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Tenants legal help : Five things about joint tenants

Friends sharingLots of people share rented property.  Maybe you do.  Here are five things you may not have realised:

1. All of the tenants are collectively ‘the tenant’

This means that they are generally dealt with as a group rather than individually.  For example

2. All tenants are liable for all the rent jointly

So if you have Ann, Belinda, Caroline and Doreen all sharing a flat together, if Doreen fails to pay her share of the rent, the other three can all be sued by the landlord for the total outstanding.  Even though they may have paid their share.  Also

3. All tenants are liable for all the rent severally

This means that if he wants to, the landlord can sue just Ann for the unpaid rent, even though it was Doreen who failed to pay.  He might do this for example if he knows that Ann is well off and has a job where a CCJ would be embarrassing, whereas Doreen is unemployed and already has several CCJs so one more would not bother her.

4. One of joint tenants can end a tenancy by Notice to Quit

This is  part of the ‘all tenants are one’ rule, so if one tenant gives notice it affects all of the other tenants.    Note that this can only be done after the fixed term has ended, as a Notice to Quit will not end the fixed term.

Local Authorities often use this as a way to get a violent partner out of their council house, after the other partner has left – the wife (it is generally the wife) will give a notice to quit, which will end the tenancy for both parties, allowing the LA to evict the remaining partner.  However this is of less use to joint tenants in the private sector wanting to leave than you might image, because

5. All tenants are responsible for the rent until the tenancy has ended and the landlord has vacant possession

So if Belinda wants to end her liability and serves a notice to quit, this will work if ALL the tenants then leave (assuming the notice was properly drafted and was served after the fixed term had ended).   However if Ann, Caroline and Doreen all stay on, then the landlord will still be entitled to his rent, as he has not got vacant possession of his property. Unlike the Local Authority in the example above, he probably won’t want to to go to court to evict anyone.

My understanding is that Belinda will remain liable for the rent in this situation along with the others, until such time as they all move out or a new tenancy agreement is signed (without Belinda).  However if anyone has any legal authority to the contrary, please leave a comment.

Tenants will find more help and guidance on my main Landlord Law site.

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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16 Responses to Tenants legal help : Five things about joint tenants

  1. We have a major university in my area and there are lots of student house shares with each of their parents acting as guarantor for their children. I have never been clear as to whether or not the guarantor’s liability is similarly jointly and several. Is that the case Tessa?

  2. In most cases the guarantor will be guaranteeing the liability of the tenant. So if the tenants liability is joint and several, so will the guarantors.

  3. Now this is what I always suspected. I wonder if keen parents realise that they are taking on rent liablity for a bunch of teenagers they have never met?

  4. I don’t agree with point 5, unless there’s a term of the tenancy which imposes such liability of course.

    If the tenancy is a periodic (statutory or otherwise) tenancy then (barring specific terms to the contrary – which create their own complexities) the tenancy can be ended by a tenant serving notice to quit (see point 4).

    That ends the tenancy. Nothing in section 5 Housing Act 1988 will continue its existence. Remaining tenants will be trespassers.

    Liability for rent cannot arise if the tenancy has been terminated (since rent is only payable under a tenancy) so that ends the leaving tenant’s liability.

  5. But in most cases the other 3 will stay on. They may not even be aware that tenant B has served the NTQ.

    If they pay rent and the landlord accepts this, won’t this create a new tenancy?

    What will the position be of tenant B? For example if she has not moved out yet at the time the rent was paid?

  6. Francis this is a very interesting view. Particularly your assertion that rent is only payable under a tenancy. That makes sense to me.

    If joint tenants stay on after one of them has terminated do you think that the landlord would still be entitled to claim Mesne Profits for every day the remaining occupants continue in occupation? Your post suggests that termination ends liabilities, period.

  7. Well, if the other 3 stay on and the landlord accepts rent from them it would probably create a new tenancy (depending on the circumstances) which would not be binding on tenant B (because she is not a party to it).

    If B remains in the property after her notice to quit has expired (before that she has a right to be there under the tenancy, so one cannot presume anything) then you would have to look at all the circumstances of the case to decide whether she was or was not bound by the new tenancy. She cannot be bound by the others (as a general principle of contract law that would be impossible).

  8. @Ben – sorry if I gave that impression. Yes, anyone remaining in property as a trespasser is liable to pay the landlord a charge for use and occupation of the property – by default calculated at the daily rate.

    So if one tenant gives notice to the landlord and they all remain, then they are all liable in that way until they give up vacant possession.

    As Tessa says, sometimes payment of money in return for occupation will give rise to a new landlord and tenant relationship, but it will depend on the circumstances.

  9. Ah. Thanks for confirming.

    I always wonder how strong the receipt of rent on it’s own goes in establishing a new tenancy.

    I get a lot of unlawful council sub-lets. The housing officers will issue letters re “Use and Occupation charges” while they chase possesion and I always scrutinise the letters to see if they refer to “Rent” but I wonder, if they did, if a court would uphold the creation of a new tenancy of social housing stock? A bit off topic but kind of relevant too.

  10. Ben, its a complicated question, but in recent years the courts have been pretty slow to find that housing officers have accidentally created a tenancy by using (say) the wrong letter or terminology. That’s fair I think. It was particularly important in the age of the tolerated trespasser.

    Of course you’d have to look carefully at what was done and said, but generally its unlikely.

  11. @Tessa – of course the double rent provisions are (as you know) almost never invoked, particularly for residential tenancies, but in principle I don’t see any reason why not. I think Laws point about the landlord “treating” them as trespassers might be a point in their favour if the landlord says nothing about it and they are truly ignorant of the notice to quit.

    One of the reasons for not being a joint tenant.

  12. This is such a messy area of law!

    Francis, what is your view about the form of the tenants notice? Should they use a standard NTQ form (with the prescribed wording) or will an ordinary letter do? Will it be invalid if it does not expire at the end of a period of the tenancy?

    I really appreciate your comments on this Francis, and it will be I am sure be very helpful to readers.

  13. As far as I know there’s no prescribed information for a notice to quit by a tenant – although of course there is a minimum notice period of 4 weeks as for a landlord.

  14. My understanding is that if periodic, the tenant should serve notice to quit (Section 5 of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977) but they are not required to include the prescribed information.



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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