What is a tenant and how are they different from flatmates and boarders?
A tenant is a person who rents premises from a landlord. The tenant signs a tenancy agreement with the landlord and has rights and obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986. More than one person can sign the tenancy agreement, meaning that whoever signs is jointly liable under the Act. If any problems arise, then everyone listed on the tenancy agreement is held responsible.
It’s important to know the difference between a tenant, a flatmate and a private boarder, as this affects your rights.
People renting rooms in boarding houses may also be covered by the Residential Tenancies Act. See our section on boarding, for specific information about Boarding House Tenancies.
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What’s the difference between periodic tenancy, fixed term tenancy, service tenancy and boarding house tenancy?
- A periodic tenancy is one that has no fixed date for the end of the tenancy. This sort of tenancy is easier for both the tenant and landlord to end.
- A fixed term tenancy has a start date and an end date, and runs for a set period of time. Normally the tenancy can’t be ended before the agreed on end date.
- A service tenancy is where an employer provides accommodation for an employee. Service tenancies have special rules relating to rent paid in advance and ending the tenancy.
- A boarding house tenancy is where:
- the rental property is, or is intended to be, rented by at least 6 tenants
- each tenant rents their own room in the property, and they share communal facilities (e.g. kitchen, laundry)
- tenancies last for 28 days or more
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I’m thinking of signing a ‘rent-by-the-room’ tenancy. What do I need to know?
In a rent-by-the-room tenancy, you rent just your room rather than the whole house or apartment, and share communal areas such as the lounge and kitchen with other tenants in the house or apartment. Each tenant has a separate tenancy agreement with the landlord.
If the property has more than 6 rooms, the rules for boarding house tenancies might apply. That would mean that:
- the tenancy agreement can’t be a fixed-term agreement
- the landlord can end the tenancy by giving 28 days’ notice (less in certain circumstances)
- you can end it by giving 48 hours’ notice
- the landlord can increase the rent with 28 days’ written notice
- the landlord has the right to enter communal areas of the property at any time
More about your rights and obligations in a boarding house is on our Boarding house tenancies page.
You can call Tenancy Services (0800 83 62 62) for advice if you are not sure whether the tenancy you are considering would be treated as a boarding house tenancy under law.
If you are thinking of signing a ‘rent-by-the-room’ tenancy, here are some important things to consider:
- Who is responsible for the communal areas?
Check your tenancy agreement to see what it says about communal areas such as the kitchen, bathrooms, garden etc. It should specify who has access to these areas, any cleaning arrangements and what happens if there is damage done.
It is likely that the tenancy agreement will give the landlord or property manager the right to enter the communal areas at any time. This is because when a house is rented out by the room, the landlord often takes responsibility for ensuring that common areas are clean and well-maintained.
- Who pays for power and how this is metered?
Unless each room has a separate meter, the landlord will be the one who pays the power. Your rent should include power and other fixed charges.
- What happens if others living in the house get behind on paying the rent, or damage property?
Usually when this happens under a rent-by-the-room arrangement, the landlord has to sort out the problem with the person responsible. This is different from a flatting arrangement.
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I’m renting a house owned by my parents. Am I covered by the Residential Tenancies Act?
The Act does not apply to renting situations where the rental property is used as a residence by the landlord, the owner or a member of the landlord’s or owner’s family.
If your parents agree to it, you can contract into some, or all, of the provisions of the Act so that you both benefit from the protection the Act provides. To do this, you and your parents will need to agree on which clauses will apply to your tenancy.
The agreement must be in writing, signed by both parties, and each party must have a copy of it.
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Does my tenancy agreement have to be in writing?
Yes. All tenancy agreements must be writing, as well as all changes and renewals. Make sure the landlord gives you a copy of the agreement before the tenancy starts, or before changes take effect.
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What happens if there is no written tenancy agreement?
If you don’t have a tenancy agreement in writing then the terms of your agreement will be whatever you and your landlord have agreed to verbally. For anything not covered in your verbal agreement you can refer to the Residential Tenancies Act regarding what your rights and responsibilities are e.g. about notice periods.
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What should be in a tenancy agreement?
By law, a tenancy agreement has to include (as a minimum);
- the full names and location addresses of the landlord and tenant
- the mobile phone number and email address, if any, for landlord and tenant (from 1 July 2016)
- the address of the premises
- the date of the tenancy agreement
- the tenancy start date (and end date if it is a fixed term tenancy)
- the addresses for contacting the landlord and tenant (this can include an email or fax address as an additional address for service)
- whether the tenant is under 18 years
- the bond amount and the rent to be paid
- the frequency of payments, and where they are to be paid
- any fees to be paid by the tenant
- any personal items or pieces of furniture provided by the landlord
Tenancy agreements signed on or after 1 July 2016 must also include a signed statement from the landlord about the location, type and condition of all insulation present in the premises. If the landlord hasn't been able to get this information then the statement must say what information is missing, why the landlord couldn’t obtain it and confirm that the landlord has made every reasonable effort to obtain the information.
Landlords can get an assessment of the insulation installed in their rental properties from an insulation provider.
Other things can be included in the agreement. A landlord can decide to waive some of their rights and powers granted under The Act, but a tenant’s rights and powers are protected and cannot be given up or taken away.
A sample tenancy agreement is available online.
It’s a good idea to attach a property inspection report to the tenancy agreement recording any issues with the property before you move in.