If you’re currently in the process of renting a flat, it’s likely that you’re frequently coming across the term ‘Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement’. While this may sound rather complicated, it’s essentially the most common form of rental contract in the UK, and one which provides the best legal protection for both landlords and tenants.
However, your Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement isn’t much use to you if you don’t know what it should and shouldn't include, and how this benefits you when you’re renting a property from a private landlord. By understanding the key features in an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement you can protect yourself from any later disputes, and ensure that your tenancy goes as smoothly as possible for both yourself and the landlord.
What is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement?
An Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (AST) is the default form of tenancy contract in the UK, and has been widely used for the majority of rental properties since 1997. It’s a legally binding contract between private landlords and tenants which outlines major details such as the length of the tenancy, the conditions, the tenants (which can be just one, or a group) and the amount of rent payable.
Depending on the property, these can vary hugely in detail and length from a two page document to tens of pages of conditions and clauses. There’s no rigid format, as they can be provided by a company or sourced online, so it’s important to understand what details should be included, and which are unnecessary or illegal to enforce.
They contract should use clear, straightforward language, and not be designed to confuse or trick the tenant in any way. If you are unhappy with the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement that has been proposed, speak to the landlord or agency before signing anything.
In addition, while there’s no law in place that says AST agreements must be in writing, having an oral contract offers very little support in the case of a legal dispute, so ensure that you have a written copy of any legally binding documents.
What should be included?
Whether your contract is basic or hugely detailed, it still should cover various essential details about the rental property and the conditions of the tenancy. The following issues should most certainly be addressed:
- The main details of the property, such as the address and number of bedrooms
- The amount of rent payable, the monthly, weekly or fortnightly payment date, and the approved methods of payment
- The amount of deposit payable
- The length of the tenancy, with start and end dates
- Who is responsible for paying bills such as water, gas and council tax
- Whether the house is furnished or unfurnished
- The terms and conditions of the tenancy, such as keeping the property in a good condition and not being a nuisance to the neighbours
- Signatures from both the landlord and the tenant
Common conditions that may be found in the AST also include the condition that the property is only used for private residential purposes, that it won’t be left unattended for a long period of time (usually more than three weeks), legal obligations to pay rent, bills and council tax, and whether or not pets are permitted. For more information on keeping pets in a rental property, read our guide here.
Even if they aren’t stated, both the tenant and the landlord also have certain obligations which they must adhere to by law, such as the landlord carrying out basic repairs, and the tenant having the right to live peacefully without being disturbed by the landlord.
Meanwhile if anything seems unusual or unnecessary in the terms of your Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement, check that it is within your statutory rights for the landlord to enforce it before signing.
When does an Assured Shorthold Tenancy not apply?
Following a change in the law in 2010, it’s not possible to use an AST agreement if the property receives more than £100,000 of rent per year, or less than £1000 annual in London (£250 outside of London), is a holiday home, is let to a private limited company, or is owned by the Crown or a government body.
How long does an Assured Shorthold Tenancy last?
These types of tenancy agreements have no specific fixed term, and can be set for any amount of time, although the most common is yearly terms. After the agreed term has passed, if it isn’t renewed by the landlord it will become a Statutory Periodic Assured Tenancy, which means that the original conditions apply but the term is now on a rental basis, i.e monthly rental payments mean a monthly tenancy. Even in this case though, landlords still have to give the tenant two months notice to end the tenancy, unless terms have been breached.
Some contracts may also include a 'Break Clause', which allows either the landlord or the tenant to end the tenancy after a specific period of time while still within the total fixed term of the agreement. If your contract includes this, make sure you are aware of your rights and the finer details surrounding how much notice each side must give in this case.
Can you end an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement early?
It's possible to end your Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement early under certain conditions, such as if there is a break clause, or if both the landlord and the tenant agree to terminate the contract.
In the case of there being a fixed term and no break clause, it's best to negotiate with your landlord initially before exploring your options. For more information on ending a tenancy agreement early, read our guide here.
Can my landlord increase my rent?
Unless outlined in the AST agreement, landlords cannot increase the rent within the fixed term of the tenancy contract. However, if you renew your contract for another term, the landlord has the right to increase the rent for the next period of fixed tenancy.
Paying a deposit
Since April 2007, all landlords using an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement who wish to take a deposit from the tenants are legally required to place this in a Government approved Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme within 14 days of receiving the deposit.
This can then be reclaimed at the end of the tenancy, subject to the adherence of the contract conditions. For more information on getting your deposit back at the end of your tenancy, read our guide here.
It is against the law for a landlord to discriminate against tenants on the basis of disability, sexuality, gender, race or religion. It’s also illegal for certain tenants to be treated differently for other tenants based on these factors.
Main image credit: Ricardo Silvestre