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A family member and her husband are renting a house from a friend, the landlord, and have only been living there about a month. There was no contract written up at all. They've become unhappy with the landlord and the house and wish to leave. The landlord is threatening legal action and claims there was a verbal agreement. He has said he will sue them for outstanding rent despite there being no terms - as there is no contract.

He has sent them the following:

"You have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement. The fact that there isn't a written contract doesn't change this as a verbal agreement is legally binding. Payment of rent constitutes acceptance of these terms. The tenancy can only be terminated early from the permission of the landlord. If you leave early this is legally abandonment and you are still responsible for paying rent for the duration of the tenancy ... if you do leave next month I'll consider you in rent arrears and pursue payment through legal means"

To me it seems the landlord has very little legal backing if they were to just leave. Can anyone with experience with UK renting shed any light on the legal reality of the situation?

EDIT

For futher information, I was mistaken in stating they had lived in the property for only a month, it has actually been just over 6 months. There were no witnesses to any verbal agreement, although there will most likely be a considerable number of text messages between the two parties, considering they are long time friends.

  • Are there any witnesses to the verbal agreement? What exactly was said. For example, if they said "we are coming for the summer" that would be a verbal agreement. – sabbahillel Sep 30 '16 at 2:48
  • Verbal agreements are binding, but establishing the terms of the agreement can be difficult without witnesses. If the terms cannot be established, they cannot be enforced. – phoog Sep 30 '16 at 3:53
  • @sabbahillel As far as I'm aware there were no witnesses. The landlord is a long time friend of the husband (though not anymore, probably) and so they'll just have spoken casually in person and/or via text message. – Lee Sep 30 '16 at 19:42
  • Do es the renter have the text messages to ensure what the terms were? – sabbahillel Sep 30 '16 at 19:49
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Let's analyse the landlord's claims:

You have an assured shorthold tenancy agreement. The fact that there isn't a written contract doesn't change this as a verbal agreement is legally binding.

That's true. A tenancy exists even if this was never written down, and it's an AST by default if the requirements for being one are met.

Payment of rent constitutes acceptance of these terms.

Payment of rent by the tenant, and its acceptance by the landlord, is sufficient for a tenancy to be regarded as existing.

The tenancy can only be terminated early from the permission of the landlord.

That's rubbish. A tenant can always end a tenancy, but there may be restrictions. In particular, a tenant cannot end a tenancy before the end of a fixed term without the agreement of the landlord, but the landlord has an obligation to find new tenants if this happens.

However, I've been unable to find any information as to whether a fixed term exists if there's no written agreement. Assuming there is no fixed term, then for a month-to-month tenancy, the tenant must provide one month's notice to end the tenancy, with that month ending at the end of a rental period (i.e. the day before the next payment would be due).

If you leave early this is legally abandonment and you are still responsible for paying rent for the duration of the tenancy

That's true.

... if you do leave next month I'll consider you in rent arrears and pursue payment through legal means

That is possible - but if you give notice as described above, then the tenancy will end, and (assuming you're up to date with the rent) you'll no longer be liable.

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The tenancy is almost certainly an AST.

Unless the landlord can evidence (or your friend admits) there is a fixed term tenancy, you need to give 4 weeks notice if you have a weekly tenancy or 1 months notice if you have a monthly tenancy.

Your friend should give notice in writing, specifying his name, address, date on which he will be terminating the tenancy and contact details after he/she has left the tenancy.

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Tenancy agreements in the U.K. can be oral and are legally binding.

The landlord is stating that the agreement was an "assured shorthold tenancy agreement": is it? Or is it a weekly, monthly or fixed term agreement? Of such questions are disputes over oral agreements made.

This has information on ending a tenancy early.

  • Thanks for the info. Looking at the periodic tenancy section, it claims the tenant must give a written notice of leaving at least 28 days in advance. If there is no fixed term agreement could it still mean the tenancy is periodic by default? – Lee Sep 30 '16 at 19:48
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    If there is no fixed term term the tenancy will be considered to be periodic. – davidgo Oct 4 '16 at 2:28

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