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Tenants & Flatmates

Tenants & Flatmates

One of the first things you need to know when you’re renting is whether you’re a tenant or a flatmate. The law and your rights are very different depending on whether you’re a tenant or a flatmate.

This section gives you some information about tenants and flatmates.

What’s the difference between a tenant and a flatmate?

A tenant is someone who rents a property directly from a landlord and should have a written tenancy agreement where their name appears on the tenancy agreement as the “tenant”.

A flatmate is someone who lives with a tenant or the landlord of the property, but their name does not appear on the lease with the landlord. They have a flatmate contract with the head tenant or landlord.

In different properties, there might be combinations of both tenants and flatmates. Flatmates commonly pay rent to the tenants, although they may sometimes pay the landlord directly. The important aspect is that flatmates often have no legal tenancy relationship with the landlord.

When does the tenancy law not apply to me?

The law (Residential Tenancies Act) on renting property only protects tenants. This is a problem for flatmates because a landlord, or even a tenant, could evict a flatmate without much notice, and there are no set legal processes as to what should happen if things go wrong. All the legal protections and information in the flatting section applies only to tenants.

In addition, some ‘tenants’ are not counted as ‘tenants’ by the law – there’s over 20 exceptions in the Residential Tenancies Act where you think you may be a tenant, but under the law you’re not. E.g. If you live with your landlord or any member of your landlord’s family, you’re not covered by the Residential Tenancies Act.

Tenants/Flatmates in this situation should consider signing separate agreements with their landlord to better protect themselves.

How can flatmates and tenants protect themselves more?

If you’re a tenant and your flatmate does a runner, you could be liable for the rent. If you’re a flatmate, a tenant could kick you out with very little notice. Flatmates and tenants can give themselves some extra security by having a flatting contract signed by all flatmates and tenants.

It’s important to note that verbal agreements are valid too, but they can be very hard to enforce if a problem comes up, so it’s important to have something in writing. It may seem a little formal, but problems can get out of hand very quickly and can cost a lot of money and stress. Better safe than sorry!

What should a written flatting contract include?

A flatting agreement should include:

  • How much bond is required, who this is paid to, and the procedure for getting this back at the end of the contract;
  • What rent is paid to whom and how often it must be paid;
  • How much notice you must give if you want to move out;
  • How much notice others can give you if they want you to move out, and who can give you this notice;
  • Who has responsibility for any maintenance work;
  • How expenses are split;
  • Confirmation that the landlord allows the tenants to have flatmates.

There is a template you can use on the Tenancy website. Make sure you agree with everything in the agreement before you sign it.

What’s the point of having a flatmate agreement?

If a flatmate breaks the contract, there will be a clear guidelines as to how it should be resolved, and if the other person doesn’t follow the contract, you may be able to make a claim against them at the Disputes Tribunal.

Either tenants or flatmates can draw one up a flatting contract at any time, even if you’re already living at the flat. If you don’t have a written flatting contract it could be very difficult to enforce any agreement between tenants and flatmates, and it will be even harder for the judge if you have to take it through legal routes later.

There is a template you can use on the Tenancy website. Make sure you agree with everything in the agreement before you sign it.

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