.

What should a good Housing Contract Include?

  • Clarity of if it is a joint or individual agreement
  • By law you must have a mainland UK contract address for your Landlord/Representative
  • Details of the deposit scheme used to protect your Security Deposit
  • Clear, simple and fair terms (outlining costs, expenses and charges)

If your Landlord or Letting Agency is pressurising you to sign before getting your contract checked – ask yourself why.

Jargon Buster

  • Assured Shorthold Tenancy: most landlords/agents use an Assured Shorthold
  • Tenancy agreement. If you sign a fixed term contract you are liable to pay rent for the full period, unless there is a specific clause in your contract that allows you to give notice and quit the agreement early (this is very rare). This type of agreement means that as a tenant you have exclusive possession of the property. The landlord/agent can have access to the property (e.g. for repairs/inspections), but you should be given notice and they should only contact you during reasonable working hours.
  • Caveat Emptor: Latin for 'buyer beware' – applicable to any market and that includes housing.
  • Environmental Health Service: the local authority department responsible for ensuring that your landlord complies with legislation which is adequate and healthy.
  • Exclusive Possession: a type of tenancy where a landlord is required to have a valid permission before entering the house you have rented.
  • Fixed Term Contract: a contract which you are locked into renting for a specific period (often 6 months or more) unless there is a specific break clause written into the contract.
  • Gas Safety Certificate: all gas appliances your landlord provides must be correctly maintained and a gas safety check carried out every 12 months by a Gas Safe registered engineer. By law, your landlord must give you a copy of the Landlord’s Gas Safety Record (also referred to as the Landlords’ Gas Safety Certificate).
  • Guarantor: a person agreeing to pay your rent in your absence – and possibly that of your housemates if your contract is Joint and Severally Liable.
  • Hidden Costs: money you may find yourself having to pay if you don’t read the small print.
  • Holding Deposit: this is different to Security Deposit, as it is sometimes charged by landlords prior to you signing an agreement as a guarantee that you will take the house.
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO): is a house or a flat that is occupied by more than one household. If the property is on at least 3 stories, and contains 5 or more people, it will need to be licensed by your local council
  • Individual Liability Guarantor Form: a form you can pick up from The Advice Centre that (once signed by your landlord) ensures that your guarantor is only liable for you, even if the contract is joint.
  • Joint and Severally Liable: a housing agreement (an Assured Shorthold Tenancy) signed by all housemates.
  • Letting Agents: an estate agent or other commercial enterprise that earns a profit from helping you find a house or flat and completing administration and legal documents.
  • Licensee: a type of rental agreement (often when you share the property with your landlord) where you have fewer rights than if you live in an Assured Shorthold Tenancy.
  • SASSH: the Southampton Accreditation Scheme for Student Housing.
  • Security Deposit: your payment (held under a recognised scheme) to protect your landlord from potential costs or unpaid bills when you move out.
  • Statute 21 Notice of Eviction: a court notice which needs be served if the landlord wishes to evict you from an Assured Shorthold Tenancy before the end of the fixed term.
  • Statutory Periodic Tenancy: a rolling contract which runs from one payment date to the next (means that if rent is paid monthly then either party is entitled to give one month notice).
  • Unfair Terms: a clause in your rental agreement not written in clear, plain English or that is unreasonable such as:
    • The landlord has the power to change the agreement when s/he likes
    • You have to pay costs for which the landlord should be responsible
    • That the landlord can come round when they wish without a valid reason