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Tenancy agreements

This advice applies to Scotland

What is a tenancy agreement

The tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord. It may be written or verbal. The tenancy agreement gives certain rights to both you and your landlord. For example, your right to occupy the accommodation and your landlord’s right to receive rent for letting the accommodation.

You and your landlord may have made arrangements about the tenancy, and these will be part of the tenancy agreement as long as they do not conflict with law. Both you and your landlord have rights and responsibilities given by law. The tenancy agreement can give both you and your landlord more than your statutory rights, but can't give you less than your statutory rights. If a term in the tenancy agreement gives either you or your landlord less than your statutory rights, that term cannot be enforced.

A tenancy agreement can be made up of: 

  • express terms: these include what is in the written tenancy agreement (if there is one), in the rent book, and what was agreed verbally
  • implied terms: these are rights given by law or arrangements established by custom and practice - they don’t need to be written in your tenancy agreement

Express terms of tenancy agreements

Written tenancy agreements

In England and Wales, most tenants do not have a right in law to a written tenancy agreement. However, social housing landlords such as local authorities and housing associations will normally give you a written tenancy agreement. If you are visually impaired, the tenancy agreement must be written in a format you can use - for example, in large print or Braille. Find out more about asking your landlord to make changes to help with your disability.

In Scotland, in most cases your landlord must provide a written tenancy agreement. In particular, your landlord must provide a written tenancy agreement if you're a public sector accommodation tenant, or if you're an assured or short assured tenant of a private landlord.

Some solicitors and estate agents supply samples of written tenancy agreements. The local authority housing advice section, if there is one, may also be able to supply sample tenancy agreements.

Your agreement might say you have a certain type of tenancy - but the type of tenancy you actually have might be different.

The tenancy you have depends on the facts of your situation, not what your agreement says. For example, if you pay rent to a private landlord who doesn’t live with you and you’ve agreed a 6 month tenancy, you’re likely to have an assured shorthold tenancy (or a short assured tenancy in Scotland). This will be the case even if your agreement says something else. Check what type of tenancy you have.

The tenancy agreement should be signed by all tenants and your landlord. If there are joint tenants, each tenant should receive a copy of the agreement.

It’s good practice for a written tenancy agreement to include the following details:

  • your name and your landlord’s name and the address of the property which is being let
  • the date the tenancy began
  • details of whether other people are allowed the use of the property and, if so, which rooms
  • the duration of the tenancy, that is, whether it runs out on a certain date
  • the amount of rent payable, how often and when it should be paid and how often and when it can be increased
  • what the rent includes - for example, council tax or fuel
  • whether your landlord will provide any services - for example, laundry, maintenance of common parts or meals and whether there are service charges for these
  • the notice period you and your landlord need to give to end the tenancy - there are statutory rules about how much notice to give and this will depend on the type of tenancy and why it's ending

If your tenancy began after 1 December 2017 and you rent from a private landlord, your landlord must give you a pack of 'easy read notes' or 'supporting notes' explaining your rights and responsibilities along with your tenancy agreement. There is more information about the notes you should be given on the Scottish Government website.

The agreement may also contain details of your landlord’s obligations to repair the property. Your landlord’s obligations to repair will depend on the type of tenancy. Check your tenancy agreement - it might give you more rights than your basic rights under the law.

For more information on your landlord’s obligations to repair, see our advice on getting repairs done if you're renting privately

If you are experiencing problems with repairs you can get help from your nearest Citizens Advice

Verbal tenancy agreements

A tenancy agreement exists even if there is only an verbal agreement between you and your landlord. For example, you and your landlord may have agreed at the start of the tenancy how much the rent would be and when it is payable, whether it includes fuel or whether your landlord can decide who else can live in the accommodation.

It’s harder to prove what was agreed if it isn’t in writing. This is because there’s often no proof of what has been agreed, or a particular problem may have arisen which the agreement did not cover. You might also be able to prove what was agreed in other ways - for example, with emails or text messages.

If you’re thinking of disputing or are trying to enforce a verbal agreement with your tenant or landlord, you can get help from your nearest Citizens Advice.

Implied terms of tenancy agreements

There are obligations you and your landlord have which may not be set down in the agreement but which are given by law and are implied into all tenancy agreements. These terms form part of the contract, even though they haven't been specifically agreed between your landlord and you.

Some of the most common implied terms are:

  • your landlord must carry out basic repairs - for example, repairs on the structure of the property, and keeping the installations for the supply of water, gas, electricity, sanitation, space heating and heating water in working order
  • you have the right to live peacefully in the accommodation without nuisance from your landlord
  • you have an obligation to use your home in a 'tenant-like' way - for example, by not causing damage and by using any fixtures and fittings properly
  • you have an obligation to provide access for any repair work that needs to be done

Rights given by law will vary according to the type of tenancy.

What information and documents must the tenant receive

Before or at the start of your tenancy, your landlord must give you:

  • a gas safety certificate

  • an energy performance certificate - unless you live in some types of shared home

If you’re experiencing problems in getting documents or information from your landlord, you can get help from your nearest Citizens Advice

Sham tenancy agreements

The rights laid down by law always override those which are stated in a written or oral agreement. An agreement which suggests that you or your landlord have less rights than those given by common law or statute is a sham tenancy agreement.

What an agreement states and what the tenancy actually is may be different. For example, your landlord may claim that the agreement is not a tenancy agreement but a ‘licence to occupy’.

Paying fees to a landlord

If you are renting from a private landlord, you may have to pay a deposit. This is money paid to a landlord (or a letting agency acting on their behalf) as security against, for example, rent arrears, damage to property or removal of furniture.

If a private landlord or letting agency asks for a deposit before you sign a tenancy agreement. It's sometimes called 'key money' or a 'holding deposit'. They must return the money to you once the tenancy starts, or if you decide not to take the tenancy. If they don’t refund you the money, it becomes an illegal fee, also known as a premium.

Landlords and letting agents can’t charge fees for registering with the letting agency, credit checks and administration fees. Any fees charged by the landlord to create or renew a tenancy agreement are also illegal.

Find out more about illegal fees and deposits

Changing the tenancy agreement

A tenancy agreement can normally only be changed if both you and your landlord agree. If you both agree, the change should be recorded in writing, either by drawing up a new written document setting out the terms of the tenancy or by amending the existing written tenancy agreement.

A verbal agreement can also be changed. The change will usually be verbal too. In the case of a dispute, evidence of the change can be provided if:

  • they have written proof of the change - for example, an email or text message
  • there were witnesses to the new agreement
  • both parties have acted on the change - for example, by paying and accepting a new rent

If you’re disabled, your landlord might have to change the tenancy agreement if a term of the agreement means you’d be worse off than someone without your disability.

Find out more about .

Ending a tenancy agreement

Your, or your landlord’s, right to end a tenancy agreement and your right to stay and be protected from eviction will depend on the type of tenancy you have.

Read more about ending your tenancy

Read more about how a landlord can end your tenancy

Is the tenancy agreement ‘unfair’

The tenancy agreement is a form of consumer contract and as such it must be in plain language which is clear and easy to understand. It must not contain any terms which could be ‘unfair’. This means, for example, that the tenancy agreement must not put either you or your landlord in a disadvantageous position, enable one party to change terms unilaterally without a valid reason or irrevocably bind you to terms with which you have had no time to become familiar. An unfair term is not valid in law and cannot be enforced.

If you think your tenancy agreement may contain unfair terms you can contact your nearest Citizens Advice.

Discrimination in tenancy agreements

Your landlord must not discriminate against you because of your disability, gender reassignment, pregnancy or maternity, race, religion or belief, sex or sexual orientation.

This means they might be breaking the law if they:

  • rent a property to you on worse terms than other tenants
  • treat you differently from other tenants in the way you are allowed to use facilities such as a laundry or a garden
  • evict or harass you because of discrimination
  • refuse to make reasonable changes to a term in the tenancy agreement which would allow a disabled person to live there.

If your landlord has broken the law, you might be able to take action against them - check if your problem is discrimination.

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