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Sharing a House

25th October 2023

By Ben Walker

Sharing a House

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When you’re first thinking of moving out from home, it can be a daunting prospect. Whether that’s because of the money involved or just living alone, sometimes sharing a house can be the best way forward. But, when renting with other people, it’s very important to have all the information organised and available in case of problems. 

There are three main types of tenancy agreements:

Joint Tenancy – This is when there is one tenancy agreement for the whole property, which every person involved signs. This means that you’ll be sharing the property, not having exclusive possession of any particular part. So, each person does not have exclusive rights to their own room, though you may agree to occupy certain bedrooms.

Sole Tenancy – Each renter in the property has their own tenancy agreement specific to them. In this case, each person has exclusive possession of at least one specific room. However, they share the rest of the facilities like the kitchen or living areas.

Sub Letting – This is where one person rents the entire property and has a sole tenancy. From there, that individual will then sublet rooms separately to other people. Either as lodgers or sub tenants.

Depending on your type of tenancy, you will have different rights and responsibilities. 

Joint Tenancy

In this type of tenancy, each tenant has the same rights and responsibilities. Therefore, each tenant is liable for the rent both individually and jointly. So, if one or all of you do not pay rent, either that individual or the whole group will be held responsible. You will not be able to argue that one specific person should pay that rent. This means that if one person doesn’t pay, then the rest of the group will be responsible for making up the shortfall. If you don’t make up this shortfall, all tenants are jointly and individually responsible for any arrears in rent that build up. This could result in the landlord taking money from the deposit, taking action to evict you, or trying to recover the debt from any of the tenants or guarantors. 

If one of the tenants wants to leave early, this can lead to complications. This is because in a joint tenancy, if one person wants to end the tenancy, then everyone has to. Some joint tenancy agreements are fixed term, and so have much less wiggle room as you are legally obligated to see out the full term. However, in some of these there are break clauses that may allow you to end the tenancy early. 

End of fixed term

If your fixed term has ended, then you are able to give notice to end your tenancy without needing the agreement of the other tenants, unless your tenancy agreement says you can’t. But, keep in mind that if you end your tenancy, then it ends for all tenants.

If only one tenant wants to leave, but the rest want to stay, then there are a couple of options for those who want to stay. First of all, you can ask the landlord for a new tenancy agreement, ideally with someone to replace the leaving tenant. Or, you can make no changes to the agreement, and the existing tenants will have to cover the share of the leaving tenants rent.

Sole Tenancy 

If you have your own tenancy agreement when sharing a property, there are generally less things to worry about. For example, when paying rent you are only liable for your portion of the rent. If you don’t pay, your landlord may take action against you. However, you are not liable if another tenant does not pay their rent.

If one of the tenants wants to leave, it is much less likely to affect you than it would with a joint tenancy. If the tenant does leave, then that has no effect on your tenancy. The only way the tenant leaving will impact you is that the landlord will bring in another tenant to replace them, over which you will have no say.

Sub Letting

When you are subletting, you would not have a direct relationship with the owner of the property, known as the head landlord. Instead, you would be paying your rent to the sole tenant of the property. 

The sole tenant, or your landlord, then lets rooms out to people as either sub-tenants or lodgers. A lodger does not have exclusive rights to at least one room in the property, and so the landlord can enter without permission, while sub-tenants do have exclusive rights to at least one room. This means no one can enter the room without the sub-tenant’s consent. However, lodgers may receive extra services such as meals or cleaning.

When paying rent, the sole tenant is the only person with a legal responsibility to pay the head landlord. However, if the sole tenant doesn’t pay rent, this is likely to affect you. This is because the head landlord may take legal action to evict the sole tenant, with whom your contract is with.

In some cases, the sole tenant may not legally be able to sublet the property. If this is the case, the sole tenant will have breached their tenancy agreement, most likely meaning the head landlord will take legal action against the sole tenant. This could have a knock-on effect on you.

End of tenancy

If the sole tenant’s tenancy ends, this could mean that you no longer have a right to stay on the property. In some cases, you could negotiate with the head landlord to set up an agreement that would allow you to stay on the property. Alternatively, if the head landlord accepts payments from you in the knowledge that the sole tenant has left, you could argue that this is a new tenancy. However, this can be a difficult area of law, so it is best to seek specialist advice.

Paying Bills

When it comes to paying external bills that may not be included in the tenancy agreement, such as electricity, water or WIFI, you must make sure you know who is responsible. If only your name is on the utility bill, then you are the only one legally responsible for the bill until the end of the contract. So, if another tenant won’t pay their share of the bill, you will have to pay and then can take legal action against them to get the money back.

If the utility account is set up with the names of all the tenants, then the supplier can chase any of you for the outstanding debts, even if you have already paid your share.

Again, with regards to paying bills, make sure that you know who is legally responsible.

As always, it’s very important to make sure you know what your rights and responsibilities are, but especially so when you’re sharing a home. Reading the fine print is a must as this can make sure that you won’t get caught out in the future. Have a look through the guides to find relevant information that could help you make a decision on whether to rent or not.

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