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Tenant's Guide to Renting

As a tenant, you can protect yourself by knowing your rights and obligations. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about renting and the documents you may need for an enjoyable tenancy.

Essential documents for tenants

These are our top documents that tenants use every day to sublease spaces and interact with landlords.

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Step 1

Commercial Sublease Agreement

A Commercial Sublease Agreement is used by a tenant to transfer his or her letting obligations to a third party for the remainder of the lease term. T...

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Step 2

Residential Sublet Agreement

A Residential Sublease Agreement is used when the tenant transfers property rights over to a third party, known as a subtenant, for the remainder of t...

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Step 3

Lease Assignment Agreement

A Lease Assignment Agreement is a written contract that allows a tenant to transfer his or her remaining interests in a lease to a third party.

Last updated July 5, 2022

Whether you're moving into your first place, setting up a business in a leased space, or getting ready to move out of a long-term rental, knowing how to protect yourself as a tenant is essential.

As a tenant, you often have to defend and advocate for your own interests. That’s why it's crucial to know your rights and use the proper documents when communicating with your landlord.

In this guide, we explain renter's rights, tenant notices, landlord disputes, evictions, subletting, and ending your lease. Although we touch on aspects of commercial tenancies, our main focus is on private, residential tenancies. 


Your rights as a tenant

What’s the biggest risk when renting out a property?

Not knowing your rights.

Without a basic understanding of your rights as a tenant, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. This is especially true for tenants of private landlords—who may have more freedom than landlords of council housing.

There are various pieces of legislation that address tenant rights in some shape or form. These acts help protect both residential and commercial tenants from harassment, discrimination, and unfair treatment by landlords.

There’s also the Code for Leasing Business Premises in England and Wales that outlines the best practices for positive landlord and tenant relationships in a commercial setting. This code was developed by industry leaders in consultation with government agencies. While landlords aren’t legally required to abide by the code, it’s a useful framework to follow.

To review rental laws in-depth, begin with these rules and regulations:

Jurisdiction Residential Tenancy Commerical Tenancy
England & Wales The Landlord and Tenant Acts of 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1995, and The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 The Occupier’s Liability Act of 1957 and 1984, and the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
Northern Ireland The Private Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 The Business Tenancies (Northern Ireland) Order 1996
Scotland The Housing (Scotland) Act of 1988, and the Private Housing (Tenancies) (Scotland) Act 2016 Scotland has no specific acts for governing commercial tenancies

While it’s important to know which laws protect you as a tenant, reading through legislation can be time-consuming. 

Don’t worry, that’s where we’ve got you covered. 

Here’s what you need to know about tenant rights in the United Kingdom.

1. The right to habitability

You should never have to put up with uninhabitable living conditions. As a paying tenant, you have a right to safe and livable building conditions.

Of course, repairs and maintenance are unavoidable. However, landlords have a responsibility to fix any major issues as they come up. This is because landlords in England and Wales must comply with the rules set out in the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 as well as any local building codes and housing standards. Properties in Northern Ireland and Scotland must also meet certain standards for living. 

By and large, a safe and livable property typically means:

  • The walls, roof, ceilings, foundation, stairs, and floors are structurally sound and safe.
  • The electrical, heating, plumbing, drainage, and ventilation systems are operating properly.
  • There are functioning smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers within the rental unit.
  • Appliances and other fixtures are installed correctly.
  • All spaces are sanitary and free of any pest infestations, mould, or damp.
  • Entry doors and windows are lockable.
  • Water is safe for consumption.

Note that for commercial tenancies, the responsibilities of maintaining a property may fall on either the landlord or the business tenant (depending on what’s stated in the Lease Agreement).

2. The right to quiet enjoyment

No matter how friendly your landlord is, they have to respect your boundaries.

The bottom line: tenants have a right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises.

This privacy right gives you some control over who enters your home and when they can enter.

Of course, landlords do have valid reasons for entering rental properties from time to time. For instance, they may have to conduct a routine inspection, repair something, or show the property to prospective tenants if you're moving out. Furthermore, they may have to hire a repair person or inspector for an issue in your unit.

Still, there must be a balance between both of your interests. Your landlord needs a valid reason to enter the property, and they must give you reasonable notice unless there’s an emergency.

Your right to privacy prevents your landlord from:

  • Entering your rental unit, or allowing someone else to enter, without giving you adequate notice and getting your permission (excluding emergencies)
  • Visiting or inspecting the rental property without a valid reason
  • Entering the rental unit at unreasonable times of the day

In addition, this right to privacy prohibits your landlord from harassing you or misusing your personal information.

The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK-GDPR) protect your right to control access to your personal information.

Any information that your landlord collects from you should be kept confidential or shared only under appropriate circumstances. This means that without permission a landlord typically cannot share personal information collected in your rental application, lease agreement, or during an inspection with unauthorised parties.

3. The right to non-discrimination

Discrimination is never okay.

As an applicant and tenant, you have a right to be treated fairly, without discrimination.

In the UK, the Equality Act of 2010 protects certain human characteristics from being targets of discrimination. Northern Ireland also has specific laws that deal with discrimination. As such, landlords and other housing providers cannot show prejudice on the basis of:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Disability

If you think you’ve been discriminated against while renting or applying to rent, you may be able to resolve the issue by filing a formal complaint or taking legal action.

Keep in mind that a landlord can still refuse you as a tenant without discrimination. For instance, a landlord can legally deny your rental application if you have poor credit or won't be able to pay rent.

4. The right to the return of a deposit

Landlords often require tenants to pay a deposit before they move into a rental unit. However, this money doesn’t automatically belong to your landlord.

If you fulfil your obligations as a tenant, you have the right to the return of your security deposit.

In other words, if you pay your dues and leave the property in the same condition it was in at the beginning of your tenancy (excluding normal wear and tear), your landlord should return your money.

In the UK, landlords must protect your deposit in an approved tenancy deposit scheme (TDS), and scheme admins vary by jurisdiction. This system safeguards a tenant’s deposit and provides dispute resolution should any conflict arise. Your landlord should give you written notice about which TDS protects your deposit shortly after you pay it.

There may also be a limit on how much landlords can charge for a deposit. For example, in England, the Tenant Fees Act 2019 caps deposits at five to six weeks' worth of rent.

To ensure you don’t get blamed for property damage that you didn’t do, it helps to do a condition report at the start and end of your tenancy. Use this report for picture evidence of the property’s condition before and after your stay. This makes it easier to prove what you were (or weren’t) responsible for.

5. The right to transparency

It’s best practice for landlords to include all the terms of the tenancy in a written document. A Tenancy Agreement (for residential and commercial properties) is a great way to establish the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. This makes expectations clear and helps reduce the chances of disputes.

But, there’s certain information that the law requires a landlord to be transparent about.

As mentioned, they must tell you about which tenancy deposit scheme they use to protect your security deposit.

In some cases, landlords may also need to supply their tenants with a rent book that outlines rental details and records the tenant’s payment history.

For instance, Northern Ireland requires private landlords to give tenants a rent book with the following details:

  • The address of the tenancy and name of the tenant
  • Contact details of the landlord and the agent (if any)
  • Information about rent payments
  • Details of any other charges to the tenant

Similarly, Scotland requires landlords to provide a rent book if the tenant pays rent weekly. In this case, failing to supply a rent book may result in fines (up to £2,500) to the landlord. The rent book should include:


Communicating with your landlord

Regardless of how seamless your tenancy is, you'll eventually need to notify your landlord of something.

When doing so, it’s best to give written notice to your landlord—especially on matters such as breaches of lease terms or your intention to end your lease.

Some landlords might tell you that they prefer to communicate through email or other digital means. In any case, it's crucial to document certain issues and create a record when you provide notice.

If you have to pursue legal action against your landlord (or if your landlord takes legal action against you), you can use this documentation as evidence to support your argument.

Asking for repairs

Your Tenancy Agreement should specify what types of repairs you’re responsible for.

For instance, tenants typically handle routine maintenance such as unstopping a blocked drain, whereas landlords are often in charge of major repairs and maintaining the building’s safety.

If there’s something major that needs fixing, let your landlord know straight away. Any faulty wiring or plumbing could put people in danger or cause damage to the property.

Again, it’s a good idea to send a written request for repairs and to take photos or videos of the issue. This way, if the landlord fails to maintain health and safety standards, you’ll have a timeline of communication and evidence of the problem. You may need this documentation when filing a complaint to your local council about the landlord’s failure to act.

Challenging high rent charges

It’s important for tenants to know when and how their landlords can increase their rent. Let your landlord know ASAP if their rent increase doesn’t comply with the law or the terms of your contract.

For assured shorthold tenancies, landlords must send a notice (called a section 13 in England and Wales) to tenants when increasing the rent. Although other tenancies don’t require this specific form, the landlord should still give you proper notice.

If it’s a fixed-end date tenancy, the landlord cannot increase the rent unless the contract specifically allows it (e.g., with a rent review clause). The landlord may also be able to increase the rent if the fixed term rolls over to a periodic tenancy. But, as always, the landlord must provide proper notice.

If you disagree with changes to your rent, you can speak to your landlord (or agent) and try to find a compromise. For instance, you might be unable to afford the increase or it could be unreasonably excessive.

If you can’t reach a compromise, you can apply to a tribunal (in Scotland, England, or Wales) for a ruling. Keep in mind that legal challenges take time, and you may have to pay the increased rent while awaiting judgement.

Ending your lease

If you want to end your lease before the end of your lease term, give your landlord a written Notice to Quit within the appropriate time frame. Notice periods vary by lease type (i.e., periodic or fixed-term tenancies) but are typically at least one month.

First, refer to your Lease Agreement to see if the landlord specified how much notice you must give to end your lease early. Landlords can require anywhere from 30 to 90 days' notice.

There may also be a break clause in your Tenancy Agreement that gives either party the right to exit the agreement if they’re not satisfied. In this case, the contract may specify a notice period and address outstanding charges.

You may be able to give shorter notice after negotiating with your landlord or if the landlord commits a substantial breach of the terms of your Tenancy Agreement.

If your landlord violates your agreement, you should first notify them of the problem and give them an opportunity to solve it. You can also reach out to your local council for help resolving the dispute.

If your lease automatically renews (i.e., a rolling tenancy) at the end of its term, and you want to exit the agreement, send a Notice to Quit within the proper time frame.


What a landlord can and cannot do

Like tenants, landlords have various rights and obligations that govern how they can and cannot act during a tenant's application process and tenancy.

During the application process

Landlords cannot discriminate against you, but they still retain the right to select their own tenants. For example, a landlord may reject your tenant application because of the following reasons:

  • You don't agree to the landlord's lease terms
  • Your previous landlord gave you a poor review
  • You won't consent to a background check
  • You have a criminal history
  • You lie in your Rental Application
  • You have a poor credit score
  • You’re bankrupt

During your tenancy

Your local tenancy act should outline landlords’ responsibilities and obligations. Typically, these laws ensure that landlords cannot:

  • Prevent you from entering the rental property
  • Evict you without giving adequate written notice
  • Retaliate against you when you complain about something (England)
  • Refuse to make necessary repairs
  • Force you to complete repairs
  • Conceal certain conditions of the property
  • Ask invasive questions
  • Remove your personal belongings from the property

Although you have many protections as a tenant, landlords still retain the right to control their property and seek solutions when you breach your lease terms. For example, a landlord typically has the right to:

  • Require a security deposit at the beginning of a tenancy
  • Enter the property to conduct an inspection or make a repair (with proper notice first)
  • Restrict subletting (exceptions may apply)
  • Evict tenants that don’t pay rent or break the lease terms
  • Collect rent on time

What to do if you’re having problems with your landlord

Are you finding yourself at odds with your landlord? 

If you’ve voiced your grievances and still can’t reach a solution, you essentially have two options: end your tenancy early or take legal action against the landlord. However, these options can be inconvenient and costly.

If you’re unsure what to do, it’s best to contact Citizen’s Advice or your local housing council:

Otherwise, here are some possible solutions for common issues tenants face.

The landlord won’t make property repairs

Waiting for an important repair, such as fixing the heating, can negatively impact your life or business.

If your landlord doesn’t fix a problem after you bring it to their attention, this could qualify as a breach of contract and give you the right to terminate your lease. If the issue affects your health and safety, the landlord may be in violation of the law.

When your landlord fails to make property repairs, you can:

  • Repair the issue yourself and request reimbursement
  • Notify your landlord of your intent to terminate the Lease Agreement
  • Apply to your local Citizen’s Advice for dispute resolution
  • Contact your local council Environmental Health Department to speak with an inspector

It’s important to note that some jurisdictions require landlords to perform an electrical property inspection (every five years). If you notice your landlord failing to maintain the property, let them or the authorities know as soon as possible to avoid danger or property damage.

The landlord invades your privacy

Your landlord should not invade your privacy or mishandle your personal information.

For example, landlords cannot send personal info about you (such as credit history or contact details) to unauthorised third parties. Your landlord has a legal obligation to protect your info as mandated by the DPA and UK-GDPR.

If you can, be sure to document any privacy issues. You can also use a Cease and Desist Letter to demand your landlord stop their inappropriate behaviour or face legal action. In some cases, you may be able to make a formal complaint to the authority that oversees privacy legislation in your jurisdiction.

Alternatively, you could avoid a drawn-out confrontation by ending your tenancy and finding a new place to live or run your business.

The landlord won’t refund a deposit

The TDS protects your deposit.

If you don’t approve of a landlord’s deductions, you can challenge their claim through the dispute resolution service offered by the scheme holding your money. This process involves submitting evidence to support your argument.

To prepare for this situation, it’s best to be present for Property Condition Reports at the beginning and end of your tenancy. This helps prove what damage you may or may not be responsible for.

A thorough and well-documented walkthrough protects your rights as a tenant.

How eviction works

Tenancy laws outline the process that landlords must follow when ending a tenancy and reclaiming possession of their property.

How can a landlord evict a tenant?

Luckily, landlords can't evict you on impulse. But that doesn't mean you’re immune from eviction if you break your lease terms.

Generally, your landlord should take the following steps to evict you:

  1. If your lease expires or you violate your lease terms, your landlord gives you written notice to remedy the violation or move out.
  2. If you don't remedy the violation or move out after your lease expires, your landlord pursues an eviction action with the court.
  3. The court rules on the case and may authorise a court-ordered eviction.
  4. Authorities remove you from the rental unit if you don't move out.

Eviction notice periods vary by country. The type of lease you have and the landlord’s reason also affect how much notice they must give before terminating a tenancy. Usually, landlords serve a notice by delivering it to any adult tenant of the property.

Landlords can also pursue an accelerated possession, which doesn’t typically go before the courts. In this case, a judge reviews the landlord’s request and either issues a possession order or schedules a court hearing.

What if I’m unfairly evicted?

The Protection from Eviction Act 1977 (England) safeguards a tenant’s right to occupy their home lawfully. As such, a landlord can’t withhold services (e.g., cut off utilities) or do anything that would force you out of the property illegally. Similarly, Scottish landlords must have reasonable grounds to evict you. In Northern Ireland, landlords must also go through a legal process for eviction.

If your landlord doesn’t follow the legal process for eviction, you should contact your local council for help. They may be able to negotiate with the landlord on your behalf, find you alternative housing, or prosecute the landlord for breaking the law. 


How to sublet your rental

Sometimes, life happens, and you need to move out before your lease ends. In these kinds of situations, subletting can be the perfect solution.

Subletting allows you to rent out your space to another tenant, which may interest you if you need to relocate temporarily or permanently. As long as you have permission from the landlord, you can sublet any type of residential or commercial property.

Check your lease's terms and talk with your landlord before entering into a Sublet Agreement. If there’s a restriction on subletting, your landlord may agree to amend your rental contract and give you permission to sublease.

If there’s nothing about subletting in your Tenancy Agreement, you may or may not need your landlord’s consent. While consent isn’t required in all cases, getting your landlord’s permission is the best way to ensure you’re legally subletting.

In most cases, your landlord cannot deny your request without reasonable grounds. If you do become a sublandlord, you should understand how rental income from your subtenant affects your taxes.

Sublet Agreements

Use a Residential Sublet Agreement or Commercial Sublet Agreement to document the terms of your new rental contract. In this situation, you act as the sublandlord and the other tenant is the subtenant.

Keep in mind that a sublet cannot invalidate the terms of the original lease. For instance, the sublet cannot exceed the length of time that you agreed to rent the property, as indicated in your original contract with the landlord. You retain your obligations to the landlord, in addition to being liable for damages or lease violations by the subtenant.

Both you and the subtenant should sign the Sublet Agreement and keep a copy for your records. You can also attach a copy of the master lease to the Sublet Agreement or deliver it directly to the subtenant.

Short-term and vacation rentals

Vacation rentals, such as Airbnb or booking.com, are a popular method of subletting. However, some municipalities have regulations for short-term or vacation rentals. For example, in London, you must:

  • Obtain a planning permit if subletting your entire home for more than 90 days
  • Pay council tax

As such, it’s essential to review both your Tenancy Agreement and your local laws before proceeding with a short-term sublet.