Most HMO landlords will issue their tenants with an assured shorthold tenancy agreement.
Tenancies most often run for 12 months with a six month ‘fixed period’ during which neither party can end of tenancy (unless the tenancy itself has been breached). A written tenancy is important to have as it will set out exactly what rights and obligations the landlord has and what is required of the tenant. It also provides protection from eviction – the landlord will need to serve notice and go to court in order to be able to remove a tenant.
HMO tenancies can be joint or sole
You may sign a joint tenancy with the other households in your HMO, in which case you have a joint tenancy and all your rights and obligations are shared. If you don’t pay your rent, for example, your other tenants will be required to make up the missing amount to the required monthly payment. If you sign a sole tenancy then you are only responsible for yourself. When you are signifying a joint tenancy make sure that you’re happy with the people you’re going to be living with – you are making yourself their back up in effect so checking that they are financially sound and/or not likely to skip out and leave you with their rent to pay before you put pen to paper.
The HMO tenancy term
Your contract (tenancy agreement) should set out what the term of the agreement is. When that term comes to an end, if neither you nor the landlord gives notice, the tenancy will become a periodic tenancy that continues on the same terms as the previous signed document. You cannot extricate yourself from a tenancy commitment, other than by giving notice as required or by using a break clause. Not all tenancies have break clauses – see below.
What is serving notice?
Serving notice is simply telling the landlord you want to leave. You don’t have to give a reason unless you want to but you do have to serve notice at the right time. Your tenancy will tell you what the right time is to serve notice – normally, you can’t do this until the break clause or the tenancy end is approaching. Most required notice periods are two months and you will need to serve notice in writing.
The break clause
Depending on the landlord, a break clause may be written into a tenancy agreement, which allows the landlord or the tenant to ‘break’ the tenancy early without penalties. You must do this at the right time – it cannot be activated whenever you choose. It’s a good idea to ask for a break clause as this means you can take action if your situation changes without relying on the landlord’s agreement to you moving out before the end of the tenancy.
The financial side of the tenancy
Your tenancy should clearly set out how much your rent is and when it is payable i.e. weekly or monthly and on what day of the week or month. If you have agreed to move into the HMO on the basis that the landlord will cover the bills then make sure that this is reflected in the tenancy agreement. Your tenancy should also show you how much deposit is required and what fees are likely to be payable, such as a renewal contract fee (amounts may not be stated). Look out for the contract clauses that establish what a late payment is and what happens if you/other tenants don’t pay the rent – it’s important to be aware of this.
These are the clauses that tell you what you are agreeing to do by signing the document. All contracts are different so make sure you read yours carefully. Look out for the following:
- Paying rent on time. The most obvious requirement for keeping within the terms of your tenancy. What date is the payment due and with what frequency?
- Cleaning and keeping in good condition. Your tenancy agreement may only require you to keep your room in a good state of repair, or it may relate to the entire house. Look out for more unusual obligations, such as cleaning windows, mowing the lawn or cleaning out ventilators.
- Not causing a nuisance. This is with respect to the other people in your HMO and also to neighbours. What does your tenancy agreement say about what will constitute a nuisance (for example, noise at certain hours of the day) and what action will be taken against you if you cause a nuisance?
- Notifying your landlord of repairs. Although the landlord is responsible for all the major repairs, it’s usually up to tenants to notify the landlord when a problem arises. If something happens as a result of a problem going un notified then tenants can find themselves sharing the cost of that issue with the landlord.
- Being careful with visitors. If you invite people into your HMO then to a certain extent you are responsible for what they do. So, for example, if you have a party and your friends cause a noise you can’t simply say ‘it wasn’t me.’
- Avoiding damage. If you damage the property your tenancy agreement will usually make you responsible for making good the damage, whether it’s to the landlord’s furniture or something structural. Most tenancies will allow the landlord to deduct money from your deposit to cover damage.
What the landlord needs to do
HMO landlords have many of the regular landlord responsibilities, as well as a range that are specific to managing an HMO.
- Not disturbing tenants unnecessarily. Landlords always need to give 24 hours notice before they – or anyone working for them – arrives at the property and must have tenant consent to enter.
- Most of the repairs fall to the landlord, such as boiler, walls, roof and guttering – check your tenancy to see what is covered. HMO landlords are responsible for keeping communal areas in a good state of repair and ensuring living accommodation is clean and in good repair.
- Water supply and draining. These must not be unreasonably interrupted and an HMO landlord must ensure these are clean and well maintained.
- Fire safety. Landlords must provide a means of escape, as well as smoke and/or heat detectors and carbon monoxide alarms.
- Rubbish disposal. Adequate bins must be provided, as well as a means of disposing of rubbish.
- Deposit protection. Some landlords think that they don’t have to protect the deposits of HMO tenants but this is not the case. The law requires a landlord of an assured shorthold tenancy to protect the deposit with one of three government schemes within 30 days of receiving it.
- Ensuring safety. HMO landlords must carry out a gas safety check every year and an electrical systems check every five years. It’s also key that everything provided with the property has been checked for fire safety (appliances etc). HMO landlords need to ensure fire escapes are kept clear and that there is adequate provision for everyone to escape. They must also provide smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms and make sure these are replaced if they stop working.
The requirement for a guarantor
If you are asked to provide a guarantor then this is essentially someone who is guaranteeing that the landlord will get his or her rent. So, if you should fall behind on your rent or become unable to pay, the guarantor will step in and cover the payment. Guarantors don’t sign tenancies, they sign separate guarantor agreements. If you don’t have a credit record or renting history, or if you don’t have an income or have struggled with rent in the past then the landlord might require this.