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Student housing – sharing accommodation

This advice applies to Wales

Many students share private rented accommodation with other students because they often can't afford to rent on their own.

If you share accommodation, it's important to know how your tenancy is organised as it can have implications for other things. This page highlights some of the issues you need to be aware of when sharing accommodation.

Typical tenancy arrangements

Tenancy arrangements in shared accommodation can vary. The most typical scenarios include:

  • one tenancy agreement which each student in the property signs. You all share the property and its facilities and don’t have exclusive possession of any part, even though in practice you may agree to occupy a particular bedroom and pay individual contributions towards the rent. This is a joint tenancy
  • each student in the property has their own tenancy agreement because they each have exclusive possession of one specific room while sharing other facilities such as the kitchen. In this case, each student has a sole tenancy
  • one student in the property signs the tenancy agreement and has a sole tenancy. They then sub-let rooms separately to other students either as sub-tenants or as lodgers.

Your rights and responsibilities will vary depending on whether you have a joint or sole tenancy or whether you have a tenant as your resident landlord.

If you share accommodation and have a joint tenancy

If you have a joint tenancy, you and the other tenants have exactly the same rights. You are all jointly and individually responsible for the terms and conditions of the tenancy agreement. This is called joint and several liability.

Paying the rent

If you have a joint tenancy, you are liable for the rent both jointly and individually. This means that one or all of you can be held responsible for the whole rent. It’s not possible to argue that each tenant is liable for their particular share.

So, if someone you live with doesn’t pay their share of the rent, the rest of you are responsible for making up the shortfall. If you don’t make up the shortfall, you are all jointly and individually responsible for any rent arrears that build up. Your landlord could deduct money from the deposit, take action to evict you all or recover the debt from any one of you or a guarantor.

If one of you wants to leave

If one joint tenant wants to leave during the course of a tenancy, and the other tenants want to stay, the options are to:

  • find a replacement tenant who is acceptable to the remaining tenants and the landlord
  • not find a replacement tenant, and either the outgoing tenant continues to pay their share of the rent, or the remaining tenants agree to make up the shortfall.

In either case, you’ll need to speak to your landlord first. They have to agree which change can go ahead and should end the existing joint tenancy and create a new one. However, in practice, it’s likely that the existing tenancy agreement will be amended by everyone signing and dating the variation to the agreement on the relevant date.

It’s worth bearing in mind that if you have a periodic tenancy, that is, one that runs from one rent period to another, one joint tenant can give notice to quit, and that would end the tenancy for all of the tenants. They can do this without the other tenants’ knowledge and consent.

If you have a fixed term tenancy, for example, for twelve months, notice by one tenant will not end the tenancy.

If you want one of the other tenants to leave

As joint tenants, you all have exactly the same rights, so one tenant can’t simply be forced to leave. If you have a problem with another tenant your landlord is unlikely to want to get involved and you’ll have to sort the problem out yourself. An independent third party may be able to help you to resolve any difficulties, for example, a common friend, or someone at the student's union.

If you share accommodation but have a sole tenancy

If you share accommodation but have your own individual tenancy agreement there are generally less things that you need to worry about than if you had a joint tenancy with the other students.

Paying the rent

If you have your own individual tenancy agreement then you are liable to pay the rent. If you don’t pay your rent, your landlord may take action against you. If other people you share your accommodation with don’t pay their rent, this won’t affect your tenancy.

If one of you wants to leave

If someone you share with wants to leave then they need to raise it with the landlord. Whether they leave or not won’t affect your tenancy.

The only impact it will have on you is, if they do leave, your landlord is likely to get a new tenant to replace them. It’s unlikely that you will have any control over who that person is unless your landlord asks for your input.

If you want one of the other tenants to leave

If you have a problem with another tenant it’s best to try and resolve any issues between yourselves. However, if that’s not possible, you could raise the matter with your landlord. As you all have individual tenancy agreements, your landlord could decide to take action against the tenant concerned. If they did, it wouldn’t affect your tenancy.

If a tenant in the shared accommodation is your landlord

In this situation, your landlord is the sole tenant and only they have a direct relationship with the actual landlord, who is known as the head landlord.

The sole tenant generally lets rooms to others either as sub-tenants or lodgers. The main difference between a sub-tenant and a lodger is that sub-tenants have exclusive possession of at least one room in the property. No-one can access this accommodation without their consent.

Lodgers don’t have exclusive possession of a room and the landlord can enter the room without permission. Lodgers may also receive other services as part of the accommodation, such as meals and cleaning.

Paying the rent

The sole tenant is the only person who is legally liable to pay the rent to the head landlord.

However, as a sub-tenant or a lodger you are likely to have an agreement with your landlord to pay rent. If you don’t pay them, they are likely to take action to evict you.

Is the sole tenant allowed to sublet or take in lodgers?

A tenant may be able to sublet part of their accommodation or take in lodgers if their tenancy agreement allows it and/or if their landlord gives them permission.

If your landlord hasn't acted lawfully by subletting or by taking you in as a lodger, they will have breached their tenancy agreement. This means the head landlord can take possession action against them and this is likely to affect you.

What happens if the sole tenant’s tenancy ends?

Generally if your landlord’s tenancy with the head landlord ends, this affects your right to stay in the property.

If you share some of the accommodation with your landlord, such as the bathroom or kitchen, you are likely to be a lodger. The legal term for a lodger is an excluded occupier. Excluded occupiers have very few legal rights and can be evicted easily.

If you wanted to take over the accommodation when the sole tenant left, you could negotiate with the head landlord and set up a new agreement. Also, in some circumstances, you may be able to argue that a new tenancy has been created if the head landlord accepts rent from you, knowing that the sole tenant has left.

This can be a difficult area of law, and if you are in this position it’s best to get specialist advice.

Paying bills in shared accommodation

When sharing accommodation, if only your name is on the utility bill, you're legally responsible for the whole of the bill until you end the contract. If your name is on the bill and someone else who lives with you won’t pay their share, you'll usually have to pay the bill and take legal action against them for the money.

If an account is set up using the names of everyone who lives in the property, the supplier can chase anyone for any outstanding debts even if you've already paid your share.

Living in a house in multiple occupation (HMO)

Many students in shared houses or flats live in houses in multiple occupation (HMO). If you live in an HMO, your landlord has extra legal responsibilities and may need a licence for the property.

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