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What to watch out for in a rental contract

Check the fine print before signing a rental agreement. Here's what you need to know before you sign a contract and if you want to make changes.

Words by: Ellie Isaac

Senior Editor

Before moving into a rental home, you’ll need to sign a contract.

As long as the rent charged is under £100,000 a year and over £250 a year (or £1,000 in London), the contract is very likely to be an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) agreement.

Alarm bells should ring if it's not an AST as this is the only type of contract that will offer protections, such as with your deposit.

An AST will set down what you can and can’t do while you live in the property, and what your landlord expects of you. 

It's legally binding, so make sure you take time to read it carefully. 

Remember that an AST is a type of consumer contract, which means it must be in plain language that’s clear and easy to understand.

If you’re unsure about any points, any information is incorrect, or you simply disagree or aren’t happy with anything, make sure you speak to the letting agent or landlord.

Here’s a rundown of what to look for in your rental contract.

The basics

It may sound obvious, but the contract should include your name, your landlord’s name, and the address of the property.

It should also include how much deposit and rent you’re paying, when this is due – and if and when your rent can be increased. 

Check for the date the tenancy begins and how long it runs for, which is typically 12 months.

Notice and break clauses

What notice are you and the landlord required to give at the end of the fixed-term tenancy? It could be one or two months, for example.

And is there a break clause midway through the contract where either party can give this stated notice? For example, after six months has passed, can either of you give one or two months' notice?

Find out more about your landlord's rights to reclaim their property.

Bills and other payments

Your contract should also detail what your rent covers – for instance, does it include ground rent and council tax? Usually utility bills will be down to the tenant to pay, but some landlords wrap gas and electricity into the rental rate.

It should also cover who’s responsible for any repairs and general maintenance of the property and any common areas.

You may, for example, be able to redecorate, but it’s likely the landlord is responsible for specific repairs. This can include eeping the supply of water, gas, electricity, and hot water in good working order.

Any particular rules

Does the contract make a mention of subletting a room, smoking or having pets?

It may carry smaller clauses too, for example that you can't dry laundry inside to prevent damp, or not to keep a bike indoors in case it damages paintwork.

But make sure the rules are fair and won’t make life difficult for you living there. 

Tips for renting with pets

Deposit protection

All ASTs should carry details of the required deposit amount, and how this will be protected during your tenancy. 

Landlords in England and Wales are required by law to place tenants’ deposits in one of three government-approved deposit protection schemes: the Deposit Protection Service, My Deposits or the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. 

There are different deposit protection schemes for tenants in Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

From June 1, 2019, this amounts to no more than five weeks' rent (six if the annual rent is over £50,000).

The contract should also explain when a deposit is able to be withheld for any reason, such as damage you’ve caused during your time as a tenant. 

Deposit protection scheme guide

Making changes

Once you’ve looked over the contract carefully, consider whether you’re definitely happy to sign.

If you want something changed, ask for an amendment, and an updated copy, before doing so.

Most importantly, don’t sign the contract until you’re completely happy with it.

The contract should be signed by both you and your landlord before your tenancy commences and each tenant should receive a copy. You should also keep a copy safe until the end of your tenancy.

Traditional end of terrace house

What happens if circumstances change part-way through your tenancy?

There’s a chance your circumstances could change at some point during your rental contract. This is even more likely if you’ve signed up to a longer agreement, of 12 months – or maybe even more.

If things do change, you may need to inform your landlord and amend your contract.

Again, this document is legally binding, so you need to know exactly what it says. Once any changes have been made, it’s imperative you ask for an updated copy.

Here are some of the contract changes you might need to think about if you live in a rental home.

If you change jobs or become unemployed

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t have to tell your landlord that you are changing jobs, as long as you are continuing to pay your rent on time. And the same applies, in theory, even if you lose your job.

The exception to this is if you have a clause in your lease that states you must advise your landlord if you become unemployed – but this is not very common.

Moving a partner in – or out

If you want to move your partner in, you should check your tenancy agreement to see if there are terms stating what can and cannot be done.

Equally, even if there is no specific clause prohibiting it in the agreement, you should always seek permission to move a partner in.

The landlord can then confirm whether or not the change can be agreed – and under what terms.

There may, for example, be a formal document to complete.

If the partner is viewed as a tenant, the tenancy agreement will need to change to reflect this. Your partner will then need to agree to be bound by the terms of the tenancy.

There could also be implications for the tenancy deposit, how it is protected, and who it is returned to at the end of the tenancy. For example, the change may require a new registration with the tenancy deposit protection scheme – and new documents may need to be issued.

In addition, moving a partner in could also affect the rent you pay. They will also have to agree to be bound by the original inventory.

If a partner is added as a ‘new tenant’, it is worth getting a new tenancy agreement drawn up – or at least an addendum – as this records what has been accepted by all parties.

If your partner decides to move out during your tenancy, you may also need to get a new tenancy agreement drawn up to reflect this change in circumstances. Once again, this new agreement will need to set out what has been accepted by all parties.

Getting a pet

Many landlords do not permit animals. In fact, you may find your contract specifically states that pets are prohibited.

While it may be tempting to try and sneak a cat or dog in, you could be at risk of facing penalties for breaching your tenancy agreement.

At worst, you risk you contract being terminated.

Setting up a business from home

Running a business from home can be a great way to cut costs – and a great way to get things going when you’re first starting out.

But while starting a business from your own home is pretty simple, you need to tread carefully if you are looking to run a business from a rental property.

If this is the case, you must make an agreement with your landlord.

The good news is, a landlord can’t withhold permission without a ‘reasonable’ justification.

Note though, that even if a landlord is happy to let you run your business from the rental property, they may make certain stipulations, such as requesting you only use certain equipment and materials in a particular place (such as an outhouse or shed), and that you only work within certain hours.

In some cases – if, say, the landlord is worried you will cause a disturbance to the people living around you, or that your work might affect the condition of your property – your landlord will have justification to refuse your request.

This could put an end to dreams of setting up as a drum teacher or dog groomer. But if you’re looking to bake cakes or do some freelance writing, there shouldn’t be any issues.

Switching energy suppliers

If you are responsible for paying for your gas and electricity, you have the right to switch supplier. And your landlord should not unreasonably prevent this.

Search gas and electricity deals

By contrast, if your landlord pays the energy company directly and then charges you, be aware that you don’t have the right to switch supplier.

If this is the case, you need to ask your landlord to do, it although they are under no obligation to do so.

(If you’re not sure whether you’re responsible for paying for your energy, check your tenancy agreement).


In most cases you will need your landlord’s permission before you can sub-let all – or part of – your home.

Tenancy agreements often contain a term on this – and many prohibit it without formal authority – so you should always check your agreement first.

If you sub-let your home unlawfully, your landlord may take legal action against you.

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Other things to think about with your rental contract

Having friends or family to stay overnight

As a tenant, you are entitled to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of your home – and this means you are allowed the odd overnight visitor.

But you could be responsible for the behaviour of your tenants, and if they behave badly, this could mean you find yourself in breach of your tenancy agreement. Be sure any visitors are aware of this before inviting them in to your home. 

Semi-detached house with bay windows


If you want to redecorate your home during your tenancy, you will need to ask your landlord if you can do so – and how much you can change. You will usually need to get their permission to update things.

You are more likely to get a positive answer from your landlord if there’s an established and trusting relationship between you.

Before embarking on any changes, it’s important to get the landlord to set out any terms and conditions, and to check if your tenancy agreement states that the property must be returned to its original state when the tenancy ends.

Be aware that an AST agreement will include clauses stating tenants must pay redecoration costs if they change the décor without the consent of the landlord.

9 cheap and cheerful ways to make your rental feel like home

Smoking or friends who smoke

With the majority of landlords, smoking indoors is a big no-no.

Most tenancy agreements will prohibit smoking as the damage it causes is deemed too high.

Be wary of flouting the rules, as you could face penalties – and your deposit may be used to offset any damage caused. 

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.