What is a tenant?

A tenant is someone who lives in a property or on land rented from a landlord.

If you’re a tenant in a property your landlord might be:

  • a private landlord

  • your local council

  • a housing association

A tenant’s rights and responsibilities

Most tenants have a tenancy agreement with their landlord.

A tenancy agreement includes:

  • rent cost

  • length of tenancy

  • rights and responsibilities of the tenant and landlord

Most tenancy agreements are assured shorthold tenancy (AST) contracts and must stick to the regulations in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.

You do not have to have a written landlord tenant agreement but it’s best to have one.

Tenancy agreements may be different depending on whether you’re renting from the council, a housing association or a private landlord.

Council housing

You can apply for council (or social) housing if your income is low and you’ve lived in an area for a number of years, or have a family or job there.

There’s currently a shortage of council housing, so if your application is accepted you’ll be put on a waiting list.

Councils prioritise applications based on who needs a home the most urgently.

Secure tenancy

If you’re given a council home, you’re likely to be given a secure tenancy.

As a secure tenant, you can normally live in the property for the rest of your life, as long as you don’t break the conditions of the tenancy.

As a secure tenant, you’ll be able to:

  • rent out rooms (but not sublet the whole property)

  • buy your property through the Right to Buy scheme

  • swap your home with another council tenant (with your council’s permission)

  • transfer your tenancy to someone else in some circumstances

  • make improvements to your home

Renting from a landlord or a letting agent

Most tenants rent from a buy to let landlord or letting agent. This means they’re tenants in the private rented sector.

The number of households occupied by private renters in England rose from just over 2 million households in 2000 to 4.55 million households in 2019.¹

Usually a landlord will own a property and either deal with tenants directly or hire a letting agent to manage the tenancy for them.

Your rights and responsibilities as a private tenant

As a tenant, you have the right to:

  • live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair

  • have your deposit returned when the tenancy ends

  • know who your landlord is

  • live in the property undisturbed

  • see an Energy Performance Certificate for the property

  • be protected from unfair eviction and unfair rent²

At the start of a new tenancy your landlord must give you:

  • a copy of the How to Rent guide if you live in England

  • a tenant information pack if you live in Scotland

As a tenant, you must:

  • prove you have the right to legally live in the UK

  • give your landlord access to the property to inspect it or carry out repairs with 24 hours’ notice

  • give your landlord immediate access to the property in an emergency

  • take good care of the property

  • pay the agreed rent

  • pay utility bills and council tax

  • repair or pay for any damage you or your visitors cause

  • only sublet if your landlord allows it

Your landlord has the right to take legal action to evict you if you do not meet your responsibilities.

Costs of renting


It costs an average of £959 a month to rent a property in the UK. It costs more to rent in London – an average of £1,673 a month.³

Tenants usually pay rent monthly, one month in advance.

Tenancy deposit

When you start a tenancy you’ll usually be asked for a tenancy deposit, which is often one month’s rent.

Your landlord must protect this in a government-backed tenancy protection scheme.

You should get your deposit back at the end of a tenancy if you’ve paid all the rent and not damaged the property.

Letting agent’s fees

Before 1 June 2019, tenants could also be charged various fees by letting agents at the beginning of a tenancy.

The fees were for things such as references, a tenant credit check, tenancy signing and an inventory.

The Tenant Fees Act 2019 banned these charges. The only costs a tenant now pays at the beginning of a tenancy are the deposit and rent.

Household bills

It’s usually the tenant’s responsibility to pay the utility bills and running costs of a rented property.

These include:

If you rent a room in a house in multiple occupation (HMO) your rent may include some bills.

How to find a place to rent

If you’re looking for a council home to rent you’ll need to contact your local council.

If you want to rent a home in the private sector you can find properties:

  • from local letting agents

  • on property sites such as Rightmove or Zoopla

  • on rental listings sites such as OpenRent.co.uk or SpareRoom.co.uk

  • from classified adverts or social media

Tenants checklist

  • read and understand your tenancy agreement

  • read the How to Rent guide your landlord gives you

  • pay the rent on time

  • be able to prove your immigration status

  • check if you’re entitled to Housing Benefit or Universal Credit

  • pay a tenancy deposit if necessary

  • consider buying contents insurance

  • pay council tax and household bills

  • understand how the tenancy can be ended

  • look after the property

  • report repairs needed to your landlord

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¹ Statista – Number of households occupied by private renters in England from 2000 to 2019

² Gov.uk – private renting

³ Statista – Average rental costs in the United Kingdom (UK) March 2019 and March 2020, by region