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Housing glossary

Tuesday 3 February 2015 Renting A Home

To help you get your head round some of the confusing terminology around housing, we've compiled a glossary to make everything a bit clearer.

Tenancies and Licences

Tenant

A tenant has exclusive possession of all or part of a property (i.e. they can exclude others from the property or room). Tenants are required to pay rent and have the right to live in the property for a set period of time (e.g. 12 months, or monthly). Tenants may have different rights depending on the type of agreement they have.

It is important to understand what type of renting agreement you have. These are some of the most common types of agreement for students.

Assured short hold tenancy (AST) / Short Assured Tenancy (Scotland)

This is the most common type of tenancy in the private rented sector. Key points about the AST include that the tenant has six months guaranteed possession, and agreed rent, and legal entitlement to tenancy deposit protection (TDP). Assured shorthold tenants cannot be evicted without a court order.

In Northern Ireland, private tenants will have a standard agreement.

Excluded Tenancies

You will probably have an excluded tenancy if you live with your landlord and share facilities such as kitchen or living space. Excluded tenants have fewer rights and can be evicted without a court order.

Licenses

Educational establishments may issue licenses rather than grant tenancies e.g. for places in halls of residence. They can do this if the occupier does not have exclusive use of their accommodation, for example if a service such as cleaning is offered.  However, some private halls of residence offer assured shorthold tenancies.

A licensee will not have the same rights as a tenant and will often only have basic protection from eviction. The notice period will depend on the agreement, but often at least four weeks' notice is required.

Subtenant

Someone who rents their home/room from another tenant. Subtenants can have different rights depending on the circumstances and the type of agreement.

Contracts

Contracts can be verbal but it is always best to make sure you have a written agreement.

Fixed-term contract

A fixed-term contract includes a beginning and end date. Often students will rent on a 12-month fixed-term contract. If you leave before the end date, you are likely to be liable to pay the rent until the end of the contract, unless there is a break clause in the agreement or the landlord agrees to let you out of the contract early. Landlords will usually only release you if you find a replacement tenant.

Rolling (or periodic) contract

You will have a rolling contract if your agreement contains no end date, or if you remain in the property after the end of a fixed term. A rolling contract can be ended by the landlord or tenant giving notice in line with the contract or any other legal requirements.

Individual contract

If you live in a shared house but have a separate agreement with the landlord, you will have an individual contract.  This means that if another tenant leaves, the landlord/agent cannot ask that you cover their rent.  However, you may not have any say over who replaces the previous tenant.

Joint contract

If you and your housemates all sign the same contract with the landlord then you have a joint contract.  This means that you are ‘jointly and severally liable’ for any money owed under the contract.  So, you may be asked to pay another joint tenant’s rent if they leave the contract early.

Deposit

A deposit is a returnable sum payable to the owner/agent.  It is normally held against any end-of-tenancy rent arrears, willful damage and any essential cleaning.

Dwelling

Your main place of residence. 

Energy Performance Certificate (EPC)

A document that provides an energy efficiency rating for the property and an estimate of utility cost.  Landlords are required by law to show prospective tenants an EPC.  

Possession action and eviction

The legal process by which a landlord can remove an occupier from their property.  Assured shorthold tenants cannot be evicted without the landlord serving a notice and obtaining a court order and then a bailiffs warrant.  Other occupiers may be evicted more easily.  Always seek advice about your rights if you think you are at risk of eviction.

House in Multiple Occupation (HMO)

A property that is occupied by three or more unrelated people, who do not form a single household. Some HMOs require a licence.

Landlords in England and Wales must obtain a licence for properties where five or more unrelated people live over three or more storeys. 

Landlords in Scotland and Northern Ireland must obtain a licence for properties where three or more unrelated people are living together. 

Local councils may also set additional licensing requirements.

HMO licence

A document confirming that a shared property meets physical, safety and management standards and that the landlord is a ‘fit and proper’ person.  If a landlord is found to be letting a licensable HMO without one, they can be fined up to £20,000.

Gas Safety Certificate

By law, landlords must arrange for a gas safety check to be carried out by a Gas Safe registered engineer every 12 months.  An up-to-date gas safety certificate must be provided for all rented properties in the UK where there are gas appliances present.

Landlord

Someone who rents out a property.  The landlord is usually the owner of the property.

Letting agent

Is an organisation or an individual who carries out functions on behalf of the landlord. This may include arranging lettings, collecting rent, arranging repairs, administering the deposit and generally managing the property on behalf of the landlord.  Some letting agents just arrange the tenancy and do not have any involvement in managing the property.  This is known as ‘let only.  Other properties are ‘fully managed’ by an agent.

Private Rented Sector (PRS)

The Private Rented Sector (PRS) is defined as accommodation that is privately owned, that is, not by a social landlord, and rented out, usually at a profit. The PRS covers all forms of accommodation and varies in quantity and quality from place to place. It currently makes up approximately 13 per cent of the UK housing market and continues to grow.

Purpose-built accommodation

This is accommodation – usually large – which is let specially to students. It may be ‘halls of residence’ type accommodation, and may be catered or ‘cluster flats’ where smaller groups cook their own food. Individual rooms may have en-suite bathrooms, or share facilities. The may be run by a university or college, or by a private supplier.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme 

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement (or a standard agreement with a private landlord in Northern Ireland) then your landlord must register your deposit with a government-authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme.  These schemes will safeguard the money and offer independent adjudication in the event of any dispute.