The Importance of a Written Tenancy Agreement

Image of a man signing a written tenancy agreement
Renters' Rights > The Importance of a Written Tenancy Agreement
Ben Yarrow
21 February 2024
2 June 2020

If you’re renting in England or Wales, it’s important to understand that landlords aren’t under legal obligation to provide written tenancy agreements. Still, not having a tenancy agreement in writing places both the landlord and the tenant at a disadvantage. 


Image of a man signing a written tenancy agreement

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Tenancy agreement basics

A tenancy agreement is a binding contract between landlord and tenant, defining rights and expectations for both parties. A verbal agreement can do the same thing, but it isn’t legally binding and in case of conflict, won’t normally be upheld in court. Nowadays, you can easily find a customisable tenancy agreement template online through online letting agents, which will legally stand up in court.

You can learn about tenancy agreements online or get advice from a solicitor if needed. in general though, most cover at least the following: 

  • The landlord’s name
  • The tenant’s name
  • The address of the property being let
  • The date tenancy is to begin
  • The expected duration of the tenancy 
  • The amount of notice the tenant and landlord are to give if the tenancy needs to end 
  • An outline of services to be provided by the landlord
  • The amount of rent
  • How often the rent is to be paid
  • How rent is to be remitted 
  • Whether rent includes any utilities, council tax, etc. 
  • Who is allowed to live at the property 
  • A forfeiture clause allowing the landlord to reclaim possession of the property if the tenant is at fault
  • Whether pets are allowed and if so, which types and any rules pertaining to pets and damages caused by pets 
  • Any other special arrangements, i.e. use of certain amenities, car parks, etc. 

Tenants’ rights and responsibilities 

Under UK law, tenants have certain rights, as do landlords. Both parties have responsibilities, too. The Government outlines all of these in the Private Renting section of housing and local services, and they may be reiterated in a written tenancy agreement. Here’s a brief snapshot: 

Tenants have the right to:

  • A safe place to live, in a good state of repair
  • Know who their landlord is
  • Live in the property undisturbed
  • Protection from unfair rent / unfair eviction 
  • Challenge excessively high charges 
  • Have a written agreement when a fixed term tenancy is to last for longer than three years

When moving into a rental property in England, tenants must be provided with a copy of the Government’s How to Rent Guide.  In addition, they must be provided with a gas safety certificate. In many circumstances, landlords must also provide tenants with energy performance certificates. 

The tenant’s responsibilities should be outlined in the tenancy agreement as well. This erases any questions concerning who is responsible for various aspects of the rental’s upkeep, maintenance costs, etc. According to the Government’s Private Renting guide, tenants must:

  • Give the landlord access to the property (landlord must provide at least 24 hours notice unless an emergency exists)
  • Take good care of the property 
  • Pay the rent even if a dispute between tenant and landlord exists, and even if repairs are needed
  • Pay any other charges agreed, i.e. utility bills and council tax
  • Pay for or satisfactorily repair damage caused by the renter or the renter’s family or friends
  • Sublet the property only if the landlord agrees

Related: Four Simple Ways Landlords and Letting Agents Can Make Life Better for Tenants

The value of a written tenancy agreement

Even though a written tenancy agreement does nothing to change the rights and responsibilities of the tenant and landlord, there are some very important reasons to have a tenancy agreement.

Landlord blogger Suzanne Smith notes in her article 'A Guide for Success as a New Landlord' that "As well as signing an assured shorthold tenancy agreement with the renters, landlords need to hand over a lot of documentation before move in day." - it's true, there's a lot of documentation, a lot that needs to go right, and a lot that can go wrong. Having everything in writing is a must!


How tenancy agreements benefit landlords and tenants

Since landlords are required by law to provide tenants with a written summary of key terms of a rental arrangement within 6 months of the date the tenancy begins, it makes sense to have a written tenancy agreement. Landlords save themselves trouble in the long run while ensuring that tenants understand the terms of the rental.

In addition:

  • Written agreements that have been signed by the tenant and the landlord are legally binding. They cannot be disputed after the fact. This protects both parties. 
  • Landlords must present written tenancy agreements to the court in the event that problem tenants require accelerated eviction. 
  • Tenants must often prove their place of residence to banks, benefits offices, and other organisations by presenting their written tenancy agreement. 
  • Written agreements preserve the agreement between the landlord and the tenant. 

It’s important to note that tenant and landlord rights laid down by law override those stated in a written tenancy agreement. Whether you are preparing a tenancy agreement for a renter or if you are on the receiving end of a tenancy agreement, that document must not suggest that either party has fewer rights than those laid out by statute. 

Final thoughts 

Tenancy agreements can be drawn up using Government guidance. If you are a landlord, consider having a solicitor review the tenancy agreement before you present it to your tenant. Solicitors can draft tenancy agreements on your behalf, and letting agents can take care of this vital task as well. However you go about it, one thing is certain: Written tenancy agreements are essential, even though they aren’t required by law.