Written Evidence and Documentation – My tenant entered the property last month and she promised to sign the agreement later. Despite several attempts, I have still not got her to sign 3 weeks later. What can I do?
I never cease to be amazed at the number of times this happens. Some landlords (and I must say most of these are new to landlording) are so trusting and are willing to create a legal tenancy on the most casual of bases.
An agreement that’s not signed is pretty much the same as a verbal agreement when it comes to enforcement – both are virtually useless. One man’s word against another, who is the judge likely to believe?
Any landlord without a written tenancy agreement is in a very weak position if a dispute arises. For a start, the landlord cannot use the Accelerated Possession procedure – he must go to court and explain.
But how do you explain that your tenant is in breach of the contract terms when in effect there are no contract terms? How do you prove when the tenancy started, how long the fixed-term is or what the rent payments should be?
Once a tenant enters a property a legal tenancy is created purely by the action of the parties – keys handed over and rent/deposit accepted. There does not have to be a written tenancy agreement to give that tenant security of tenure. Getting an agreement signed later is, more often than not, impossible.
Experienced landlords / agents know how important it is to get signatures BEFORE the tenant is allowed access to the property.
The process should start with a signature on a comprehensive Tenancy Application form. This gives you all the information you need about your tenant, it confirms that the tenant is aware of the basic tenancy terms, and gives you written authority to carry out credit checks. Also, any false statements made can later help you regain possession quickly, if necessary – ground 17 Housing Acts 1988/96
The agreement itself should always be signed before entry. A witness is not strictly necessary for an Assured Shorthold Tenancy, but if you have one (not a family member) so much the better. However, a witness IS required for a deed of guarantee (agreement for a guarantor) and on a lease for a commercial property.
Other tenant signatures needed (which may seem pedantic at the time but so important later) are on each page of the inventory, plus a tenant signature and date on the reverse of every inventory photograph. This is even more important now with the Deposit Schemes.
Act in haste, repent at leisure!
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