The simple answer to this question is that for most circumstances you do not strictly need a written agreement however if you don’t this can have unintended consequences!
As regular followers of the blog will know the starting point for determining the terms and what you should do in a particular instance is the tenancy agreement. If no written agreement exists it will be a question of trying to recollect what was discussed and possibly looking at any letters or emails about the negotiations to determine the parties intentions. This can result in the terms being unclear particularly if a dispute has arisen.
Assuming we are discussing Assured shorthold tenancies, which are the majority of private letting agreements, as many of you will know this is now the default tenancy in most cases ( for exactly what is an assured shorthold tenancy see the Housing Act 1988 as amended). If you are taking a deposit you are now required to register such a deposit with an approved scheme of which there are three. As part of this process you are required to give certain prescribed information. If you do not do you will not have complied with the rules. Most standard agreements which can be purchased ( such as those we produce and are for sale in our shop on our website) incorporate this information. For this reason giving an agreement, practically, can be easier to ensure the information is given and nothing is missed.
If then you have a written agreement you can specify the exact terms. Whilst you cannot contract out of rules laid down by Parliament, such as the landlords responsibility to keep the property in repair, you can make sure everything is clear. This can be things as diverse as the length of term and break clauses through to restrictions on smoking or loud music (although you might want to have a look at the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) guidelines to check the likely enforceability of your clause). Such comprehensive agreements allow you to effectively manage your investment and to make sure that both sides are clear as to what to expect from the other. Having an effective list of rules of occupation can assist in helping any potential disputes being seen off as having a clear reference to point to.
Whilst sorting out the paperwork can sometimes appear to be a chore if and when you are faced with a dispute it is vital. As we have repeatedly blogged the courts will take the agreement as the starting point. If you have no agreement in writing often the courts will find it difficult to impose onerous terms on one or other party unless it can be shown unequivocally that this was agreed. Whilst relying on terms other than rent or operation of a break clause to evict can be difficult in our experience without a rewritten agreement it is almost impossible.
So take 5 minutes and make sure you have an agreement which is up to date and covers what you want and require.