When signing up for a rental property in the UK, you will want a tenancy agreement, which is a verbal or written contract that states the rules and stipulations of your time in the property. However, they can be very complicated to understand, especially if this is your first time renting. Our guide breaks down the basics of a tenancy agreement, what you should look for, and what your rights are.

Why do you need a tenancy agreement?

In the UK, tenancy agreements aren’t actually a legal obligation – so why are they important? Well, tenancy agreements cover all sorts of details about your stay in the property that make it clear what is it expected of you and your landlord. By having a formal agreement on terms there is little room for either tenants or landlords to be taken advantage of as both verbal and written agreements are considered legally binding.

Let’s go through the key points that should be covered in your contract and what they mean…

1. Types of Tenancy Agreements

Assured Shorthold Lease

This is the type that almost all student tenancy agreements come under. An assured shorthold tenancy (AST) is essentially the default type of renting in the UK, which is an agreement between a private landlord and tenant(s). While not legally required to have a tenancy contract upfront, the AST laws state that landlords must provide one within 28 days of being requested. It is the kind of tenancy agreement you will have with urbanest if you choose to stay at our accommodation.

Individual vs. Joint Lease

Another type of agreement that is common to see with student housing is a joint contract. This means that when you sign up for a private house, they often ask students to sign up as a group rather than individually. While it is common, it’s not always the best choice for students. If any of the group is behind on rent or decides to leave, the rest of you are held accountable, which can cause a lot of issues when living with new people. It can also be more difficult to swap tenants if someone decides to leave and be replaced, so instead ask for an individual contract, which will make you responsible only for your share of the rent.

Rolling Lease

For some people, a rolling lease is the best option. This basically means that there is no set tenancy period (for example, at urbanest, our typical lease is 51 weeks) and either the tenant or landlord can give the notice to end it at any time.

2. Do You Need a Guarantor?

The short answer is yes, students will need a guarantor to sign their tenancy agreement. What does this mean? It has become extremely common for landlords to require tenants they feel are not financially safe, like students, to have a secondary person who can be responsible for payments. Typically, they ask for an adult who has a steady job and owns a home, but this can vary. This assures them that if they are unable to pay rent for any reason, there will be no money forfeited or debt accumulated.

3. Read The Fine Print

From the UK Government site, there are very clear rules on what a tenancy agreement should include:

  • Names of all people involved
  • Rental price, how and when it’s paid
  • Information on how and when the rent will be reviewed
  • Deposit amount and how it will be protected
  • Details of when the deposit can be fully or partly withheld (for example to repair the damage that you’ve caused)
  • Property address
  • Start and end date of the tenancy
  • Tenant or landlord obligations
  • Outline of bills you’re responsible for
  • Whether the tenancy can be ended early and how this can be done
  • Who’s responsible for minor repairs (other than those that the landlord is legally responsible for)
  • Whether the property can be let to someone else (sublet) or have lodgers

These are the most important details of your contract so always triple-check that these are correct and if you need further explanation, do ask your landlord or property manager for clarification before you sign.


4. Check The Inventory

An inventory is a list detailing anything provided in the property such as furniture, white good appliances, as well as faults or damage to the property that was there before you moved in. This is important to ensure you are fairly judged on the condition of the property at the end of your tenancy. Your agreement should allow for regular wear and tear but the inventory will show whether or not you are liable for more substantial damage or issues around the property.

5. What Fees You Can Be Charged

In 2019, the UK Government introduced the Tenant Fees Act, which protects renters from unfair and unnecessary costs when it comes to finding a rental property. This act limits the ways in which landlords and property agents can charge you outside of rental fees.

Charges that are allowed:

  • A refundable tenancy deposit, which must be no more than 5 weeks’ rent
  • A refundable holding deposit, which is capped at 1 week’s rent
  • Associated costs if you request to leave the tenancy early
  • Utilities (such as council tax, TV license, broadband, etc.)
  • Late payment fee
  • Replacement keys

Charges that are not allowed:

  • Any administration fees or “set up” fees
  • Renewal of contract fees
  • Requiring professional cleaning at end of tenancy

6. What is The Deposit Protection Scheme?

A deposit is required by most landlords as an assurance of monetary compensation should you damage their property in any way. However, this money does not go directly to the landlord. Since 2007, your deposit must be put in a Government-approved deposit protection scheme for the duration of the tenancy. This means that the money is safe from both landlord and tenant until the tenancy has ended and a judgement is made on the condition of the property.

7. Special Clauses

While there is a standard tenancy agreement that most landlords adhere to, they can also include their own stipulations on the agreement. These cannot be illegal or discriminatory but they can be frustrating, so ensure that you carefully check the terms listed and try to negotiate on what you feel is unfair.

The most common special clauses that can be found:

  • If pets are allowed/what kind of pets are allowed
  • If smoking is allowed
  • What the property can be used for

8. Summer Holiday Agreements

This is specific to student tenancy agreements, which often slightly differ because of the nature of student life. Since most students do not occupy their accommodation during the summer months, there may be a reduction in rent during that period. However, it is important to negotiate with your landlord and ensure that these terms are clearly noted on your contract. Also, while this may be a good idea to save some money, it usually means you do not have access to the property during this time or will require the whole group to agree to vacate.

9. How to End Tenancy Early

There may be exceptional circumstances where the best thing for you is to leave the property and break the lease early. Although this is not generally allowed and you will have to pay for the remainder of the tenancy, you may be able to talk to your landlord about how to handle the situation. For example, if you want to cancel your contract with urbanest, we ask that you find a replacement tenant to take over your room.

Related – Learn more about booking with urbanest

If you suspect there may be reasons you cannot complete the full fixed term being asked for, then you can negotiate a break clause. This is where you are given a point earlier in the lease when you can end your tenancy, giving you time to decide if you want to stay on for the full term without worrying about financial repercussions.

Check out our guides on student accommodation to learn more such as how to choose a safe accommodation and what international students need to know about moving to the UK.