Is an unsigned tenancy agreement enforcable?

Question from cath updated on 15th September 2011:

We have given tenants 90 days notice to move, they left early without returning the keys, not paying last weeks rent, not giving notice or ever signing their rental agreement. They are now ordering us to appear at a tenancy tribunal hearing saying they have been harrassed, and wanting compensation as we never lodged their bond, which we didn't as we never recieved their signed rental agreement. Can they legally do this if their agreement was never signed?

Our expert Jeff Montgomery responded:

Tenancy agreements should be in writing, however, they may still be enforceable where an agreement has been made verbally. If you entered into a tenancy agreement with your tenant, even verbally, both parties need to comply with their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986 (which also requires landlords to lodge any bond payments (or any part of a bond) within 23 working days of receipt).

Where a landlord and tenant cannot reach an agreement over issues that arise, they may apply to the Tenancy Tribunal to have the matter resolved – this can also include determining whether a tenancy agreement is valid. I suggest you talk to the tenant to see if you are able to resolve the matter. If you are unable to reach an agreement you may wish to make your own application to the Tenancy Tribunal to resolve any concerns you have that are not part of the tenant’s application (depending on what stage the tenant’s application is at, you may be able to make a cross-application where both applications may be heard at the same time).

If a hearing has already been scheduled in relation to the tenant’s application, you should ensure you attend to avoid a decision being made in your absence. To discuss your situation further, or for information about applying to the Tenancy Tribunal, you can visit the Department of Building and Housing website (, or call 0800 TENANCY.

The Department of Building and Housing provides information and guidance on building law and compliance, services including weathertight homes, and advice for tenants and landlords.

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