These types of tenancies are governed by the statutory code set up in the Housing Act 1988, which was amended slightly by the Housing Act 1996. The vast majority of tenancies today will be assured shorthold tenancies. Both assured and assured shorthold tenancy can charge a market rent for the property.

3.2.1 The Main Differences Between An Assured And An Assured Shorthold Tenancy

Assured Shorthold Tenancies

Assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) are now the ‘default’ type of tenancy. If a property is let, and it does not fall into one of the exceptions outlined below, it will automatically be an AST. If a property is let without a written agreement, which is most unwise, then that too will be an AST.

An AST can be for any term (the rule requiring them to be for a minimum term of six months was abolished by section 96 of the Housing Act 1996), although in fact the vast majority of tenancies are for terms of at least six months.

The main benefit of ASTs for landlords is that they can recover possession of the property without needing a reason, provided any fixed term has expired and the proper form of notice has been properly served. The notice is known as a section 21 notice, as the landlord’s right to recover possession and the notice procedure is set out in section 21 of the Housing Act 1988. The notice must be served on the tenant at least two months before the landlord wants possession of the property although it may not expire before the last day of the fixed term. If the notice is served after the end of the fixed term, it must expire on the last day of a period of the tenancy. However, In a recent case Spencer v Taylor [2013] EWCA 1600 it was held that in some circumstances a notice served after the end of the fixed term did not need to expire on any particular date. Because this only applies to some periodic tenancies, it is good practice to expire the notice on the last day of a period.

Assured Tenancies

The non-shorthold version of the assured tenancy gives tenants long-term security of tenure, and tenants are entitled to stay in the property until either they choose to go, or the landlord can gain possession on one of the 17 grounds listed in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988. Possession under the ‘no fault’ section 21 procedure is not available for assured tenancies. Before 28 February 1997 assured tenancies were the ‘default’ type of tenancy, and some of the assured tenancies in existence today were created by mistake, through landlords not following the proper procedure required at that time to create an assured shorthold tenancy. Landlords should seek advice if they are unsure which type of tenancy applies.

3.2.2 Choosing An Assured Or An Assured Shorthold Tenancy

The vast majority of landlords will wish to create an assured shorthold tenancy. If the property is subject to a mortgage, most mortgage companies will also insist that all tenancies are assured shorthold tenancies. A landlord might consider letting a property under an assured (not shorthold) tenancy, where recovery of possession will not be required, and the landlord wishes the tenant to have security of tenure (for example a tenancy agreement with a family member or former employee).

Landlords should proceed with care and seek legal advice before agreeing an assured tenancy, as it will entail loss of the right to recover possession, perhaps during the landlord’s lifetime, as these tenancies can be passed on to spouses.

3.2.3 Setting Up An Assured Tenancy

If a landlord wishes to create an assured tenancy, this can be done by giving notice to the tenant, clearly stating that the tenancy being created is an assured tenancy rather than an AST. There is no prescribed format for this. It is best done as part of the tenancy agreement, but can also be a separate form of notice, served either before or after the tenancy has been entered into.

3.2.4 Tenancies Which Cannot Be Assured Or Assured Shorthold Tenancies

In some circumstances the statutory codes set up by the Housing Act 1988 will not apply. The tenancy may be governed by some other Act of Parliament, or simply be subject to the agreed terms of the contract (usually called contractual tenancies) and/or the underlying ‘common law’.

Tenancies excluded from being assured or assured shorthold tenancies are:

  • where the tenancy began, or which was agreed, before 15 January 1989 (this will normally be governed by the provisions of the Rent Act 1977)
  • where the property is not the only or principal home of the tenants where the rent is more than £100,000 a year
  • where the rent is £250 or less a year (£1,000 or less in Greater London) a company let the tenancy has been granted to a full-time student by an educational body such as a university or college a holiday let or a letting by a resident landlord (i.e. where the landlord and tenant live in the same building as originally constructed, most commonly where landlord and tenant share some part of the accommodation, this is usually a licence/lodger situation not a tenancy).

In the circumstances set out above the tenancy will be governed by the contractual agreement or if there is no agreement, the common law. Note that the chief significance of a property not being an assured or an AST is that the procedures for recovery of possession are different.

3.2.5 Tenancies Which Can Be Assured, But Not Assured Shorthold, Tenancies

The following tenancies cannot be assured shorthold tenancies:

those where there is an existing tenant with an assured tenancy. An existing assured tenancy cannot be converted into an AST, for example by issuing a new form of tenancy agreement. This applies whether or not the fixed term in the tenancy agreement has expired.

an assured tenancy which the tenant has succeeded to on the death of the previous regulated (pre-1989) tenant under the ‘succession’ rules an assured tenancy following a secure tenancy as a result of the transfer of the tenancy from a public sector landlord to a private landlord an assured tenancy arising automatically when a long leasehold tenancy expires.

3.2.6 Fixed-term Tenancies

An assured or assured shorthold tenancy may be a fixed-term tenancy, which lasts for a fixed number of weeks, months or years. The length of the fixed term will be set out in the tenancy agreement.

Most tenancies have a fixed term of either six months or a year, but the fixed term can be of any length although advice should be sought if agreeing a fixed term of more than three years as particular procedures apply. After a fixed term has expired it can be allowed to run on (see below) or a new fixed-term agreement can be entered into.

3.2.7 Periodic Tenancies

An assured or assured shorthold tenancy may be a periodic tenancy that runs indefinitely from one rent period to the next. (This is sometimes known as a rolling tenancy). There are two types of periodic tenancy. The contractual periodic tenancy is one that is periodic because the contract says it is periodic, typically because the initial letting was set up as a periodic tenancy. The second type is a statutory periodic tenancy and this exists because a fixed-term tenancy has expired, the tenant has remained in the property and no new agreement has been set up.

Periodic tenancies can exist either from the start of the tenancy, or after the fixed term of a tenancy expires. The periods of the tenancy are defined by the rent payment periods. This is the period of time for which the tenant pays rent, typically a week or a month. If the tenant moves in on the fifteenth of the month and then pays the rent in advance on the fifteenth of each month, the periods will be the fifteenth of one month to the fourteenth of the next month.

It is important when setting up an AST that landlords clearly identify what dates the rent is payable, and whether rent is payable in advance (the norm) or in arrears (the exception). This clarity ensures that if a fixed-term AST does roll over into a statutory periodic tenancy, both landlords and tenants know what the periods of the tenancy are, and can give the correct periods of notice.

If tenants remain after the fixed term they do not become ‘squatters’. They do not acquire additional rights if they stay as a periodic tenant for a long time.

3.2.8 Initial Period Of An Assured Shorthold Tenancy

An AST tenancy can be set up as a periodic tenancy from the outset, but more usually the landlord and the tenant will agree an initial fixed term. There is no minimum fixed term prescribed by law, but regardless of what the landlord and tenant agree, under the section 21 possession procedure, a judge cannot grant an order for possession to take effect during the first six months of an AST. This means that even if a fixed term of less than six months or a periodic tenancy is agreed from the outset, there is not a guaranteed right for the landlord to recover possession until the initial six months have expired. (If the initial term was less than six months, proceedings for possession can be commenced before the six months but the possession order will not take effect till the end of the six months.)

Possession can also be sought during this initial period, or during a fixed term under some of the statutory grounds for possession in Schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988. The most important of these is for non-payment of rent, but for more information on this see the separate section on possession claims see Chapter 5 on possession.

These rules do not apply to non-Housing Act 1988 tenants (see the list of exclusions above).

Non-Housing Act 1988 tenants can be evicted at the end of a fixed term by serving notice to quit to end a periodic tenancy, or for breach of tenancy (including non-payment of rent), by applying to the court. Comparatively few tenancies are non-Housing Act 1988 tenancies and they can only be created in the special circumstances set out above.

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