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New Arrivals

Your legal rights as a private tenant

This page is for new arrivals. If you are a housing adviser please click here for information more relevant to you.

This page gives only a summary of legal rights for migrants. More detailed guidance for advisers is on the page on the law and the private rented sector.

Do you have a tenancy or a licence?

Nearly all arrangements in the private rented sector today are ‘tenancies’. Some landlords provide written agreements that are called ‘licence agreements’ because they believe that a ‘licence’ gives tenants fewer rights. The law says that it is the actual arrangement that should be considered to decide whether an agreement is a tenancy or a licence, not the words in the document.

What is a tenancy?

Where you pay rent, have exclusive possession of the property and the property is let for a term, then the arrangement is normally a tenancy. ‘Rent’ is paid for the right to occupy the property, and not for any services provided by the landlord. ‘Exclusive possession’ means you have the right to control who can come into the property. ‘Term’ is the period of time for which the property is let.

What is a licence?

If there is no exclusive possession or no rent is paid, then the arrangement might be a ‘licence’. Two common examples are:

  • when you share a house or flat with the owner and pay rent as a family member, friend or a lodger, but can be asked to move rooms by the owner
  • hotels or hostels where you could be asked to move rooms or where rooms are only provided on a night-by-night basis.

What types of tenancy are there and what is security of tenure?

‘Security of tenure’ means that you have the right to stay in the accommodation until the landlord has carried out proper legal steps to end the tenancy. How much security of tenure you have depends on the type of tenancy or licence you have:

  • Assured shorthold tenancies: Nearly all tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies. The landlord has the right to end the tenancy if they give two months’ notice and obtain a court order. The notice can be served at any time, but cannot be used to get a court order for the first six months (or any written fixed term in the tenancy if longer than six months). The court order is only valid if the proper procedures have been followed.
  • Other tenancies: Housing associations may grant assured tenancies which have greater security of tenure. Some tenancies granted before 1989 by private landlords to tenants who are still living there are Rent Act regulated tenancies and they also have greater security of tenure. If you think you may have one of these tenancies, get advice.
  • Accommodation provided by employers: Usually this is an assured shorthold tenancy and the same rights apply. But sometimes you have fewer rights. If you have to live in the accommodation to do your job then you are a ‘service occupier’ or licensee. Examples include live-in carers or housekeepers, caretakers or parks or grounds keepers. A service occupier loses their right to live in the accommodation when they lose their job, but the landlord has to follow legal procedures (except, for example, where the living space is shared with the landlord/employer).
  • Agricultural tenancies: Some farm workers may have agricultural tenancies where the tenant lives in a separate house, usually owned by the employer, and works full-time on the farm. Most of these are assured or assured shorthold agricultural tenancies with rights similar to those set out above. Other farm workers, even where the employer has arranged their accommodation, may not be living in agricultural tenancies and will have a tenancy or licence (see above). There is a useful summary about agricultural tenancies on the Shelter website.
  • Contractual tenancies or licences where a ‘possession order’ is required: Some tenancies do not have any security of tenure, so your rights are only those set out in the tenancy agreement. A landlord has to give at least four weeks’ notice to quit and follow legal procedures. Common examples are:
    • certain tenancies where the rent is more than £100,000 per year or less than £1,000 (in London) or £250 (anywhere else in England and Wales)
    • lettings to students by an educational institution
    • where the landlord lives in the same flat or building as you but without sharing facilities.
  • Contractual tenancies or licences where a ‘possession order’ is not required: With some tenancies or licences the landlord does not need a court order to ask you to leave. If the tenancy or licence has come to an end, the landlord can ask you to leave without getting a court order. The most common are:
    • where you share accommodation with the landlord or the landlord’s family
    • you are in a holiday let
    • you have a tenancy or licence where you pay no rent
    • you are an asylum-seeker in accommodation arranged by the Home Office
    • you occupy a room or rooms in a hostel provided by a council or similar landlord.
  • Night-by-night accommodation: if you occupy a room in a hotel, hostel or night shelter on a nightly basis, the owner can ask you to leave your room without a court order.

In England, you can lose your security if you and all the other adults in your home do not have the right to rent. Your landlord can tell you to leave, and remove you without a court order. But your landlord must give you the proper documents, including a copy of the notice s/he received from the Home Office and must allow you at least 28 days to leave. If there are children in the home or adults who are not 'disqualified' the landlord has to get a court order to end the tenancy and to oblige you to leave. 

This law is complicated so get advice quickly if your landlord tells you to leave because of your immigration status.

What is the law about financial arrangements with the landlord?

Tenancy deposits

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy and your landlord asked for a deposit s/he must protect it by placing it in a government approved scheme and tell you about it. If your landlord fails to protect your deposit, they may lose their right to recover possession after serving you with two months’ notice and you may be entitled to compensation.

Notices to the tenant and rent books

You must be given the landlord’s address (in writing). If you pay rent weekly, the landlord must give you a rent book.

Rent increases and changes in rent

The rent at the start of the tenancy will be in the tenancy agreement. It should also say how it can be increased. If it does not, the rent will stay the same throughout the fixed term of a tenancy.

If the landlord wants to increase the rent, they should serve a notice. If you think it is too high, you have the right to ask the Residential Property Tribunal (England) or Rent Assessment Committee (Wales) to assess the market rent. But be aware that, if the landlord wants to increase the rent under an assured shorthold tenancy, and you do not agree, then the landlord can end the tenancy (see above).

Letting agents fees and charges

In England, from 1 June 2019, and in Wales from 1 September 2019, the only fees a letting agent can make a charge for (other than your rent) are:

  • a holding deposit (to reserve a property) of up to one week’s rent
  • a refundable deposit of up to five weeks’ rent
  • a charge if you wish to end the tenancy earlier than you originally agreed
  • a default fee for late payment of rent, or for replacement of a lost key, but only if this is stated in your agreement
  • charges for utilities (fuel, water used), internet, TV licence, etc.

All other charges for arranging a letting, such as charges for the renewal of your agreement when it ends, are unlawful and can be recovered. You can find out more from this government guide (pdf). In Wales, this law is enforced by Rent Smart Wales as part of your landlord/agent’s licence conditions. You can find out more, including how to complain, in the tenant's guide (pdf).

What is the law about the condition of the property?

What you can do about disrepair as the tenant

The tenancy agreement usually says what repairs your landlord should do. But even if it doesn’t and you pay your rent weekly or monthly the law says your agreement automatically includes a term that requires him/her to ensure your home (including any common parts) is fit to live in and to keep in repair and good working order:

  • the structure and exterior of the property
  • installations (such as the pipes) for water, gas, electricity, washing, heating and heating water and drainage
  • any ‘common parts’ of the property, such as communal landings, stairs, the front door (the landlord should repair these without being asked to by the tenant).

You must tell the landlord about any disrepair and the landlord only breaks the terms of the tenancy if they fail to repair it within a reasonable time. If this happens you can ask a court to order the landlord to do the repairs and pay you damages. You can sometimes get help to pay for legal advice to do this.

The requirement to be ‘fit to live in’ applies to all contracts in England from 20 March 2020 (including contracts agreed before then). A similar law also applies in Wales to all new contracts from 1 December 2022 and to every contract (including ones agreed before 1 December 2022) from 1 December 2023.

Getting help from the local council about disrepair

You can apply to the courts for compensation where your landlord has failed keep your home fit for habitation or to do the repairs as set out above. Your local council also has powers to act against your landlord for bad housing conditions. You can complain to the council who will then send an official from the environmental health department to inspect and act if needed. They can order the landlord to do the repairs and, if necessary, take the landlord to court.


Tenants cannot take action against their landlords for overcrowding, but the local council can assess the accommodation and serve a notice on the landlord to stop the overcrowding. The council will have to follow certain standards which decide if there is overcrowding or not.

Houses in Multiple Occupation

If you live in a building where your household has to share facilities such as the bathroom or kitchen with other households, it may be classified as a ‘House in Multiple Occupation’ or ‘HMO’. In these properties, different rules apply and if you have problems with disrepair, overcrowding or other issues like the safety of the premises, you should contact your local council.

What can you do about harassment and illegal eviction?

If a landlord or someone else tries to make you leave, without going through the proper legal stages, that is a criminal offence. Harassment of tenants is also a criminal offence. This includes threats, violence and also action like cutting the water, telephone, gas or electricity supply. It also includes telling people they must leave because of their immigration status, unless the landlord has been sent notification by the Home Office that people ‘disqualified’ from the ‘right to rent’ are living in the home (see above). If this happens and you contact the police, they should treat harassment or illegal eviction as criminal acts and deal with them. You can also take legal action yourself and you may get help to pay for this.

What happens if you are homeless and are offered private rented accommodation?

Private rented accommodation can be used by local councils to house people who apply for help as homeless. How councils help homeless people is explained here. If you are accepted by the council as homeless, you might be offered an assured shorthold tenancy through a private landlord either:

  • while you wait for long-term accommodation; or
  • instead of waiting for accommodation provided by the council or a housing association.

The tenancy offered must be ‘suitable’ but this can be quite a low standard.

If you refuse an offer, the council will probably have no duty to continue to accommodate you. You have the right to accept the offer and then to try to get a review of the council’s decision: this is probably the safest thing to do. Councils are supposed to offer accommodation in their own areas if they can but this can now be very difficult, so you might be offered accommodation somewhere else, perhaps in a different town a long way away.

Chartered Institute of Housing

More Information

Chartered Institute of Housing