How to Add Custom Clauses to OpenRent’s Contract (AST)

If you choose to use our Rent Now tenancy creation service, then you’ll be using our standard contract. It’s an industry-leading contract that has been designed to reflect best practice while also meeting the needs of real landlords. 

It’s a leader on transparency, too. We might be the only letting agent that has always shown tenants the contract before they even view the property! (You can see it here.) So tenants have every opportunity to see the contract in advance of signing, making them less likely to drop out later in the process

A single template can’t do everything, though, and we know that landlords and tenants sometimes want to include specific terms (aka clauses) which aren’t covered in our standard contract. 

This is why every Rent Now contract comes with the option to add in “custom clauses”.

With the ability to add custom clauses comes the risk that they will not meet best practice. Sometimes users want to include clauses that are unexpected, controversial or even unenforceable. 

In the worst cases, these clauses lead to a tenancy falling through. To help prevent this from happening to you, Beth has written a complete guide to adding custom clauses to your OpenRent contract.

What Is a Custom Clause?

Our contract can be edited in a number of ways. Landlords can:

  • Customise the specific details for the tenancy, such as the rent, deposit, and length of the break clause.
  • Add free-text clauses that are added to our standard contract as used in the Rent Now process.

You can view our standard contracts here.

(Note that there are two slightly different versions of our contract; one for a room in a shared property and the other for a full property. The parts that landlords can change are highlighted in blue.)

How do I Know If I Need a Custom Clause?

There are plenty of custom clauses that you might want to add in, such as:

  • Stating that tenants can keep a dog at the property.
  • Adding a Rent Increase clause.
  • Agreeing that tenants can hang pictures on walls.

We do not generally advise that custom clauses are used, as we think our standard contract should be suitable in most cases. Unless you are experienced at writing your own contracts, we recommend seeking independent legal advice when considering adding custom clauses.

If you think you do need to use a custom clause, the first thing to do is to make sure that you’ve fully read and understood the standard contract. It may be that the custom clause that you were going to put in is already covered by an existing clause; or that your proposed clause isn’t compatible.

We aim to provide as broad-ranging a contract as possible, but some clauses will clash with clauses we need to include to be able to create the tenancy for you as part of the Rent Now service. 

For example, our standard contract requires that we handle the first month’s rent and the tenancy deposit, and this is not something that it is possible to edit by adding a custom clause.

If you’re unsure of anything in our standard contract please do contact our Support Team for further guidance. Our support team aren’t legally trained but we do have lots of experience handling enquiries about our standard contract and we are always happy to help.

It’s also important to ensure that any custom clauses that you are considering are compliant with legislation. For example, the Tenant Fees Act (2019) has limited tenancy deposits to five weeks’ rent. Terms asking for a larger deposit will be unlawful for most tenancies. 

When Should I Let Tenants Know about My Custom Clauses?

Custom clauses are added by the landlord at the contract-signing stage, but we always recommend that you let prospective tenants know about any custom clauses as soon as possible and ideally before they place a Holding Deposit.

Letting tenants know early helps ensure that both you and the tenant are able to agree and commit to the same terms. This prevents either side wasting time as well as helping to prevent disagreements in the future.

Where you can, tell tenants about custom clauses in writing and ask them to confirm that they agree in writing as well. Having a written record of everything that’s been agreed can be important if there are disputes further down the line.

We also recommend that you are as exact as possible about the clause(s). Seemingly small changes, or insignificant details, can cause a tenancy application to fall through. For example, if you are happy for the tenants to repaint the property, but not if the paint is bright orange, then say that explicitly! 

How Do I Add Custom Clauses to My Contract?

Once you are ready to review and edit your tenancy agreement at the contract-signing stage of  Rent Now, you’ll see a button at the bottom of your screen which will expand the Advanced Contract Settings, which include the custom clause section.

Once you click that button, you’ll be able to add as many custom clauses as you need to before you send the contract to the tenants for signing.

Remember that the contract is a legally binding document, so making your own changes to our AST (which has been drafted and checked with the advice of specialist property lawyers) is not to be taken lightly. In addition, there are many clauses that landlords may want to add, but which a court would not uphold if they were subsequently challenged. 

So to avoid relying on a clause which is not enforceable, we recommend seeking independent legal advice when drafting any custom clause. Unfortunately, we aren’t legally trained ourselves but we will help point you in the right direction wherever possible, so feel free to reach out to us for guidance.

My Tenants Are Disputing my Custom Clause

If your tenants question a clause you added to the contract, the first thing to do is to try to come to an agreement. 

It can be frustrating when a tenant challenges your clauses, but remember that it’s in both your interests to come to an agreement so that the tenancy can proceed. Try to find out exactly what they object to and consider rewording the clause so it addresses this concern.

For example, if you want the tenant to be responsible for maintaining the garden, but they challenge this because they don’t have to tools to do so, you may include a clause establishing your responsibility to provide a lawn mower.

What If I Can’t Come to an Agreement with the Tenant? What Happens to the Holding Deposit?

If you aren’t able to come to an agreement with the tenant over the custom clauses then the best thing to do is to cancel the application.

This is where it becomes important for you to have written evidence of the tenant agreeing to the custom clause.

If you are able to prove that the tenant had previously agreed to the clause, as it appeared in the contract, then you may have grounds to claim the holding deposit as compensation for your lost time and any other costs that you’ve incurred.

However, if a tenant is able to argue that the custom clauses were added unexpectedly, or that they had changed between what was agreed and the contract being issued, then they will usually have the right to withdraw their application and reclaim the holding deposit, in full.

Summary

  1. Make sure that you check that your custom clauses are suitable for our contract.
  2. Be as open and upfront as possible about custom clauses.
  3. Get all custom clauses agreed to in writing before you issue the contract, and ideally before you accept a holding deposit.
  4. Remember that contracts are legally binding documents. Any added clauses should be as simple and as explicit as possible. Details matter!
  5. When in doubt seek independent legal advice.

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