Subletting in the UK: laws and tips for landlords

Subletting can be beneficial for landlords but also cause potential risks. Learn about subletting laws in the UK and how to deal with illegal subletting.


5 minute read
Updated on 22 Mar 2024

Subletting is a common practice in the UK rental market. However, landlords must be aware of the potential risks of subletting. Illegal subletting can cause many problems for landlords, such as property damage, rent arrears, and legal disputes.

In this article, we will explore everything landlords need to know about subletting laws in the UK, and shed light on legal and illegal subletting. You’ll discover insights on how to spot signs of illegal subletting, the appropriate steps to take if you suspect it, and proactive measures to prevent it altogether.

Is subletting illegal in the UK?

In the UK, subletting is legal if the tenancy agreement explicitly states so. When the contract says that the tenant needs the landlord's consent, the landlord can't unreasonably refuse the request to sublet.

If the tenancy agreement has no clause on subletting:

  • tenants with periodic tenancies must get the landlord's written permission, and landlords can refuse for any reason
  • tenants with fixed-term tenancies can sublet without the landlord's consent.

What are the rights of a subtenant

Subletting laws in the UK provide certain rights to subtenants. Under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, a subtenant has the right to live under the same conditions as the original tenant. This means that the subtenant is entitled to the same services and facilities as the original tenant, such as utilities and access to common areas.

When your tenant sublets a room or property, it's crucial to have a sublease agreement in place. The sublease agreement should include the same terms and conditions as the original tenancy agreement, including the rent amount, the duration of the sublease, and any other relevant requirements.

Who is responsible for a subtenant?

A subtenant is typically the responsibility of your main tenant (head-tenant or mesne tenant). The main tenant assumes the role of the landlord for the subtenant, meaning they are responsible for collecting rent, addressing any issues, and ensuring the subtenant complies with the terms of the subletting agreement.

To not hold accountability for the subtenant, ensure you don’t accept any payments from them directly. That can complicate the legal status of the subtenancy and could be interpreted as establishing a new tenancy agreement.

Ultimately, your subletting agreement should outline the duties and obligations of all parties involved to avoid any confusion or disputes.

Pros and cons of subletting for landlords

Subletting is a topic that can be viewed from different perspectives, and landlords must consider both the benefits and drawbacks of allowing it.

PROS: Suppose a tenant is going away for a while or has financial difficulties. Subletting may help you maintain a tenant and keep receiving rent without the hassle of seeking a new tenant.

CONS: On the other hand, subletting to an unreliable tenant can also lead to problems such as rent arrears or property damage.

You should also consider the legal risks associated with subletting a room in a rented property. If a tenant sublets a property to too many people, it could legally become a house in multiple occupations (HMO). Then you could face penalties if you don't comply with HMO regulations on licensing and minimum room sizes.

If landlords decide to allow subletting, they must establish the conditions they'll accept and ensure that everything is clearly stated in the tenancy agreement. Moreover, landlords must have the necessary protections, such as landlord insurance and regular inspections.

What are the signs of illegal subletting?

To prove that a tenant is illegally subletting your property or a room in your property, look for these signs:

  1. Multiple occupants: One of the most obvious signs of illegal subletting is an increased number of occupants staying in the property.
  2. Extra belongings: Increased number of beds or toothbrushes could indicate that more people live in the property than listed on the tenancy agreement.
  3. Tenants receiving mail for people who don't live at the property: This could indicate that someone else uses the property as their address.
  4. Unfamiliar people entering and leaving the property: It could indicate that those people are illegal subtenants.
  5. Tenants are frequently absent or avoid letting you into the property: This could mean that tenants either aren't living there or have an illegal subtenant.

As a landlord, it can be challenging to spot illegal subletting since you can't enter the rental property whenever you want. That's why taking proactive steps to prevent and identify unauthorised subletting is essential. For example, when you perform inspections, look out for clues like excessive belongings.

How to prevent illegal subletting?

Landlords can take several steps to reduce the chances of illegal subletting:

  1. Be clear in the tenancy agreement: Explicitly state in the tenancy agreement that subletting isn't allowed or that the tenant requires your written consent. Emphasise that subletting without permission is illegal and breaches the tenancy agreement.
  2. Conduct thorough reference checks: Conduct thorough reference checks on tenants before agreeing to a tenancy. This includes verifying their identity and employment status and checking their previous rental and financial history.
  3. Regular inspections: Conducting regular inspections of the property can help landlords identify signs of subletting, such as multiple beds in one room or a higher-than-expected number of occupants. Regular inspections also ensure that the property is being maintained correctly.
  4. Maintain clear communication with tenants: Building a good relationship with tenants through clear communication can help landlords identify potential issues, including subletting. If landlords detect a problem with subletting, they can address it immediately, reducing the chances of it becoming a bigger issue.
  5. Be vigilant: Landlords need to keep an eye out for any potential signs of subletting, such as tenants receiving mail for people who don't live at the property or noticing an increased amount of traffic going in and out of the property.

What can you do if a tenant sublets your property without permission?

If you discover a tenant illegally subletting your property, you should take action immediately.

Here's what you can do if you suspect that your tenant sublets without your permission:

  1. Review the tenancy agreement: Make sure your contract explicitly states that subletting is prohibited. If it is, remind the tenant of the agreement and explain that they are breaking the terms of their lease.
  2. Gather evidence: Look for signs of illegal subletting. Take photos or videos if you can, and keep a record of any communications with the tenant.
  3. Talk to your tenant: Speak to your tenant about your concerns and ask them to confirm who lives on the property. If they admit to subletting, remind them of the tenancy agreement and ask them to stop. Communication is key, and it's possible that the issue can be resolved with a simple conversation.
  4. Talk to sub-tenant:If the tenant refuses to cooperate, it may be worth talking to the sub-tenants to see if an agreement can be reached. Don't accept money from the sub-tenants unless due process has been completed. This could result in legal complications.
  5. Contact the local council: If you believe that your property is being illegally sublet, you can contact your local council to report the situation. They may investigate and take enforcement action if necessary. It’s especially important to report it to the council if the tenant receives housing benefits.
  6. Take legal action: If an agreement cannot be reached, enforce your tenancy agreement's clause prohibiting subletting. You can notify the tenant that they have breached the contract and could face eviction. If they don’t rectify the situation, you can serve a Section 8 notice under Ground 12. This should be your last resort since evictions tend to be costly.

Suppose there is no clause in the tenancy agreement. In that case, you may need to check your lender's criteria or insurance policy to see if there’re any conditions prohibiting subletting. If that fails, serving a Section 21 notice of seeking possession may be your only option.

With social housing tenancies, penalties are way more severe than private renting. Unlawful subletting of social housing can result in fines of up to £50,000 and/or imprisonment.

This article is for informational purposes only. Please consult the appropriate authorities for the latest developments or a lawyer for legal advice.

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