Preparing Tenancy Agreements
After having sourced your tenancy agreement and found your tenant, you need to get it ready for your tenant to sign. Here are a few tips for you:
- Make sure that you have all spellings correct, e.g. the address of the property and the names of the landlord and tenant.
- If possible have the agreement details typed rather than handwritten. Handwriting is often hard to read, and if it is misread this could cause confusion.
- Generally, try to have the agreement looking clear and professional. A scruffy photocopy with scrawled handwriting will not reflect well on you as a landlord. After all, this is the document which will govern how the tenancy operates, and may well one day be scrutinised by a Judge (for example if you need to evict the tenant). Take care with it.
- You need to have two copies, one for the tenant and one for you. Traditionally the landlord will sign one copy and the tenants will sign another, and then swap them over, so both have a copy of the agreement signed by the other. However, there is no harm in having both parties sign both copies. You only do one copy for the tenants even if there are several of them.
- If there is more than one tenant sharing on a joint and several basis, they should all sign the same agreement (although see this post about multiple counterparts).
- If there are any other documents to attach (such as house rules, insurance policy terms, head-lease etc) they should be referred to in the man tenancy document and initialled and dated by both parties at the same time as the tenancy agreement is signed.
So far as a signature is concerned, the first thing to say is that if at all possible you should make sure you have a tenancy agreement with all the tenants’ original signatures on before you let them into the property.
Photocopies or scanned copies could prove problematic and are not recommended. Although I understand that some landlords have done this without problems – maybe this is because they have had good tenants and the validity of the tenancy agreement has not been called into question.
Under no circumstances should you let the tenants into the property before signing the tenancy agreement.
Once they are in, they can, legally, refuse to sign anything (whatever they may have told you previously), and the only way you can get them out is via a court order for possession.
Signature by agents
Strictly speaking, where agents are instructed, the landlord should rather than the letting agent (unless the agent has power of attorney). This also gives protection to the agents as it will be hard for the landlord to turn around later and say that there was something wrong with it. However, agents often do
However, agents often do sign for their landlords and I have not heard of this, in practice, causing any major problems (other than landlords being annoyed if they were not told first).
Signature as a deed
Some tenancies need to be ‘signed as a deed’. What does that mean? It means, basically, that the tenancy agreement should say it is signed as a deed, and the signature should be witnessed by someone independent who also signed to confirm this. This witness need to be someone other than the other party to the agreement!
As mentioned on Day 13, because a tenancy agreement is a ‘document of title’, it needs to be signed as a deed unless the exception set out in section 54 of the Law of Property Act 1925 applies. This section says that so long as
- the term is less than three years,
- the tenant is paying a market rent, and
- the term starts immediately,
the tenancy will be valid if there is just a signature.
So if you are arranging for the tenancy agreement to be signed by the tenants a long time before they are due to move in, or if you want to give the tenant a three-year term, or if you have agreed to an exceptionally cheap rent, you will need to sign as a deed.
What about electronic signatures? This is increasingly done nowadays. My view is that it is effective, although there could technically be a problem if people later claim that they were not the person signed online and so cannot be held liable as a tenant. In practice, however, this does not seem to happen and most systems have safeguards to try and prevent this.
I wrote a post about electronic signatures a few years ago here and have not really changed my mind much about this since. Although since then we have had the right to rent check rules – so as you need to have a face to face meeting with the tenant for that anyway, you may as well get them to sign the tenancy at the same time.
NB Find out more about my Tenancy Agreement Service on Landlord Law.