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Rent and bills in shared accommodation - overview

Sharing accommodation with friends, colleagues or acquaintances usually works out cheaper than renting by yourself.

It’s likely you’ll have to sign a tenancy agreement when you move in. Alternatively, you might make a verbal agreement with your landlord. As a tenant, the tenancy is lawful as long as you have:

  • exclusive possession of an identifiable premises
  • for a defined term - this could be fixed or periodic (rolling week to week/month to month)
  • a defined rent

There are two main types of tenancy agreement:

  • sole (sometimes called ‘individual’), with separate agreements covering different parts of the property and some shared areas
  • joint, with one agreement covering the whole property

There can be problems when you’re living with other people. Most problems in shared accommodation involve things like money, your tenancy agreement or the people you share with.

Houses in multiple occupation

Your landlord might have to meet additional legal requirements, such as licensing the property, if you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO).

You might live in an HMO if you share a toilet, bathroom or kitchen with people who are not members of your household.

Find out more about your rights in shared accommodation.

Problems with rent

In shared accommodation, how much rent you’re liable for paying will depend on the type of tenancy agreement you have.

If you have a joint tenancy

As a joint tenant, all tenants share liability for the full rent. This means you might have to pay someone else’s share of the rent if they don’t pay, or if they move out. You and the other tenants could all be evicted if any part of the rent is unpaid.

You might be able to take legal action to get your money back from a joint tenant who owes rent to your landlord or agency. You’ll still have to pay the debt first.

If you have an individual tenancy

You don’t have to pay anyone else’s rent if your tenancy agreement says you’re only responsible for your own. You can’t be evicted due to rent arrears caused by someone else stopping payment or moving out.

Problems with utility bills

If you rent with other people, you’ll usually all agree to pay an equal share of the utility bills, for example gas, electricity or water.

You’re either partly or wholly responsible for paying any utility bill if your name is on the account.

If only your name is on the bill

If you ask for the utility to be connected, you enter into a contract for the supply, even if you plan to split the bill with the other tenants.

Your name will be on the bill and you will be legally responsible for it until the contract ends.

If the other tenants won’t pay their share of the bill, you’ll probably have to pay the whole amount. You might have to take legal action against the other tenants to get your money back.

Even if you move out, you might still have to pay the whole bill.

Check if you’re responsible for paying this bill.

If all the tenants' names are on the bill

If an account has been set up in the names of all tenants, the supplier can legally chase any or all of the tenants named on the agreement for any outstanding debts.

For example, if your name is on the bill and you’ve paid your share but someone else hasn’t, you could still be legally responsible for the remaining debt.

Check if you’re responsible for paying this bill.

If a previous tenant’s name is on the bill

You’ll have a ‘deemed contract’ with the utility company if the utilities were already connected when you moved in. Any adult living in the property and using the utility can be held responsible for paying the bill.

The legal situation can be complicated if tenants don’t pay their share of the bill. Contact your nearest Citizens Advice for help.

Check if you’re responsible for paying this bill.

Problems with the phone bill

You’re responsible for paying the phone bill if the account is in your name. The bill might also include monthly internet and cable or satellite TV charges.

Some phone companies will only allow one person to be named on an account. Others allow several names - this means that each of the account holders is responsible for the bill and might be asked to pay.

If you're the only person named on the phone bill and the other tenants won’t pay their share, you’ll have to pay the whole phone bill.

You might have to take legal action against the other tenants to get your money back from them.

Problems with Council Tax

You and the other tenants will usually have joint responsibility for your Council Tax bill, unless you live in an HMO. This means if some of the bill is unpaid, the council can take action against any of you to get their money back.

If you're all students

You won't need to pay any council tax if you and the other tenants are students.

You have to fill in a form for your local council to apply for student council tax exemption

If you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO)

If you live in an HMO and you and the other tenants haven’t signed a joint tenancy agreement, your landlord is liable for the council tax.

You might be living in a ‘house in multiple occupation’ if all of the following apply:

  • you live with three or more other people

  • at least one person isn't related to the others

  • you share facilities like a toilet and shower

Your landlord might pass on the Council Tax cost to you by adding it to your rent.

Problems with your TV licence

You can be prosecuted if you don’t have a TV licence for your home.

If you watch BBC TV anywhere other than at someone else’s house, including on a mobile device (from September 2016), you probably need a TV licence. You can pay monthly or once a year.

Visit the TV Licensing website to check if you need a licence. You might need one if there's a TV in a communal area, even if you never watch it yourself.

Problems with your deposit

Your landlord might want to keep back some or all of your deposit when you leave, for example if you’ve damaged some of the furniture.

If you have a joint tenancy, you’re usually all equally responsible for damage. It is up to you and the other tenants to decide how to split what’s left of the deposit between you.

If you have sole tenancy agreements, your landlord should only make deductions from your deposit for money you owe or damage you’ve caused.

If your tenancy is an assured shorthold, your landlord must put your deposit in a tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Read more about tenancy deposit protection schemes.

Problems with people you share with

Your legal situation can be complicated. Get help from your nearest Citizens Advice if:

  • you’re being asked by other tenants to leave shared accommodation

  • you want one of the people you live with to leave

If you have a joint tenancy agreement, you usually all have equal rights to remain in the property. No one can be forced to move out, even if one person is causing problems for everyone, for example if they are noisy or inconsiderate.

You should try to sort any problems out with the other tenants. You could ask an independent third party to help you.

You should check your legal position by looking at your tenancy agreement and any other documents you signed when you moved in.

If one of the joint tenants gives notice to the landlord that they're going to leave, your tenancy might end.

You all signed a joint tenancy agreement with no break clause, for a fixed term. One tenant’s behaviour is so bad that you want to break the agreement and make them move out.

You can’t end the agreement before the fixed term ends unless the landlord and all tenants agree - including the one you want to leave the property.

If all tenants agree, the landlord could consent to a ‘mutual surrender’ of the existing tenancy. You could then start a new joint tenancy with the remaining tenants, and any new tenant moving in.

If you have an individual tenancy agreement

If you all have an individual tenancy agreement and one of the other tenants is causing problems, your landlord might decide to evict them. It won't affect your tenancy.

Problems with your tenancy agreement

Usually when you move into rented accommodation, you sign up for a fixed period of time. This is often 6 or 12 months but it can be longer.

Once you’ve signed the tenancy agreement, you’re legally responsible for the rent for the whole fixed period, even if you leave the property.

If you want to leave

If you’re a joint tenant, you could try to find someone else to replace you if you want to leave before the end of your fixed period. Your landlord and the other tenants (if any) must agree to this.

Your liability can only lawfully be ended if you, the other tenants and your landlord surrender the existing tenancy, and a new tenancy is granted to everyone who wants to stay in the property. You won’t usually get your deposit back until the end of the tenancy, even if you move out before that date.

If you’re a sole tenant, you can only end your tenancy within the fixed term if you do one of these things:

  • exercise a break clause (if there is one) within the agreement to terminate the agreement early

  • agree a mutual surrender with the landlord

If all joint tenants want to leave within the fixed term

You still have to pay rent to the end of the fixed term, unless new tenants are found before that date, if you and the other tenants have a joint tenancy and you all want to end the agreement early. The exception to this is if your landlord agrees with all tenants to end the tenancy early (mutual surrender).

Check your tenancy agreement to see if it has a ‘break clause’. This allows you to end the tenancy early at a certain point in your agreement.

Lee and Nancy live together. They have individual tenancy agreements for a fixed term of 12 months. The agreements contain a break clause which says that the landlord or either tenant can serve two month's notice, after 4 months, to end the tenancy.  

Lee wants to move out after 4 months. He can only end his tenancy if he serves 2 months notice after the first 4 months, and pays the remaining 2 months’ rent even if he moves out before 6 months.

Nancy stays in the property for longer than 6 months. The landlord wants her to end the tenancy after 8 months so it’s empty during renovations. The landlord can serve her notice providing it is served more than 4 months after the tenancy starts, and the notice is for at least 2 months.

Nancy can also end the tenancy at any point between 6 and 12 months if she gives the agreed amount of notice.

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