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Remus2004, Barrister
Category: Property Law
Satisfied Customers: 71051
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice.
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I have a question regarding rental contracts. I signed a joint

Customer Question

I have a question regarding rental contracts. I signed a joint contract for a flatshare. The contract was for a specific period and in addition, there is a clause allowing the tenant to carry on staying beyond the specified period under what is known as a "periodic contract" where the terms of the contract still remain enforceable, and these terms will cease when either the landlady or the tenants (who are jointly and severally liable) give notice to terminate the tenancy, or when a new contract is signed on the property.
The contract moved to the periodic after the specified period ended, and my flatmate then gave a one-month's notice to vacate. She wrote and signed a notice and sent to the landlady. My flatmate claims that the landlady consented for her to leave through a phone text message. The landlady then threatened to evict me if I don't cover the full rent, so I panicked and paid but I don't believe that was the right thing to do, in line with the contract.
My queries therefore are:
- How does a notice signed by my flatmate become legally binding on me? I did not consent to the additional rental burden in writing so I don't understand how it is that I now needed to pay in full amount.
- The contract doesn't say that phone text messages can be used to clarify matters, so I am baffled as to how that was legally binding on either myself or my flatmate, in light of the fact that there was a written contract?
- Do I have any recourse now, bearing in mind that I paid the rent in panic before I found a new flatmate? From my limited studies in law, I understand that payment of consideration is not legally binding. Did I legally bind myself to the full rent by paying it? The contract didn't say that though?
Please help me clarify, as I feel that I was bulldozed into this and I want to know if my flatmate was in breach of contract by failing to pay her portion of the rent, until a new contract was signed on the property, which is what the contract said.
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Property Law
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
On your specific points
1 Because you are jointly and separately liable. If the landlord evicts one she evicts the other. Your contract is not divisible.
2 See above.
3 No. Not on this basis. You were free to leave and rely on the notice of your flat mate but that didn't happen. You could have found a replacement tenant to cover the extra if you had wanted to stay. That didn't happen in time.
This is fairly standard with flat shares. ASTs roll into periodics and they create joint and separate liability.
Can I clarify anything for you?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
On question 1, the landlady didn't evict us. She consented for one flatmate to leave and put the rental burden on me. Also, is she able to just consent in a way not specified by the contract? From your response, it seems that the manner in which this is done is irrelevant.From your response, does it mean that the landlady's consent is what mattered here? I am just wondering what is the point of having a contract with terms lined up if everyone will just ignore it and do what they want. How does the law protect people like me finding themselves in this situation?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Also, you said that ASTs roll into periodics and they create joint and separate liability. Is this the same joint and separate liability as that already existing in the contract for a specific period? If not, can the landlady just randomly release one flatmate from liability - if say, I lost my job and told the landlady that I cannot pay the rent, can she then put the burden on my flatmate? I would imagine the "jointly and severally clause" would be applied within reason. Seems odd to me because I can come up with any number of stories to put additional financial burdens on flatmates and run off, as long as the landlady consents.
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.
Yes, the other tenant gave notice and the landlady agreed although she didn't really have a choice if it was a periodic.
That ends your agreement as well for the reasons above.
It is not the landlady's consent. It is the notice of the other tenant which brings to an end your joint and separate agreement for all parties.
Thereafter, you were free to leave but if you choose to stay liable to a new contract for the full amount. The law protects you by allowing you to leave if you choose or stay if you do not.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for the clarification regarding the impact of the other tenant's notice. I didn't realise that it was the key piece to the puzzle but it seems my flatmate knew about this. If this is fairly standard as you say, is there any reason why the contracts don't specifically state this? I have read the contract over and over again and this isn't clear at all.I have now done some research and seen some specific guidance on Shelter's website, so I am really wondering why this is very specifically addressed in Shelter's website but not specifically drawn out in rental contracts, yet flatshares are very common in the UK.I lived and rented shared accommodation in Guernsey previously and I had never heard of this, whether it was common practice there isn't something that I am aware of. I wasn't aware of the periodic tenancies until this point, as my understanding of the contract was that the terms of the tenancy remain the same, so it could just be that my flatmate preyed on my lack of knowledge.It seems rather unfair to be honest, and I am now wondering how many people new to England, or unaware of this, have been in this situation.
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.
Contracts do say this. All standard ASTs make clear that contracts are joint and separate and periodics are just extensions.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for the clarification.The joint parties agree to the terms on the contract by both, not one party, signing the contract to set this in motion. So does it not matter after that? Meaning that one party's signature can bind both parties? Is that what "joint and several liability" means?
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.
No, you would need to have signed the original AST.
An AST is signed by all parties. I suppose that if one person hadn't signed it they could rely on the fact that they have moved in and paid rent to show a contract but there would need to be evidence that all parties complied with a contract at the very least.
Either party can then bring the contract to an end by giving notice in accordance with the contract - otherwise both tenants would have to agree before any contract could be ended.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for clarifying that.So did I need to counter-sign my flatmate's notice?The reason this remains baffling to me is because my understanding is that both signatures are needed. I remember having to provide written consent for my flatmate's child to live in the flat for a few months, as the lawyer explained that both signatures were needed to amend the terms of the original contract signed by both of us, which only listed both of us as occupants. If one person's signature is enough, then my signature wouldn't have been required to consent for the child to live with in the flat.I am wondering what is so special about a notice given in the periodic tenancy that makes it okay for one party's signature to suffice.The contract says that "if the Tenant does not leave at the end of the fixed term, the tenancy will then continue, still subject to the terms and conditions set out in this agreement, from month to month from the end of the fixed term until either the Tenant gives notice that he wishes to end the Agreement, or the Landlord serves on the Tenant a notice under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988, or a new form or agreement is entered into, or this Agreement is ended by consent or court order".The contract further defines the Tenant as both of our names, and we both print our names and sign the last page under "Tenant".It therefore follows in my mind that if we were to, say, leave at the same time, then we will both sign a notice and leave. Or if one person is to leave, then both will sign the notice to say one person is leaving, in which case the full responsibility would fall on the remaining flatmate.Am I completely mistaken to assume that both parties should sign somewhere, at the very least, before altering the contract, because their signatures together legalised the contract in the first place?So I suppose I am wondering why the signature of one person affects the rights of the others on a contract which was put in force, as soon as all the parties signed it.Sorry but I am still really confused.If one co-tenant disappears without trace, or falls ill or dies, then its fair enough for the others to assume responsibility because they are "jointly and severally liable". But if co-tenant says they are leaving to go and live somewhere else and gives their notice to leave, then surely they would be altering the terms of the contract by no longer living there and would need the signatures of the others? I am not sure I understand what is so special about rental contracts that anyone can simply walk out of their contractual obligations, by being the only signatory to the notice to absolve them of any obligation under the said contract.
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.
No, as I mentioned above, either party can give notice.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I don't really understand this to be perfectly honest. Let me research further and speak to a few more people, as it could just be that I don't understand how this works.
Expert:  Remus2004 replied 2 years ago.