Joint tenancies can be agreed with two or more people from the outset of the tenancy. Each can then be responsible jointly and severally (individually) for meeting the terms of the tenancy in full, including paying the rent. This is known as ‘joint and several liability’. Joint and several liability only arises where it is agreed. If nothing is agreed they will simply be jointly liable.
For example, if a property is let jointly and severally to four tenants A, B, C and D for a monthly rent of £400 (with each agreeing to pay £100 each), and C decides to leave, they will all each still remain liable under the contract for all the rent. So C is still liable for rent even though he or she may not be living there, and A, B and D will each be liable to the landlord, for all the rent, including the £100 share from C. This situation will continue until either vacant possession is given back to the landlord or a new tenancy is signed, for example with A, B, D and perhaps E.
If one of the joint tenants wishes to vacate, it is best to regularise the situation as soon as possible by signing a new tenancy agreement with the remaining and new tenant(s), so long as any replacement tenants can be referenced satisfactorily. A landlord should not allow the situation to drift.
Instead, a proactive approach should be taken to ensure the remaining tenants sign a new tenancy agreement. Failure to do so could cause the landlord difficulties in repossessing the property. If the tenants provided a guarantee with the original tenancy, the landlord should ensure that a new guarantee is provided with any new tenancy, or that the old guarantee will apply to any new tenancy granted to the same tenant.
Technically a tenancy can only be in the names of four tenants, as in land law only four people can hold a legal interest in land. However, if there are more than four tenants who wish to share, the additional tenants will still be liable for the rent and everything else under the contract, and their cotenants will be deemed to be holding the tenancy on trust for themselves and the others. Practically therefore the four-name rule is not a problem.