Inheriting a tenancy when a tenant dies
When a tenant dies, their tenancy does not automatically end. Some people have the right to take over the tenancy. This right is known as ‘succession’.
The right to succeed to a tenancy normally depends on:
- how you are related to the tenant who died
- how long you have lived together
- the type of tenancy they had.
Have a look below at the rules of succession for each type of tenancy. If you are not sure what type of tenancy the person had, look at our pages on renting first.
Succeeding to a council tenancy
There are strict rules about who can ‘succeed’ to a council tenancy:
- A council tenancy can only be passed on once by succession, unless the tenancy agreement allows for more than one succession
- If you are a joint council tenant, you automatically become the sole tenant if the other joint tenant dies
- If you are not a joint tenant, you will only be able to succeed to the tenancy if you are:
- the tenant’s spouse or civil partner, as long as you were living together at the time of their death (or, if the tenancy is a demoted tenancy, for at least a year beforehand), or
- another family member (this includes cohabiting partners, children, parents, siblings and most other close relatives) as long as there is no surviving spouse or civil partner and you were living with the deceased for at least a year before their death.
If you succeed to a council tenancy, you would have the same type of tenancy as the person who died. So if they had an introductory tenancy or a demoted tenancy, it will remain introductory or demoted until the full trial/demotion period has passed.
If you succeed to a secure council tenancy, there is a chance that the council may try to evict you if the home is now larger than you need. If that does happen, the council must offer a suitable alternative home for you. Take a look at our pages on eviction of council tenants for more information.
If you are living in temporary accommodation that was provided after you made a homelessness application, you do not have succession rights. However, it may be possible to ask the council to grant a new agreement in your own name. Contact the council or a local advice centre urgently to discuss your situation.
The rules of succession for council tenancies in England are different. Go to Shelter for information relating to England.
Succeeding to a housing association tenancy
You can only succeed to a housing association tenancy if:
- you are the spouse, registered civil partner or cohabitee of the tenant, and
- the property is your only or main home, and
- there has been no previous succession.
It is not normally possible for other family members (eg children) to take over a housing association by succession unless:
- the tenancy is a secure housing association tenancy
- they had been living in the home for at least 12 months before the tenant’s death, and
- there is no surviving spouse or partner who is eligible to succeed.
As with council tenancies, you would normally succeed to the same type of tenancy as the person who died. So if they had an assured shorthold (starter) tenancy or a demoted housing association tenancy, it will remain a starter or demoted tenancy until the full trial/demotion period has passed. Remember to stick to the conditions of the tenancy agreement to avoid the risk of eviction.
If the person who died had an assured tenancy and you are not their spouse or partner, there is a chance that the housing association may try to evict you if they think the property is now larger than you need. The housing association normally has to provide a suitable alternative home for you. Get in touch with an adviser immediately if you receive any papers suggesting that the housing association wants to do this.
The rules of succession for housing association tenancies in England are different. Go to Shelter for information relating to England.
Succeeding to a private tenancy
Most private tenancies have very limited security. This includes assured shorthold tenancies, which is the type of tenancy most private tenants have.
Private landlords don’t always need a reason to evict their tenants – they may just have to follow the correct procedure. This means that for many private tenants, succession rights are not enforceable in reality. Negotiating with the landlord to get a new tenancy may provide more security than trying to take over the tenancy by succession.
There are exceptions. Get advice if the tenant who died had either of the following types of tenancy:
A spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner of a private assured periodic tenant can succeed to the tenancy if it was their only or main home and there had been no previous succession.
If no one is entitled to succeed, or the tenancy is for a fixed term (eg one year), the tenancy can be passed on under a will or the rules of intestacy.
A spouse, civil partner or cohabiting partner of a regulated tenant can succeed to the tenancy if s/he lived in the property at the time of the tenant’s death.
Another member of the tenant’s family also has the right to succeed if they lived in the property with the tenant for at least two years before their death and there is no spouse, civil partner or partner who is entitled to succeed.
If the successor is the spouse or partner, and there has not been a previous succession, the tenancy remains a regulated tenancy. If it passes to another member of the tenant’s family, or is a second succession, it becomes assured. Regulated tenancies can only be passed on twice in very limited circumstances.
Succeeding to other types of tenancy
If you have a type of tenancy that is not covered in the sections above, you should get advice from a housing specialist to find out about your rights. Call Shelter Cymru’s expert housing advice helpline on 08000 495 495. You could also email our housing advice team, or, if you prefer, visit advice near you to find a local Shelter Cymru advice surgery where you can talk to someone in person.
If more than one person is entitled to succeed
If more than one person is entitled to succeed, you may need to get advice to find out where you stand. Joint succession is not normally allowed, so only one person will be able to take over the tenancy. In virtually all cases, the spouse or registered civil partner of the person who died will get priority.
Alternatively, you may be able to come to a mutual agreement about who will succeed to the tenancy. If this is not possible, the landlord will normally decide for you, or, if the tenancy is regulated, the county court must decide.
If the person who died took on the tenancy by succession
Succession can normally only happen once, unless your tenancy agreement allows for more than one succession. So if the person who has died took on the tenancy by succession it can’t normally be passed on again in the same way.
However, there are exceptions and it is always worth contacting an adviser to check the facts. The law is very complicated and what happened in the past may not actually count as a succession in the eyes of the law.
If you have no succession rights
If you don’t have an automatic right to take over the tenancy but would like to remain, your landlord may consider granting a new tenancy in your name.
If the person who died was a secure council tenant and you:
- had been living with the tenant for the year before they died, or
- had been living with the tenant and looking after them, or
- had accepted responsibility for the tenant’s children
the council may consider granting you a new tenancy either at the same property or somewhere more suitable. There is no legal requirement for them to do so but the Welsh Government expect them to consider any request. If this applies to you, contact an adviser as they might be able to negotiate with the council to increase your chances.
Similarly, if no one is entitled to succeed, it may be possible for the tenancy to be passed on through the will or by the rules of intestacy. However, in most cases, the landlord will be able to evict the person(s) who stays on by following the correct legal procedure.
It’s is important to be realistic. In a worst case scenario, you may have no choice but to find somewhere else to live. Contact an adviser if you think you will have problems finding somewhere suitable that you can afford.
Things to consider before taking over the tenancy
Although you may have the right to take over a tenancy by succession, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You should think carefully before you decide, and get advice if you are not sure.
Important questions to consider are
- Will you be able to afford the rent?
- Do you want to remain in a property where a close relative died?
- Is the landlord likely to try to evict you if you take over the tenancy?
- What other alternatives do you have? For example, would you prefer to move closer to family and/or support networks?
If you do not stay, are you likely to need help finding somewhere else? If you approach the council for help, they may decide that you are intentionally homeless because you gave up a home that you could have stayed in. If this happens, the council may still have to take reasonable steps to help prevent you becoming homeless but are unlikely to have any duty to secure alternative accommodation for you.
In some circumstances, where your household includes children or young people, the council may also have a duty to secure accommodation even if they have decided that you are intentionally homeless.
For more advice on what help the council can provide to you, click here.
If no one is going to succeed
If no one is eligible to (or wants to) take over the tenancy by succession, it is very important that you formally end the tenancy. You should get advice first, however, to make absolutely certain that no one has succession rights. Don’t take your landlords word for it as the rules are complicated and landlords sometimes get this wrong.
The reason that you need to formally end the tenancy is because the estate of the person who died will be legally liable for paying the rent until this has been done. Surviving family members could be left with a large amount of arrears to pay if the tenancy is not ended properly. Get advice if you need help with this.