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Introductory tenancy agreements - what do you need to know?

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Introductory tenancy agreements - what do you need to know?

A number of local authorities and social landlords have started to use introductory tenancy agreements for all new tenants. Introductory tenancies were introduced in 1997 as an attempt to provide social landlords and local authorities with additional legal powers to deal with anti-social behaviour. These agreements look very similar to the Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (‘AST’), and in fact most tenants don’t know the difference between the two types of agreement. However, there are some significant differences that people need to be aware of.

An introductory, or starter tenancy as they are more commonly known, acts like a ‘trial period’. The introductory period lasts up to 12 months, although this can be extended to 18 months in exceptional circumstances. During this time it is easier for the landlord to evict the tenant. At the end of the introductory period the tenancy then becomes secure, unless a notice has been served on the tenant and possession proceedings commenced. It is worth noting that it is not enough for a landlord to just issue a notice. Possession proceedings must have also been issued by the end date of the introductory tenancy, or the tenancy becomes secure.

It is also worth mentioning that during the introductory period the tenant’s rights are restricted. They cannot take in lodgers and have no right to compensation for improvements. Tenants on introductory tenancies also have no exchange rights and their succession and assignment rights are limited until their tenancy becomes secure.

Should the landlord choose to issue a notice for any reason then they are only required to serve a notice to terminate and issue proceedings before the end date of the introductory tenancy. If this procedure is followed, and there is no defence to the proceedings, the Court has no option but to give possession of the property to the landlord. A tenant can ask the Court for the possession order to be postponed for a maximum of 42 days, but only if they can show that by asking them to leave the property any earlier would cause the tenant exceptional hardship. If a tenant cannot show exceptional hardship the Court cannot postpone the date of giving possession of the property to the landlord for any more than 14 days unless the landlord agrees to a longer period.

If the landlord is successful in gaining possession of the property the eviction process is very different for tenants with introductory tenancies. After the possession order expires the landlord then need only apply for a warrant of eviction to fix a date for the bailiffs to attend the property and change the locks. The tenant may make an application to suspend the warrant of eviction, however, unless the landlord agrees to allow the tenant to stay at the property for a longer time period, or unless the tenant has not had 42 days from the date the possession order was granted and can show exceptional hardship, the Court is not able to suspend the eviction.

Clearly these new tenancies come with greater risks to tenants who face difficulties in keeping up to date with payment of the rent, however, all is not lost. If your landlord issues you with a notice to terminate you have a right to request a review of this decision. The review must be conducted in accordance with specific rules, which allow for either a paper review or a personal hearing. You can get help and assistance with this by contacting our specialist housing team by either completing an online enquiry or calling us on 0175 321 6399. Depending on your financial circumstances you may also qualify for Legal Help or Legal Aid funding. We also offer a variety of fixed fee services which may be suitable.

By Laura Waby, graduate paralegal in the housing department