Renting: Protect your rights to your home during separation if you were cohabiting

If you rent your home with your ex-partner, and you’re not married or in a civil partnership, one or both of you may have the right to carry on living in your home – at least in the short term – if you decide to split up. It will depend on whose name is on the tenancy agreement and what type of tenancy you have. Find out what your options are.

Understanding how you rent your home

You may rent your home in your name alone, in your partner’s name or in both of your names. Whether you have the automatic right to remain there will depend on whose name is on the tenancy agreement.

  • If the tenancy agreement is in your name, you have the right to remain in your home. You are also responsible for making sure the rent is paid and that the terms of the tenancy agreement are complied with.
  • If you are a joint tenant with your partner, you both have the right to carry on living in the property. However, either of you can give notice to the landlord to end the tenancy (unless it’s a fixed-term tenancy). The exact rules depend on the type of joint-tenancy agreement you have. You may be able to negotiate with the landlord so that one of you can take out a new tenancy.
  • If the tenancy agreement is in your partner’s name, he or she could ask you to leave and you may not have much time to find alternative accommodation. If you’re in this situation, you should talk to an advice charity or take legal advice.

Securing your rights to stay in your home

If your partner wants you to leave and the rental agreement is in his or her name, you may be able to secure the right to stay there. How you do this depends on where in the UK you are living.

England or Wales

You will have to apply to a court for an ‘occupation order’ if you want to stay.

An occupation order is a court order which sets out who has the right to stay, return or be excluded from the family home. It is considered a last resort because it can exclude someone from a property that they legally have the right to live in.

An order can only be made for a property where you both live, did live, or intended to live in as the family home.

Occupation orders normally last for a specific length of time – typically six months – although they can be renewed. But courts don’t routinely issue these, so you may not be successful. The court will look at all the circumstances of your case, but will also consider the likelihood of significant harm to you, your ex-partner and any children if an order is made, balanced against the likelihood of significant harm if an order is not made.

You can also apply for a ‘non-molestation order’ alongside an occupation order if you want to make sure your ex-partner doesn’t come near your home (if, for example, he or she has been aggressive or has a history of domestic violence against you).

Cost: The legal costs for obtaining an occupation order could be between £1,000-£5,000, and possibly more. This is because most successful applications involve two court hearings and seeking specialist legal advice is strongly recommended. There is no court fee for applying for an occupation order. Legal aid may still be available for occupation orders where domestic abuse is involved subject to means testing.

Northern Ireland

You will have to apply to a court if you want to stay.

The court would only say that you could stay in the property if you could show that your ex has somewhere else they can live in the short term. You’re more likely to be successful if you rent from the Housing Executive or a housing association.

Cost: The likely cost of bringing such a case is about £500. Legal aid is available but it is means-tested.

Scotland

If your partner wants you to leave and the tenancy agreement is in his or her name, you will have to apply to the Sheriff Court to get ‘occupancy rights’. These will normally last for a specific time period up to six months (although you can renew them for up to six months at a time).

You can go to court if you want to make sure your ex-partner doesn’t come near your home (if he or she has been aggressive or has a history of domestic violence against you, for example).

Once you have occupancy rights, you (and your children) can live in the home for as long as these rights last. This applies even if your children are grown up. Your partner shouldn’t end the tenancy without your permission.

Cost: You may be able to get legal aid to pay the costs of this, but it is means-tested.

When you have the right to transfer the tenancy

Your landlord may let you sign over the tenancy from your name to your partner’s, if it’s currently only in your name. It will depend on the type of tenancy you have.

Find more information in Dividing the family home during separation – renting.

Making sure the rent is paid

If your name is on the rental agreement, you are responsible for paying the rent. And if it’s a joint tenancy with your partner, you are each responsible for making sure the rent is paid. So if your ex-partner can’t or won’t pay the rent, the landlord could ask you for the full amount.

Whatever your situation, make sure you prioritise your rental payments. If you can’t pay your rent, your landlord may try and take steps to evict you. You may be entitled to Housing Benefit if you’re on a low income.

Read more about Housing Benefit on the GOV.UK website if you’re in England, Scotland or Wales. If you’re in Northern Ireland, you can find out about Housing Benefit on the Housing Executive website.

If you think you will struggle to pay your rent, contact your landlord and talk to a debt advice charity if you need advice. Use our locator tool to find out where to get free debt advice.

Sorting out problems with your landlord

It’s a good idea to talk to your landlord as soon as you can, and to show that you have a plan in place to pay the rent, including any arrears. If your landlord refuses to negotiate, or if you owe rent, contact an advice charity:

Your next steps