Inheriting an occupation contract when a contract holder dies
- When a contract-holder dies, their contract does not automatically end.
- Some people have the right to take over the occupation contract.
- This right is known as ‘succession’.
Most renting agreements are ‘occupation contracts’. These types of contracts come with the ‘succession rights’. This means that certain people can take over the contract if the contract-holder dies.
The right to succeed to a contract normally depends on how you are related to the contract-holder who died, and if you’re not the contract-holders partner, how long you have lived together.
If the occupation contract is a fixed term standard contract, and the contract contains a term stating that the contract will be transferred in the course of administration of the deceased contract-holder’s estate, the succession rules described on this page do not apply. Contracts with this kind of term are not very common, but get help if you are unsure whether this applies to your contract, or to the contract of a deceased contract-holder,
Succeeding to other types of contracts
Renting agreements that aren’t occupation contracts probably do not have succession rights unless the agreement is a regulated tenancy. Find out more about the different kinds of renting agreements here.
If you are living in supported accommodation or temporary homelessness accommodation you are unlikely to have succession rights, unless you have been granted a standard occupation contract. Get help if you are unsure.
The rules of succession for council and housing association tenancies in England are different. Go to Shelter for information relating to England.
Who can succeed to an occupation contract?
An occupation contract can only be passed on to a person who:
- is aged 18 or over, and
- is a ‘priority’ or ‘reserve’ successor.
This includes a spouse or civil partner, or someone who lives with the contract holder as if they were their spouse or civil partner. They must have occupied the home as their only or principal home at the time of the contract-holder’s death.
You cannot be a priority successor if the contract-holder were a successor of the occupation contract.
If you don’t meet the conditions to be a priority successor you may be a reserve successor if you are:
- a family member other than a spouse or civil partner and
- you had been living at the property as your only or principal home for 12 months at the time of the contract-holder’s death,
- a spouse, civil partner or cohabitee of the contract-holder who has died, but are not a priority successor because the contract-holder inherited the contract as a priority successor (you do not need to have lived at the property for 12 months if this applies to you)
- a carer for the deceased contract-holder (subject to conditions described below)
If you are a carer you may be a reserve successor if:
- you occupied the dwelling as your only or principal home at the time of the contract-holders death, and
- at any time during the 12 months before the contract-holder’s death, you have lived at the property while providing care to the contract-holder or a member of their family who lives at the address, and
- you have lived at the property throught the 12 months before the contract-holder’s death, and
- at the time of the contract-holder died, there is no other property that you are entitled to live in as a home
If I succeed to an occupation contract, what kind of contract will I have?
If you succeed to an occupation contract, you would have the same type of contract as the person who died. This applies to:
- secure contracts
- introductory standard contracts,
- prohibited conduct standard contracts,
- periodic standard contracts and
- fixed term standard contracts.
If the contract is a fixed term standard contract, the same dates for the end of the fixed term will apply to your contract. Once the fixed term ends, it will become a statutory periodic standard contract.
If the contract-holder who died succeeded to the contract
If the contract-holder who has died succeeded to the contract as a priority successor, then any successors are treated as reserve successors, even if they would have met the conditions to be a priority successor.
No one is allowed to succeed to an occupation contract if the contract-holder who has died succeeded to the contract as a reserve successor.
This means that an occupation contract can only be passed on through succession twice.
What if I had a sub-occupation contract with the contract-holder?
You cannot succeed to an occupation contract if you have lived in the property under a sub-occupation contract in the 12 months before the contract-holder died, unless you are:
- a priority successor and the sub-occupation contract ended before the contract-holders death
- a reserve successor who is the spouse, civil partner or cohabitee of the contract-holder and the sub-occupation contract ended before the contract-holders death
Sub-occupation contracts are quite rare. If you were paying the contract-holder while you were living at the property this does not mean that you had a sub-occupation contract. Get help if you think this could apply to you. An adviser can discuss the circumstances with you and check the contract-holder’s occupation contract and any agreement you made with the contract-holder.
What if the landlord tries to evict me?
If you succeed to a secure contract, there is a chance that the landlord may try to evict you if the home is now larger than you need. If that does happen, you must be offered a suitable alternative home. Take a look at our pages on eviction of secure contract-holders for more information, and get help as soon as you can.
Succeeding to a standard contract with a private landlord
Most standard contracts have very limited security, and private landlords don’t always need a reason to evict the contract-holder – they may just have to follow the correct procedure.
If the landlord does intend to evict you, it may be worth trying to negotiate with the landlord. For example, perhaps the landlord would issue a new contract if you had a guarantor, or were able to find someone to become a joint contract-holder to get a new contract may provide more security than trying to take over the contract by succession.
If you have succeed to a periodic standard or a fixed term standard contract with a private landlord you will still have the same rights as the contract-holder who died, but the landlord may try to evict you, but they must follow the correct process and also comply with equality law. Please see our advice about eviction by a private landlord.
Get help urgently if you are in this situation.
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 a secure contract. Regulated tenancies can only be passed on twice in very limited circumstances.
If more than one person is entitled to succeed
If more than one person is entitled to succeed, you may need to get help from an adviser to find out where you stand. Joint succession is not normally allowed, so only one person will be able to take over the contract. 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 contract. If this is not possible, the landlord will normally decide. If the landlord decides that you will not succeed to the contract, you have the right to appeal against this decision by applying to the county court. You must start the appeal within 4 weeks of the landlord notifying the person they decided will succeed to the contract.
If it is a regulated tenancy and more than one person is entitled to succeed, the county court must decide.
If you have no succession rights
If you don’t have an automatic right to take over the contract, but would like to remain, your landlord may consider granting a new contract, in your name. 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, get help from an adviser as they might be able to negotiate with your landlord to increase your chances.
Similarly, if no one is entitled to succeed, it may be possible for the contract to be passed on through the will or by the rules of intestacy. However, if you have a standard contract, 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. Get help from an adviser if you think you will have problems finding somewhere suitable that you can afford.
Things to consider before taking over the occupation contract
Although you may have the right to take over a contract 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 contract?
- 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.
Although you may have the right to take over an occupation contract by succession, you don’t have to if you don’t want to. You should think carefully before you decide, and get help if you are not sure.
If no one is going to succeed
If no one is eligible to (or wants to) take over the contract by succession, it is very important that you formally end the contract. 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 contract 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 contract is not ended properly. Get help if you aren’t sure how to proceed.