Selling a property is never straightforward and there are always hurdles which you will encounter along the way.
Some of these challenges are extremely common, such as property chains and finding someone to meet your asking price. But there are less-frequent challenges which homeowners occasionally need to contend with – one of which is having a sitting tenant throughout the process.
In the blog below, we’re going to outline exactly what a sitting tenant is, and whether a landlord is allowed to sell their property with one in the UK.
What is a Sitting Tenant?
A property has a ‘sitting tenant’ if there is someone still living there when the landlord decides to sell. Often, the tenant has the legal right to continue living in the property (depending on the contract) and therefore is not forced to move out.
Sitting tenants are still required to pay rent throughout the sale process. If they stop paying rent for whatever reason, the landlord may be able to start the process of evicting the tenant under Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988.
Sitting tenants are not required to sign a new rental agreement, as the terms of the tenancy agreement they had with the previous owner of the property will still stand. However, where a change in rent is being considered, the landlord should engage an independent rent officer.
Is A Landlord Allowed to Sell Their Property With A Sitting Tenant?
Yes, a landlord is allowed to sell their property with a sitting tenant. However, it can bring up some unwanted challenges, which is why lots of landlords wait until the property is vacant (e.g. the existing tenant contract is terminated) before selling.
Some landlords choose to offer their existing tenant ‘first refusal’ when the time arrives to sell the property. Even if they cannot afford to purchase it, this is often done as a courtesy.
If you are uncertain about any aspect of selling a tenanted property, then it is recommended that you seek independent legal advice.
What are the sitting tenants’ rights?
A sitting tenant is not always legally required to vacate a property – it depends on the type of contract in place.
Under a ‘non-assured shorthold tenancy’, the landlord is not required to serve a Section 21 or Section 8 notice to bring the tenancy to an end. The landlord is allowed to simply insist on the tenant leaving at the end of the fixed term period.
On the other hand, the most straightforward tenancy type is an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’. Under this agreement, there is an initial ‘fixed term’ agreed – which is typically set for 6 or 12 months. Once the fixed term has passed, the landlord is able to provide two months’ notice to regain possession of the property.
When a new buyer purchases the property, they automatically own the tenancy agreement put in place by the last landlord. In most instances, the tenancy will be an AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy), which means the new landlord may have the right to evict the tenant from the property by issuing a Section 21 notice.
If your tenant has an assured or regulated tenancy, their tenancy rights are more comprehensive than an AST. In these examples, they may have rights of succession (where they can leave tenancy rights to relatives). They may also have the right to stay in the property indefinitely.
Finally, when carrying out viewings of the property, the landlord should give the sitting tenant at least 24 hours’ notice before the showing.
Challenges of selling a property with a sitting tenant
There are lots of significant challenges involved when selling a property with a sitting tenant.
Firstly, a house with a sitting tenant is considered less valuable by potential buyers. This means that you will not receive as high an offer on the property, compared with if there wasn’t a tenant in situ.
Secondly, you will need to navigate the challenges of carrying out viewings while there is still someone living in the property. Your tenant will need to be given 24 hours’ notice before any viewings take place, and this also means that you may not be able to decorate the house in the way you would normally like to.
On a few occasions, landlords have been known to offer their sitting tenant a cash sum to move out. They will usually do this because the sitting tenant is devaluing their property, and therefore it is more cost effective to pay them a small sum to move. However, it is important that you handle something like this carefully, so that it is entirely legal throughout.
There are often rule changes in the UK which landlords need to be aware of – and these are more important to pay attention to when you have a sitting tenant. For example, the new EPC changes from 2025 is a piece of legislation which landlords must keep up to date with, and this can often be a challenge.
Most importantly of all, you should maintain clear and consistent communication with your tenant throughout the journey of selling your house. Even if you do not have a positive relationship with your tenant, giving them sufficient notice of house viewings, or updates on the sale of the house, is both a legal and moral duty.