Your rights if you share rented accommodation
If you're moving into shared rented accommodation, your rights will be different depending on who you live with and whether you have a joint or separate tenancy. This page looks at your rights if you stay with a friend, live with your landlord or share with other tenants, and explains the differences between joint, separate and sole tenancies.
Staying with a friend
If you have to leave your current home and have nowhere else to go, you may well end up staying on a friend's sofa. This might be a good solution for a short time, but it could become problematic in the longer term. You will only have very limited rights and your friend can ask you to leave whenever they like. If you are in this situation, get advice immediately. If you have nowhere else to stay, you will be entitled to help from the council.
You will have some tenancy rights if you and your friend have agreed on:
which part of their home you will be renting
how much rent you will pay, and
how long you will be staying.
You don't need to have signed a written agreement for this to be the case. Remember, this means your friend will be your landlord (see below).
If your friend rents their home, check that they've asked their landlord's permission to sublet to you, otherwise you will have very few rights. If the landlord finds out that you are living there without their permission, they can evict you easily.
Living with your landlord or a member of their family
Tenants who share with their landlord have fairly limited rights. Remember, the person you pay your rent to is your landlord. So if you move into a friend's place, they will be your landlord in the eyes of the law and you will be a subtenant, unless:
the arrangement is very casual and you aren't paying any rent, or
you pay rent directly to their landlord.
Sharing a house or flat
If you rent a shared house or flat with other tenants, your rights will depend on:
what kind of tenancy you have - you will probably be either an assured or short assured tenant
whose name is on the tenancy agreement - this will determine whether you have a joint tenancy or separate tenancies. If only one person's name is on the tenancy agreement, they will be a sole tenant.
If you live in a house or flat with two or more other people that you aren't related to, it might be legally classed as a house in multiple occupation or HMO. If this is the case, the landlord has extra legal responsibilities to ensure that the property is managed properly.
What's the difference between joint, separate and sole tenancies?
If all the people living in the property signed one tenancy agreement with the landlord when you moved in, you will have a joint tenancy.
If each person in your household signed a separate agreement with the landlord, you are likely to have separate tenancies, and may have different rights depending on when each of you moved in.
If you are the only person in the household whose name is on the tenancy agreement, you will be a sole tenant. This means that you will be responsible for paying the rent and bills and keeping the property in good condition.
If one or more people in your household have a tenancy agreement with the landlord but you don't (for example, if you've moved in with your partner or friend and have made an agreement with them, but not with their landlord) you have very limited rights.
What rights and responsibilities do joint tenants have?
If you have a joint tenancy agreement, all the tenants have exactly the same rights and responsibilities. You are all equally responsible for paying the rent and keeping to the terms of your tenancy agreement. If you have disagreements, you are responsible for sorting them out between yourselves. Only in extreme cases will the landlord or anyone else get involved.
What rights and responsibilities do separate tenants have?
If you and your housemates have separate agreements with the same landlord, each of you is only responsible for the rent for your part of the property. This is probably the case even if you share a kitchen or bathroom, particularly if you moved in at different times, or your landlord took on each tenant individually.
You may have different types of tenancy agreements. Some of you may have more rights than others. For example, short assured tenants can be evicted more easily than assured tenants.
If you have separate tenancy agreements and one of the other tenants is causing problems, your landlord may decide to evict them. If this does happen, it won't affect your tenancy.
What rights and responsibilities do sole tenants have?
If you are the only person in your household whose name is on the tenancy agreement, you will be responsible for paying the rent and bills and ensuring that the property is kept in good order. This is a big responsibility, so don't take it on if you're not sure you can trust the people you'll be living with.
Who pays the bills?
Although everyone in your household should pay their share of the rent, you will be ultimately responsible for covering any shortfall if they don't. In the case of council tax and gas and electricity bills, you will all be jointly and individually liable for paying, which means that the council or fuel supplier can chase up any of you for payment. However, as the sole tenant, they are more likely to chase you.
Can I be asked to leave?
If you are the sole tenant, the only person who can ask you to leave is your landlord, and they must follow the correct procedure in order to do so. No-one else living with you can ask you to leave, unless, in special circumstances, they can get a court order to exclude you (for example, because you have been behaving violently or abusively). You will be able to ask other people in the property to move out (unless they have occupancy rights) but you must give them reasonable notice.
Who can live with me?
It's your responsibility to make sure that your landlord knows who is living in the property with you. Most tenancy agreements give your husband, wife or partner and other members of your family the right to live in your home with you. Even if the tenancy agreement doesn't say anything about this, these people may still have a right to live with you because of their relationship with you. However, if you want to let out rooms in the property to other people, you will have to ask your landlord's permission.
What rights do I have if the tenancy is not in my name?
If you live with one or more people who have a tenancy with the landlord but you don't, you are effectively a subtenant of the main tenant(s). This means that the person who has made an agreement with the landlord:
is your landlord
can ask you to leave if they want to (although they will still need to give you reasonable notice)
is responsible for paying the rent and bills.
Everyone else should still pay their share of the rent, but if they don't, the person whose name is on the tenancy agreement is ultimately responsible for coming up with the money. In the case of council tax and gas and electricity bills, you will all be jointly and individually liable for paying, which means that the council or fuel supplier can chase up any of you for payment.
Am I allowed to live there?
Check whether the main tenant has permission from their landlord to rent a room out to you, as this may affect your rights. If the landlord finds you are living there without their permission, they will be able to evict you easily. These situations can be very complicated so get advice if you have problems.
If the tenant is your husband, wife or partner, you should have a right to live with them in their home, regardless of whether your name is on the tenancy agreement. These rights are called occupancy rights. However, you should still check the position on the tenancy with the landlord before you move in. Bear in mind that if you are not married, you won't have an automatic right to stay in the home if your partner is the sole tenant and they ask you to leave.
How can I strengthen my rights?
If you do have the landlord's permission to be there, you can ask to have your own separate tenancy agreement, or to become a joint tenant.
If you are living with your partner ('cohabiting') but you aren't married or in a civil partnership, you can apply to the court for occupancy rights. If you are given these rights, they will put you in a stronger position if you split up with your partner. You can find out more about this in the section on relationship breakdown.
What are my rights if I live with my partner?
If you live with your partner, your rights will also depend on whether you are married. Many people assume that if they live together, they have the same rights as a married couple. However, unless you have registered a civil partnership, this is not the case.
Last updated: 29 December 2014
Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.