If you rent as a couple, what are your rights if the relationship goes wrong? Can you stay in the property or can your partner ask you to leave? Find out what the law says.
Renting from a private landlord
The vast majority of rental agreements in the private sector are what’s called ‘assured shorthold tenancy’ (AST). If you both sign the tenancy agreement (so it’s a joint tenancy), it gives you certain protection, but it also means you’re each responsible for the rent.
What joint tenancy involves
The main thing to remember with a joint tenancy is that whoever has signed the agreement is responsible for the rent and for making sure the tenancy rules aren’t broken. One of you doesn’t have more rights (or responsibilities) than the other.
- You are each liable for the rent. In legal terms, you’re ‘jointly and severally’ liable, which means the landlord can claim the entire rent from either one of you (if you split up, for example).
SAVVY TIP: According to John Coyne a landlord and adviser to the National Landlords’ Association, ultimately, your landlord could pursue you through the courts for the rent. “In practice most would try and reach an agreement with the tenant who remains to cover the rent until they can get someone else to move in or until the tenancy comes to an end”.
- If you end the agreement early there could be financial penalties. If you and your partner decide that you want to end the tenancy agreement early you may lose part or all of your deposit if your landlord loses out financially.
- If you split up one of you may have the option of remaining in the property. The landlord should be happy for either partner to stay on in the property if the relationship breaks down – as long as that person can afford the rent.
SAVVY TIP: Make sure you get agreement in writing that the landlord is happy to give you a tenancy in your name only before you or your partner serve notice to leave. Once that’s been done, the tenancy agreement is ended and you have no right to remain in the property beyond the notice period.
What happens when you split up will depend on whose name the tenancy is in.
- If the tenancy is in your name: You can ask your (ex) partner to leave. This can be as informal as a conversation or it can be in writing. You have to give ‘reasonable’ notice, but what counts as reasonable is open to interpretation.
SAVVY TIP: You don’t have to go to court as your partner has no right to remain there if they are not on the tenancy agreement According to the advice website Advicenow.org.uk you probably wouldn’t be expected to give more than 28 days notice – and it could be less.
- If the tenancy is in your partner’s name. If you moved in with your boyfriend or girlfriend and the tenancy is in their name only, you don’t have any right to remain in the property if your relationship breaks up.
SAVVY TIP: The fact that you’re a couple who live together doesn’t give you any rights under the law in England and Wales. However, you could go to court if you have children and would otherwise be homeless (or if you’ve been the victim of domestic violence).
- If you want to take over the tenancy. If your partner had the tenancy agreement in his or her name and left the property, you might be able to take out a new tenancy agreement in your own name.
SAVVY TIP: Most landlords should be happy to negotiate, even if they weren’t aware that you’d been living in the property already — it’s a commercial decision. If the rental flat is in an area of high demand where it can be easily rented out you may find the landlord is far less sympathetic.
- The person who signed the rental agreement would have to relinquish it. If you were the partner remaining in the property you wouldn’t be able to take over the tenancy agreement unless your partner gave written agreement that he or she was happy to give it up (an email or even a text can be used).
SAVVY TIP: The landlord would want to carry out the usual references and checks before he or she would be happy to take you on as a tenant.
Ending a tenancy early
Tenancy agreements come in two types: fixed term and periodic. It’s important to know the difference because it will affect how (and whether) you can end a tenancy early.
Fixed term tenancy: If it’s a fixed term tenancy agreement (such as six months or a year) you can only end it at the end of the fixed term or when you have a break clause.
- Periodic tenancy: If it’s periodic – say, for example, you originally had a six month tenancy and have remained in the property but not signed a new agreement, you can normally give at least a month’s notice.
The housing charity Shelter has lots of information for tenants.
Citizens Advice has a large section on renting a home. The website defaults to England but you can change the country to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
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