Statistics published by the Valuation Office Agency recorded that there were 684 private rentals in the Lichfield area (6854 across Staffordshire) in the preceding 12 months to 30 September 2013. Whether a room or a four plus bedroom property, tenants need to be aware of their landlord’s obligations. Here Helen Bradin, Partner at solicitors Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP, highlights some of the primary points to consider:

Q: I’m about to rent a flat and have heard about tenancy agreements but don’t know what’s involved?

Helen: Anyone who pays rent to a landlord will have a tenancy agreement which can be written or verbal. I would always advise prospective tenants to secure an agreement in writing as a verbal agreement could be difficult to enforce in the event of a dispute. That said, if you are paying rent, you do still have rights even if your agreement is verbal. A tenancy agreement is a contract between you and your landlord and should detail the terms and conditions of your tenancy – for example how much rent is due, when it is due and whether it includes charges such as council tax, water rates and other bills. It should also cover basic information such as both your and your landlord’s names/addresses along with that of any letting agent; the address of the rental property; duration of the agreement (fixed term or periodic where it runs on a week by week or month by month basis); deposit payment and the deposit protection scheme your landlord uses; who to contact when repairs are needed and rules on ending the tenancy, pets, smoking and guests/lodgers.

Q: What is an assured shorthold tenancy?

Helen: There are different types of tenancy but most are assured shorthold tenancies which means that the tenant rents from a private landlord who does not live in the property. An assured shorthold tenancy must also have started after 15 January 1989 and be a person’s main living accommodation. With this type of tenancy you can only be evicted with proper notice and following the correct process. However, if you lodge with your landlord and share rooms such as the kitchen or bathroom then this will be an excluded tenancy or licence agreement, both of which afford less protection from eviction. There are also assured tenancies (started between 15 January 1989 and 27 February 1997) and regulated tenancies (started before 15 January 1989) which give different rights again. It is therefore important to understand which type of tenancy you have.

Q: I am sharing a house with friends but one wants to move out. Will this affect those who stay?

Helen: If you have signed a joint tenancy agreement with your friends then you are all responsible for the whole rent which means that if one person does not pay their share then the others have to pay it for them. Also, if your friend gives the landlord notice to end the agreement this means that it will usually end for everyone. This does not apply in the case of fixed term agreements as you can try to secure a new tenancy agreement before the existing one ends.

Q: My landlord has just found out that I am pregnant and is trying to change my tenancy agreement. Can he do this?

Helen: Your tenancy agreement cannot be changed if it discriminates against you – this includes being pregnant or having had a baby as well as discrimination against religion, disability or being gay. Any changes to a tenancy agreement must be agreed by both parties.

Q: What is a tenancy deposit protection scheme?

Helen: A tenancy deposit scheme is designed to ensure that any deposit paid to a landlord on an assured shorthold tenancy starting after 6 April 2007 is kept safe so that tenants get their money back at the end of the tenancy. It is a government backed scheme which can be registered in England and Wales with The Deposit Protection Service, mydeposits or The Tenancy Deposit Scheme. There are also two types of scheme – custodial and insured. With the former the landlord/agent pays the tenant’s deposit into the scheme whereas with the latter the landlord/agent pays an insurance premium into the scheme and keeps the deposit. Provided a tenant has paid all rent and bills, has met the terms of the tenancy agreement and has not damaged the property, the landlord must return the deposit within 10 days of the end of the tenancy.

For advice on family and other legal matters contact Bradin Trubshaw & Kirwan LLP on 01543 421840 for a consultation or email hcb@btpsolicitors.co.uk