Dividing the rented family home on separation if you were living together

One or both of you may want to carry on renting your home after your break-up. What your options are depends on your tenancy agreement and whether you’re renting from a private or social landlord.

Securing the rights to your home

Are you in the early stages of separating and want information about protecting your rights to live in the home? Then it’s worth reading our Renting: Protect your rights to your home during separation if you were cohabiting guide.

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Getting expert advice

Generally, it’s better if you can agree with your ex-partner what you’ll do about your home.

However, housing law is complicated. So you might have rights to live in a property, transfer or end the tenancy – or responsibilities to pay the rent – that you’re might not be aware of if you try to work things out yourself.

It’s a good idea to talk to an adviser from a housing rights charity.

It’s also worth talking to a family lawyer.

Dividing the family home through mediation

What if you and your ex-partner don’t agree about what should happen – for example, if you’re both on the tenancy agreement, or you have children? You could consider using a mediator – an impartial third party.

Find out more about mediation on the Citizens Advice website.

You can find a mediator:

What the courts can decide

In some cases, you might be able to go to court for permission to carry on living in the property.

If you have children who’ll live with you for most or all the time, you might be able to go to court to get the tenancy transferred into your name.

The priority should be to make sure that your children have somewhere suitable to live, especially if they’re still at school.

What are your options if you’re the sole tenant?

If the tenancy is just in your name you can ask your ex-partner to leave – although they might be able to go to court to get the right to stay there.

Whoever is staying must make sure they can afford to pay the rent.

If you’re renting from a private landlord

Your ex-partner doesn’t have any rights to stay in your home – unless they have a court order saying they can.

You can ask them to leave and they wouldn’t have the right to stay in the long term.

If you decide to leave the property – and are happy for your ex-partner to remain –you’ll have to end your tenancy formally. This will allow your ex-partner to take up a new tenancy.

Always put in writing what you’ve agreed verbally with your landlord – an email or even a text might be acceptable.

It’s important to do this – otherwise you could be accused of abandoning the tenancy and could be asked to pay the rent after you’ve moved out.

If you’re renting from a social landlord

Find out if you have the right to sign over your tenancy to your ex-partner.

It will depend on what’s in your existing tenancy agreement with your social landlord.

You social landlord might be:

  • A housing association
  • A housing cooperative
  • the Housing Executive
  • A local authority.

You might be giving up valuable rights by signing over a tenancy. So it’s important to get legal advice before you do anything.

What are the options if you’re both on the rental agreement?

If both you and your ex-partner are on the rental agreement, you’re both responsible for paying the rent until the tenancy ends.

Try to agree between you what you’ll do.

  • You might agree that one of you moves out and the tenancy is signed over to the other person’s name alone.
  • You might decide that both of you will move out and that you end the tenancy agreement.

Either of you can give notice to end the tenancy – unless it’s a fixed-term tenancy. This might be a problem if your relationship breakdown is acrimonious.

If you’re renting from a private landlord

Either or both of you can continue living in the property as long as your tenancy agreement lasts and you can pay the rent.

Depending on what the tenancy agreement says, you might not have an automatic right for the tenancy to be taken over by just one of you.

But your landlord might be happy for you to do this as long as you can afford the rent.

Your landlord might ask for references or a ‘guarantor’ – who will promise to pay the rent if you can’t. Your landlord might charge for this.

If one of you wants to stay in the property – it’s important not to end your existing tenancy without getting a new one from your landlord. When you’ve ended your tenancy, you’ll have no rights to remain there.

If you want to move out, you’re responsible for making sure the rent is paid (and any damages paid for) until the end of your tenancy or notice period.

You’re each responsible – so if your ex-partner can’t or won’t pay – the landlord could ask you for the full amount, and vice versa.

If you’re renting from a social landlord

You both have the right to stay in the property as long as your tenancy lasts and you can pay the rent.

You might be able to sign over the tenancy to your partner – depending on what the tenancy says.

But some social landlords have a policy of not automatically converting a joint tenancy to a sole tenancy when a relationship breaks down.

Instead, they’ll look at each individual case.

If you have what’s called a ‘secure tenancy’ it gives you the right to live in the property for life. But you’ll lose this valuable right if you end the tenancy.

It’s important to get specialist advice before deciding whether to do this.

What are the options if the tenancy isn’t in your name?

If the tenancy isn’t in your name, it might be hard to get the long-term right to stay there.

You might be able to get an ‘occupation order’ (called ‘occupation rights’ in Scotland) in the short term and a tenancy transfer as a long-term solution. But this will depend on the circumstances.

If you’re renting from a private landlord

If your ex-partner, whose name is on the tenancy, is happy to move out and for you to stay, you need to both ask the landlord if you can do this.

The landlord might agree to you doing this as long as they believe you can cover the rent.

But they’ll want to know that your ex-partner is happy to give up the tenancy. And the landlord will want your ex-partner to provide something in writing to show this is the case. This can be as informal as a text or email.

If you’re renting from a social landlord

Is the rental agreement is just in your ex-partner’s name, and they agree to you taking over the tenancy agreement? Then you need contact your social landlord to find out what you need to do.

It might also be worth contacting a housing charity – see our ‘Getting expert help’ heading above for links to charities. 

Ending your tenancy early

If you have a fixed-term tenancy with a private landlord, you probably can’t end it early. By law, you’re responsible for paying the rent until the fixed term ends.

It’s worth talking to your landlord as they might be prepared to be flexible. Otherwise, you could lose part or all your deposit.

If you’re renting a property from a social landlord, you might be able to end your tenancy early. But it’s important to get advice as you might be giving up valuable housing rights.

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