What is a lodger? “Thats a silly question” you will probably say, “Everyone knows what a lodger is!”. Someone who lodges. Indeed the free online dictionary defines it as ‘One that lodges, especially one who rents and lives in a furnished room’. So that clear. Or is it?
As a lawyer (and I should say here that any law in this series is only relevant for England and Wales UK), when advising someone, I need to know what their legal rights and obligations are. And when this is about someone renting accommodation, this will depend on whether they have a tenancy or a license.
A tenancy. It will probably surprise many people to learn that a tenancy is a type of ownership of land. If you have a tenancy of somewhere, you legally ‘own it’ for a slice of time – for the duration of the tenancy. There are lots of qualifications to this, but essentially that is what a tenancy is – a type of ownership of land. “Land” in this context can include a flat, or a room, including a room in the landlords’ house or flat. Furnished or not.
If you are renting a room out for £50 per week, you won’t want your lodger to have a tenancy, with all the legal rights and obligations which go with this. You will want them to have a license.
A license. This is where someone has permission to occupy property (in this case a room) and is therefore not a trespasser. Licensees have far fewer rights than tenants.
So how can you prevent someone from getting a tenancy? And how can you best protect your position as a lodger landlord?
Prevent ‘exclusive occupation’
One of the main features of a tenancy is that the tenant has ‘exclusive occupation’ and is able to keep anyone out of the property, even the landlord. Therefore, if it is a condition of your agreement with your lodger that you have the right to come into the room from time to time, it cannot be a tenancy.
It is important that you do this. Your lodger must *not* be allowed to keep you out of the room (although you should always respect his privacy). He should not be allowed to put a lock on the door, or if he does, you must have a key. If he objects to this, tell him that it is your home and you need to be able to enter the room from time to time to check its condition.
Another good way of preventing a tenancy from arising is to provide services (this is why you do not get a tenancy of your hotel room when you are on holiday). The most common service provided by lodger landlords is clean sheets and towels. This is good for the lodger, as he does not have to buy his own, and it is good for you as it gives you a reason to go into the room. Other services often provided by lodger landlords are room cleaning and meals, for example breakfast.
Share living accommodation
You should, if possible, share at least some living accommodation with your lodger. The reason for this is that it will mean that the letting will come into one of the exceptions in the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. This means that if you ever need to evict your lodger, you won’t have to get a court order first (this is discussed more on day 20).
However, this does not have to be the whole house. If you want to have a private sitting room and the lodger’s room has its own en-suite bathroom, just make sure that he is allowed to use the kitchen, and the dining room if you have one. Halls and corridors don’t count.
Mind you, if you want the accommodation to be completely self-contained and don’t want to provide services, there is nothing wrong with this so long as you accept that it will almost certainly be a tenancy. Indeed you may be entitled, because of this, to charge a higher rent. However it is important that you realise and understand the situation, so you will know how to deal with things if there are problems.
For information about tenancies with resident landlords, you need to see my Landlord Law site.
Your own home
Finally, I should make it clear that the property must be your main home, where you live for most of the time. If you move out (permanently that is, going on holiday is all right) your lodger could obtain a tenancy.
So we now know what a lodger is. For the purposes of this series (and also this web-site), a lodger is someone who rents a room in his landlord’s home. He will share at least part of the rest of the house or flat with his landlord, and his landlord will generally provide at least some services (such as clean sheets).
(Note that for convenience sake, I will describe the lodger as ‘him’. I realise that not all lodgers are male, but it makes writing a lot easier, and to be continually saying his/her is a very cumbersome way to write. Please take it that references to male lodgers include female lodgers also).