Thinking of renting a property but unsure of your rights? Ben Shute, a housing adviser at the housing charity, Shelter, explains everything you need to know before you rent.

Colour is important to Sisi’s wellbeing, and she uses her home as a canvas to express her creativity. The gold wall decoration, from Maisons du Monde, was originally white mango wood. Sisi simply sprayed it gold to create a statement piece of art

Renting 101: your housing rights

Every tenant should ask these four questions before they move in. Shelter’s website has lots of useful information for private renters, but the four main things you should always ask the landlord or letting agency before you rent are:

  1. How much is the rent and how often does it need to be paid?
  2. Who should I contact about repairs or other tenancy issues?
  3. Do I need to pay a tenancy deposit, and where it will be protected?
  4. What is my written tenancy agreement? This is a renting contract between you and your landlord which sets out the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy.

What is a tenancy agreement?

A tenancy agreement is a renting contract between you and your landlord. It sets out the legal terms and conditions of your tenancy.

  • Most people who rent from a private landlord who does not also live at the property will have an assured shorthold tenancy (AST).
  • If you have been renting your home before a certain date you may have an assured tenancy or a regulated tenancy - these tenancies have stronger tenants' rights
  • If you live with your landlord or share living accommodation with your landlord you’re probably classed as a lodger which means you will have fewer rights.

You can usually tell what type of tenancy you have by looking at your agreement, but in case it’s not clear or your landlord’s used the wrong written agreement – you can use Shelter's tenancy checker on its website to check what type of tenancy you have.

What should be included in a tenancy agreement?

Not all tenancy agreements are in writing. Some can be verbal, but having a written agreement is usually best. A written agreement will help both you and your landlord to understand your rights and responsibilities. Read the agreement carefully and ask the landlord to explain anything you're not sure of.

Here are the things that could or should be included in a written agreement:

  • the name of the tenant(s)
  • the address of the property (or room) you are renting
  • the name and address of the landlord, and the letting agent (if there is one)
  • how much the rent is, when it is due and how it should be paid
  • if the rent includes bills such as council tax, water rates or other charges
  • if you need to pay a deposit, what it covers and what would stop you getting it back
  • how long the agreement is for
  • when the landlord can increase your rent
  • rules on ending your tenancy
  • who to contact about repairs,
  • rules on lodgers, subletting and passing on your tenancy.
  • any rules about pets, guests or smoking.

Look out for any unfair terms in the tenancy agreement.

Remember to read your tenancy agreement thoroughly before you sign it, and don’t agree to anything you’re unsure about. Your tenancy agreement shouldn't contain any terms that put you at an unfair disadvantage - for example, if it says you must pay for any repairs that are the landlord's responsibility. You can find out more about tenancy agreements and types of unfair terms on the Shelter website.

What are custom clauses?

Landlords can choose to add their own clauses to a standard tenancy agreement, but they must be legally enforceable. For example, your landlord could not put a clause in saying they can let themselves into the property whenever they like, as this would be unlawful. Get advice if you think your agreement includes unfair terms or your landlord is holding you to something you don't think is fair.

What are the tenant’s and landlord’s obligations to repair and/or decorate the property?

Your landlord is responsible for most repairs in your home. But they don't usually have to make improvements unless it's related to a health and safety risk, or a disability. However, your landlord might agree to you carrying out the work and may help fund it.

If you’re keen to make home improvements in your rental property, you must speak to the landlord directly about the work you want to do, and always get any agreement in writing before you go ahead. If you don’t get permission, your landlord could charge you money to change things back, they might not give you your deposit back, or they could evict you.

How do I get out of a tenancy agreement early?

This depends on the type of tenancy you have. If you have fixed-term tenancy, you can either:

  • Use a break clause in your contract if there is one – this is a clause which allows both you and the landlord to give notice to end the tenancy early. Check your contract to see what was agreed and look for anything about giving notice or terminating the tenancy.
  • Reach an agreement with your landlord to end the tenancy early. This is called a surrender. Be sure to put everything in writing.

Note that you’re still responsible for your rent if you don’t end your tenancy in one of these ways.

To find out more information or get free expert advice on your rights are as a private renter, visit Shelter’s website.


The advice in this article pertains to renting in England - for specific information relating to other areas of the UK, visit Shelter Cymru or Shelter Scotland or Housing Rights NI.