Occupancy rights

This fact sheet is for tenants of social housing landlords (this includes councils, as well as housing associations). It explains some of your rights as tenants. It does not cover the occupancy rights of long-leaseholders and shared ownership leaseholders of social housing landlords.

Tenancy agreement

Most of your rights and obligations as a tenant will be explained in your tenancy agreement which is a legally binding contract. It is therefore important that you understand what the tenancy agreement says and ask someone to explain it to you if you’re not sure what it means. You may want to get legal advice if you have a dispute with your landlord about your tenancy agreement.

Some of your occupancy rights will depend on the type of tenancy you have, e.g. an assured or secure tenancy. This is because the law gives you and your landlord different rights depending on the type of tenancy you have.

Landlords of secure tenants have statutory powers to vary (or change) the tenancy agreement following a consultation process.

Possession and eviction

If you are an assured or secure tenant, your tenancy does not expire and you can continue living in the property as long as you pay rent and do not break the rules of the tenancy agreement.

Your landlord cannot evict you without a court order. It can only ask a court to evict you if it has a legal reason, such as for rent arrears or antisocial behaviour. Your landlord will give you a notice in writing explaining why it wants to evict you before taking you to court. You will also have a chance to defend yourself in court.

The Housing Ombudsman is unlikely to consider complaints about issues that have already been taken to court.

Repairs

Your tenancy agreement will explain which repairs your landlord is responsible for carrying out. The law also makes landlords responsible for some repairs, regardless of what the tenancy agreement says. You can find more details in the fact sheet on Property condition.

Lodgers

Secure tenants can rent a room in their home to a lodger. However, it is a criminal offence to rent out the whole of your home to someone else who is not a tenant of the council. You can lose your status as a secure tenant if you move out of the property or lose your tenancy all together. The council can also evict anyone living there if no one in occupation is a tenant.

Assured tenants can also rent a room in their home to a lodger. However, your tenancy agreement will tell you if you can sublet all of your home or not. You may also need the landlord’s permission before you can do so.

Assignment

When a tenancy is transferred to another person through an ‘assignment’, all the rights and obligations of the old tenant pass on to the new tenant. Your right to assign a tenancy, and who you can assign it to depends on the type of tenancy you have. Your tenancy agreement may also require the landlord’s permission before you can assign your tenancy. If you give your property to someone without correctly assigning it, the landlord can ask a court to evict anyone living in the property.

Tenancy exchanges (mutual exchange)

Secure and assured tenants can swap their homes by arranging an exchange with another tenant. You can find other tenants on exchange websites and will need your landlord’s permission. Landlords can only refuse permission for a number of reasons provided in law.

This is not the same as a transfer where you request your landlord to move you to another one of its properties.

Ending your tenancy

Leaving your property does not end your tenancy if you haven’t followed the correct procedure. If either the landlord or the tenant wants to end the tenancy, they are required to give notice to the other party. Your tenancy agreement will tell you how to do this, and how long before you want the tenancy to end you are required to give notice.

If you abandon your property without properly ending your tenancy, you will continue to be responsible for paying rent to the landlord as well as your other responsibilities under the tenancy agreement. Your landlord may also be allowed to take the property back, remove any possessions you left behind and charge you for doing so, as well as for any outstanding repairs.

Succession (inheriting a tenancy)

Passing a tenancy to another person at the death of a tenant is called ‘succession’. Joint tenants automatically become sole tenants when the other joint tenant dies.

The tenancy is passed on to a spouse, civil partner, or cohabitee partner who were not a tenant themselves, if the property was also their home at the time of the tenant’s death. This can also be subject to other conditions.

There are also other rules about which relatives can inherit the tenancy which depend on the type of tenancy. You should contact your landlord or an advisory service for more information.

Right to buy

Some secure tenants have the right to buy their property from their landlord at a discount. You will have to have lived in the property for at least three years and may share the right with up to three family members.

Some assured tenants may be also qualified for a right to acquire (buy) their property from the landlord at a discount. This right to subject to fulfilling other criteria. Some housing association properties do not qualify for these rights. You can get more information at the Right to Buy website.