Assured Shorthold Tenancies: An Essential Guide
The Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST), introduced by the Housing Act 1988 (HA 1988), is now the most common form of agreement between residential tenants and landlords and provides much needed legal protection for both parties. Almost all new tenancies are now automatically entered into using this form of agreement.
What is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST)?
From the perspective of the landlord, an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement enables them to rent out property while retaining the right of repossession at the end of the term. For the tenant, an AST ensures that the landlord cannot evict them without reason, and they must follow a strict procedure to bring the tenancy to an end legally.
What are the requirements of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement?
An AST requires that the property being rented is private and is the tenant’s main accommodation, the tenancy commenced on or after 15 January 1989, and the landlord does not reside in the property. Your tenancy is not an AST if it commenced prior to 15th January 1989, the rent exceeds £100,000 a year, or is less than £250 a year (or if in London, less than £1,000), is for the purposes of business or licensed premises, is for a holiday let, or the landlord is a local council.
If your residential tenancy was entered into on or after 28 February 1997, this would automatically have been an AST (unless your landlord served notice stating this would not be the case).
How long is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement?
An AST with either be for a fixed period, typically for a duration of six or 12 months, or periodic. Periodic tenancies automatically run from month to month (or less commonly week to week) until notice is served. Depending on your circumstance, you may decide to enter into a new fixed-term AST (i.e. renew your tenancy) just before the existing tenancy term runs out, perhaps for a longer or shorter duration, or allow it to default to a periodic tenancy.
If you do decide to renew your tenancy, you may be required to pay a fee if you signed your AST prior to 1st June 2019 and it specifically states you are required to pay a renewal fee. Otherwise, there will be no charge to renew.
What is an Assured Shorthold Tenancy break clause?
Not all ASTs have break clauses. It is important that before you sign your AST that you check for the existence of a break clause added by your landlord and that you understand what it means. A break clause provides you or your landlord with the ability to bring a fixed term tenancy to an end before it expires. If, as a tenant, you exercise a break clause, you will not need to serve any additional notice, and the tenancy will end in accordance with the terms of the break clause.
Evictions under an Assured Shorthold Tenancy
There are two forms of AST notice: a Section 8 notice, and a Section 21 notice. Their use depends on the reason for bringing the tenancy to an end.
Section 21 Notices
In accordance with section 21 (1) of the HA 1988, a landlord party to an AST has the right to regain possession of the property, but only at the end of the fixed term (or during a periodic tenancy) if they provide two months' notice. This method is typically used where the tenant has not breached the terms of their tenancy (i.e. it is a ‘no-fault’ possession). This is referred to as a Section 21 Notice, or sometimes a ‘notice to quit’. The landlord must issue a Section 21 Notice in the correct manner. To do this, they need to complete ‘Form 6a: Notice seeking possession of a property let on an assured shorthold tenancy’. This cannot be used in the first four months of a tenancy or if the landlord has not met specific legal obligations, including providing the tenant with an:
- Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) as required under The Energy Performance of Buildings (England and Wales) Regulations 2012); and
- A gas safety certificate as required by The Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998
These documents should have been issued at the outset of your tenancy, not during.
Section 8 notices
Section 8 notices are only used by landlords if the tenant has breached the terms of their AST contract. The landlord must complete a ‘Notice seeking possession of a property let on an assured tenancy’ form, which requires them to outline the exact grounds for seeking possession. Grounds for possession under Section 8 include if:
- The tenant, or a person residing in or visiting the dwelling-house has been convicted of a serious offence in the locality of the dwelling house or (ii) against someone with a right to reside in or in the locality of the dwelling house or (iii) elsewhere against the landlord.
- Rent is unpaid (and is sufficiently late – e.g. if rent is payable monthly, at least two months' rent should be unpaid).
- The tenant, or anyone living with the tenant, has allowed the property or parts of it (including common parts) to deteriorate.
- The condition of any furniture at the property has deteriorated due to ill-treatment by the tenant or other person residing at the property.
- In total there are 17 grounds for issuing a Section 8 notice. Depending on which has been breached, there is a minimum period of notice which must be given by the landlord – either immediate, two weeks, one month, or two months. For example, unpaid rent has a minimum notice of two weeks.
Final words on Assured Shorthold Tenancy Notices & Evictions
For the vast majority of tenants under ASTs in the UK, given the protection they afford, few issues occur, and if they do, they are easily resolved through negotiation with the landlord. Inevitably, in some circumstances, disputes can arise between both parties. If this does occur, consider seeking legal advice from a specialist in residential property law to ensure your interests and those of your family are protected.
Are you worried about your shorthold tenancy? Are you looking for some professional advice? Guillaumes LLP property dispute solicitors can help. We also have expert commercial property solicitors, residential property solicitors, lawyers for landlords and lawyers for tenants that may be able to assist you. Get in touch with our professionals today to discuss your circumstances with us.