What is a sitting tenant?

What is a sitting tenant?

If you’re a new tenant or first-time landlord, chances are you’ve come across some renting jargon that’s given you pause for thought. “Sitting tenant” is one of those especially tricky terms that could mean pretty much anything at first glance — maybe a tenant who’s “sitting” on rent and refusing to pay, or a tenant staging a “sit-in” after an eviction?

If you’ve made a few good guesses, but you’re still unsure about what a sitting tenant is, you’ve come to the right place for help. We’ve put everything you need to know into this handy one-stop-shop guide — so get ready to become an expert on sitting tenants in 3…2…1…

Sitting tenant meaning

Let’s start with a quick definition: a sitting tenant is a renter who stays in a property even after their landlord decides to sell.

This is usually because the tenant has a contract with their landlord which is ongoing — that means they have the right to stay in the property as previously agreed, even if their landlord decides to sell in the meantime. A sitting tenant is part of the deal when their home goes on the market, sort of a buy-one-get-one-free situation. It’s pretty common and actually, it’s becoming more and more so with every passing year.

Back when Countrywide Residential Lettings ran the numbers in 2015, properties sold with sitting tenants had reached a ten-year high. This could be because sitting tenants are seen as a safe option for prospective landlords considering buying up property — there’s no need to look for new tenants, plus income is guaranteed from the get-go. The Letting Agency has also found that sitting tenants tend to stay in their homes far longer on average than conventional tenants. That’s good news for a landlord — they’re getting reliable, long-term income and tried and tested tenants.

What are sitting tenants’ rights?

Sitting tenants UK law protects individuals in much the same way as any regular tenant — by making sure they’re treated fairly and that their home is safe and comfortable to live in. You can find out more about your rights as a renter here.

But when it comes to their right to remain in a property, it depends largely on what kind of tenancy agreement is in place. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy (AST) then you have the right to live in a property for a fixed period — this is usually 6-12 months, but we’d recommend you give your tenancy agreement a quick read through to make sure. If your landlord decides to sell their property before the agreed end date, you’re entitled to stay on as a sitting tenant while the property changes hands.

But let's say you had an AST, the end-date came and went, but your landlord agreed to let you stay at the property anyway — in this case, your tenancy might be what’s known as a “periodic tenancy”. Rather than having a fixed end date, periodic tenancies are agreed on a rolling basis and the rent is usually paid week to week or month to month. If you have a periodic tenancy, then your landlord can ask you to leave at any time, with a minimum of two months’ notice, whether they’re selling their property or not.

To learn more about periodic tenancies, check out: ‘Periodic tenancy: what is it and how does it work?’

Most unlikely, is that you have an assured or regulated tenancy. These kinds of tenancies were largely agreed pre-January 1989, so you’d need to have been living in your home for a good 30+ years for this to be the case. Assured or regulated tenancies can sometimes mean that a tenant has the right to stay in their property indefinitely, or hand over their tenancy to a relative through what’s called “rights of succession”.

Though assured or regulated tenancies are uncommon, if you do have one, then you’ll most likely have the right to stay in your property as a sitting tenant if your landlord decides to sell.

What can you expect as a sitting tenant?

If you’re a sitting tenant, the good news is that all of the responsibility and paperwork for a property changing hands rests firmly with your landlord. You might have to let some buyers take a look inside your house now and then, possibly kicking your dirty socks under the bed beforehand — but on the whole, it shouldn’t affect your day-to-day in any major way.

However, once the property sells, there are a few bits it’s good to be aware of:

  • You should receive a notice with your new landlord’s name and address. Keep this somewhere safe in case you ever need to contact them in writing.
  • You’ll want to confirm that your new landlord has contacted the deposit protection scheme where your deposit is held. They will need to update the scheme with their name and contact details.
  • If your landlord is transferring your deposit to another scheme, they’re legally required to provide you with all the new details.  

It’s also important to note that no matter what your rental agreement was with your previous landlord, it’s still possible that your new landlord might wish to evict you. This could be temporary, while they carry out improvements or renovations, or it could be permanent.

They are entitled to do this — but there’s no need to panic until it happens. Usually, landlords who buy properties with sitting tenants are doing so on purpose to avoid the hassle of finding new tenants. Chances are, you’ll have a good relationship with your new landlord and things will carry on just as before.

A few final tips…

If you’ve been living in your home for some time when your landlord decides to sell, you might find they offer you what’s called “first refusal”. This gives you the chance to buy the property for yourself before it goes on the market — just something to bear in mind if you’re looking to get on the property ladder.

Find out more about buying a house with our: ‘First time buyer mortgage guide’.

Want an overview of your rights as a renter? Check out: ‘Your rights as a renter’.