If you and your partner rent your home from a private landlord it’s important to understand your rights – and responsibilities – if you were to split up.
While many couples end up owning property together, others choose to rent for life. And even couples who plan to buy their own house or flat may start off living together in a rented property. But what are your rights if you rent as a couple? And what happens if you split up? Can you stay on in the property? If you’re married you have rights when it comes to a home you share, but if you live together it's not so clear.
Renting from a private landlord
The vast majority of rental agreements in the private sector are assured shorthold tenancy. 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.
• 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".
• 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 if you can cover 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.
• If you end the agreement early. 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.
SAVVY TIP: Tenancy agreements come in two types: fixed term and periodic. 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. 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. There's a (quite lengthy) guide to tenancy agreements which you can download from the government's communities.gov.uk website. Information about fixed and periodic tenancies is on page 8.
• 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.
Why you may need a living together agreement
Joint debts - your guide
Couples where one is a saver, the other a spender
The independent advice organisation Advicenow has a useful booklet on renting together.
The housing charity Shelter has lots of information for tenants.
The Landlord Law Blog has lots of tips for landlords on tenancy agreements and has a section called 31 days of tenancy agreement tips. Although it's aimed at landlords, it's useful for tenants as well.
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