Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)
The landlord and tenants should sign a proper tenancy agreement – usually an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), which is a contract that gives you certain rights and responsibilities.
The agreement sets out the terms and conditions of the tenancy:
Security deposit and inventory
A tenancy agreement is a legally binding contract and once signed, you are liable to its terms; there is no option for negotiation. So before signing, make sure that all tenants understand and agree with all the terms and conditions.
If any terms are unclear, or if you have any doubts or concerns, consult someone you trust who is knowledgable about renting, Shelter, Citizens Advice or a solicitor. Do seek independent legal advice for any non-standard agreement. (Landlord and tenant law is a specialist area, so make sure you consult a solicitor with experience in housing matters.)
Sources of help and advice are listed at the end of this article.
Length of Tenancy
The tenancy is usually a ‘fixed term’. 12 months is standard, though you could request a longer term. If you want a shorter tenancy, request a break clause.
A break clause is sometimes inserted into the Tenancy Agreement, to give the parties more flexibility. It allows either party to give 2 months’ notice to end the tenancy after 6 months. It can be useful if your career plan is uncertain and you don’t want to be tied for a year.
Renewing or ending the tenancy
Check the possibilities and procedures. If you want the option to renew your tenancy, this should be addressed at the point of offer.
In England and Scotland, landlords and letting agents are no longer allowed to charge for the renewal of a tenancy. (If you signed a tenancy agreement before June 2019, any renewal fees agreed at the time will be payable, but only until June 2020).
If you request to end your tenancy early, you may be charged an early termination fee, to cover ‘reasonable costs’ for the agent, or any loss incurred by the landlord.
Find out more:
Renewing or ending a tenancy – Shelter
Rent Payment Terms
Rent is usually paid monthly, one month in advance – but check terms.
Check what is included
If your rental amount includes utilities bills (as is common for short-term and student lets, and may apply to apartment blocks), make sure this is clearly stated in the tenancy agreement – do not take an agent or landlord’s word only, as you will have no comeback if it is not in writing.
A security deposit gives your landlord some protection in case you damage the property or leave without paying the rent. But as long as you fulfil the terms of the tenancy agreement, your deposit must be refunded at the end of the tenancy. New rules in England cap the amount you can be charged for a deposit at 5 weeks’ rent (or 6 weeks’ if the total annual rent is £50,000+).
For Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements, your landlord/agent must register your deposit with a Government-approved Tenancy Deposit Protection (TDP) scheme; details should be noted on your tenancy agreement.
TDP schemes keep your deposit safe and make sure you get back what you are entitled to at the end of your tenancy.
Find out more:
Tenancy Deposit Protection – Shelter
Why is the inventory important?
The inventory is key in avoiding disputes and determining how much of your deposit is returned at the end of the tenancy.
What is the process?
Inventory checks should be carried out by an independent third partyat the start and end of the tenancy. Try to be present if you can.
In England and Scotland, the landlord is not allowed to charge tenants for an inventory check-in or check-out.
Check in inventory
When you move into your new home, you and your landlord need to agree on a detailed inventory, which is a record of everything in the property and its condition.
- The check in inventory is prepared on the day you move in and usually includes photos of any existing damage etc. Landlord and tenants will both receive the report.
- Check it thoroughly – you normally have 10 days to dispute anything.
Note any discrepancies and take photos where possible.
- Once agreed, you and the landlord should initial every page, and sign the document. Keep records of everything.
- If you don’t respond, that constitutes acceptance of the report and it will form part of your tenancy agreement.
If your landlord does not provide an inventory…
To avoid later disputes, it is in your interest to compile an inventory yourself, and get their agreement as to the state of the property when you moved in.
At the end of the tenancy, the property and contents must be retuned in the same condition (allowing for fair wear and tear) that they were found at the start.
To avoid charges being deducted from your deposit, repair/replace items as necessary and make sure the property is clean (to a professional standard). Keep receipts for everything.
- When you move out, a check-out inventory is completed and the reports are compared.
- Dilapidations (damages) are noted and can be deducted from the deposit once an agreement has been reached between tenant and landlord.
- The agreed amount of your deposit should then be returned to you within 10 days.
If there is a dispute about the return of the deposit…
Tenants are protected by their Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme, which offers a free dispute resolution service.
Find out more:
The Tenancy Inventory Check – The Tenants’ Voice
What an inventory should include, what to look out for during check-in, dealing with disputes etc.
Obligations of Both Parties – Landlord & Tenant
Every agreement will be different, but the basic obligations will be along these lines:
Your rights relate to:
- Living undisturbed, in a property that is safe, ‘fit for purpose’ and in good condition.
- Return of your deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Your responsibilities include:
- Pay rent and other agreed charges on time.
(Failure to do this would put you in breach of your tenancy agreement and at risk of eviction).
- Take care of the property ‘in a tenant-like manner’ e.g. keep it clean, report any issues, get permission before getting repairs or replacements etc.
Make sure you understand the tenants’ obligations specified in your contract.
- Allow access to your landlord/agent for routine inspection visits and repairs. (They should give minimum 24 hours notice, except in an emergency).
Any special clauses imposed by the landlord should be drawn to the tenants’ attention e.g. no pets, no smoking or no wearing high heels (where they might mark hard floors in the property).
Find out more:
Landlords’ Responsibilities – Shelter
Tenants’ Responsibilities – Shelter
Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) – Model Agreement – GOV.UK
Signing the Agreement
Remember the Tenancy Agreement is legally binding.
Never sign anything you are unsure about!
Consult someone who is knowledgeable about housing matters or seek legal advice.
The landlord and tenants should sign the document and initial each page (to prevent later disputes about changes to any page). You may come across DocuSign, which is a secure way to legally sign and send documents electronically.
Keep good records throughout your tenancy; they could be vital in the event of any dispute when you move out.
Confirm any important matters in writing to your landlord/agent – before you sign the tenancy agreement and during the tenancy. That includes following up phone calls with an email.
Keep copies of everything:
Key documents such as the Tenancy Agreement, Tenancy Deposit Certificate and Inventory check-in report
Annual Gas Safety Certificate, records of any electrical inspections, Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)
All correspondence with your landlord/agent
Receipts for repairs, replacements and any work done e.g. maintenance or cleaning
Contracts, bills, rent records etc.
Keep up-to-date contact details
Sources of Help & Advice for Tenancy Agreements
Renting Agreements – Shelter
Understanding your rental agreement, including what to check for, unfair terms etc.
Tenancy Agreements – Citizens Advice
Personal help & advice
Local Advice Services Directory – Shelter
Search by postcode for free local advice services that can help you face-to-face – includes Shelter, Citizens Advice, council services, law centres & other agencies
Shelter – Housing Advice Helpline:
0808 800 4444