New lease designs from the UK’s Simplification Centre

The UK design group the Simplification Centre has proposed new landlord-tenant agreement designs that can better lay out rights, responsibilities, and services.

The Simplification Centre redesigned a landlord-tenant lease in a design workshop, to improve the agreement and how it sets up the relationship. They have thorough documentation of the possible new lease designs, with explanations of how this agreement could be more proactive, usable, and prevent problems.

The goal of the design workshop was to increase the amount that people would read & regularly consult the lease, and be able to understand it & how it applies. It’s an important document that should lay out rights & responsibilities, and what to do if you are dealing with problems.

In most leases, the key things to do are:

  • Identify property and parties
  • The time period for how long it lasts, and how it might end
  • The money that is needed for rent, deposit, and what happens if it doesn’t get paid
  • Rights and responsibilities of both parties, what they can do and not do

So how to lay out these things — and what else should be added in?

The designers looked at existing agreements and found the most common clauses

  • Then they grouped the clauses among common sense, clarification, good manners, fairness/resolution of problems
  • Agreements are very different! You need to know the differences
  • They seem to be randomly created based on individual problems 

What would a good lease be like? The best agreement should be clear and navigable – – more than just plain English. It should be a document used regularly throughout the relationship. It is especially important at the beginning & end of a landlord-tenant relationship. Should they even be getting into the relationship at all? And if you want to end it, how do you do it in the least-harmful way?

The Design workshop, learnings & prototypes

The group got together to map and sketch out what a better lease could be. They read through samples, unpacked them, and did extensive sketching to imagine the function & possible layouts of a better lease.

Some design themes that came out:

  • Tenancy can be a product. The landlord is the business offering the home. What about the consumer?
  • Think through Interfaces to make the contract clauses come alive & be useful. In addition to the written document, also maybe have signs, fliers, and other contextual communications to make those clauses matter when people are in that siutation.
  • It should be a relationship enabler. It should help them cooperate, be considerate, and keep a good journey of interactions 
  • Content might be organized around a timeline, a plan, or another visual pattern to make it clear.

The designers in the workshop came up with two main hypothetical lease designs.

  1. Option A: A relationship design would have the two parties laid out clearly in the agreement with images, profiles, contact, etc. It organizes all the information & clauses based on the people involved — with their faces, names, and separate columns/colors the guiding design architecture.
  2. Option B: A functional design can be highly usable with clear layout, timeline, dates, zones of information, and dates. Here the other contract and government design principles can be used in this agreement, too.

Takeaways for eviction prevention

This design workshop happened without the guiding principle of eviction prevention. What might we add into these design principles & proposals based on the goal of preventing conflicts & lawsuits?

  • Including Services in the Agreement. In addition to the terms that the designers identified as already existing in the agreements, what about things that could help if issues arise? This could be around emergency rent assistance, mediation, or otherwise.
  • Planning for Problems. With the eviction crisis, it’s good to acknowledge this possibility rather than ignoring it. Kind of like a prenuptial agreement, these kinds of clauses could make explicit what each party will & should do if they are problems with rent payments, behavior, or otherwise. It could lay out a specific timeline of what might happen & give the parties a chance to negotiate this before they are in the heat of the moment.
  • Ensuring Tenants Know Their Rights & the Law. The agreement might also be an important learning moment. What does the law say about a person’s right to fair & safe housing? What does it say about how leases may end & when landlords may sue tenants? What about the rights that a tenant has, and how to bring defenses or complaints?
  • Having the warning notices already in the packet. The landlord should have possible notices & warnings already included in what the tenant sees. In that way, the tenant can get to know what these papers are, how to recognize them, what they mean (and don’t mean), and understand how to act if something happens.

Leave a Reply