What are rent arrears
If all or part of your rent is not paid on the date when it was due, the debt owed to the landlord is known as rent arrears. Arrears of other sums due to the landlord that are not part of the rent will not usually be rent arrears.
if your rent includes payments for other charges, for example, water charges, all of the charges included in the rent will be treated as rent arrears.
You might get into rent arrears because of a change in your financial situation, for example,
- losing your job or a period of illness
- a delay in getting money you’re entitled to
- relationship breakdown
- an accumulation of other debts.
Rent arrears on your current tenancy are called a priority debt. They are a priority because if you do not pay them the landlord can get possession of your home. This means that a court will order you to leave your home and you could be homeless.
Arrears from a previous tenancy
If you have rent arrears from a previous tenancy or licence, they cannot be used to claim possession of your current home. However, they are still a debt and the landlord may take legal action to recover them, such as asking a debt collector to contact you, or getting a County Court judgement.
Who is responsible for paying the arrears
If your name is on the tenancy or licence agreement, you are responsible for paying the rent or any rent arrears that may be due.
If you are a sole tenant or licensee, you are responsible for all of the rent and the arrears.
If there are joint tenants or licensees (more than one name on the tenancy agreement) each person is responsible for the whole of the arrears. This is known as joint and several liability. If a joint tenant or licensee leaves, the landlord is likely to pursue whoever is still living at the property for any arrears.
If one joint tenant fails to pay the rent, and the other has to pay, you can take legal action to get the money back from your co-tenant, but this may be expensive and time-consuming. Seek specialist advice if this happens to you.
If you share accommodation with other people, but each of you has a separate agreement with the landlord, each tenant or licensee is only responsible for paying her/his own rent and arrears.
If you have rent arrears
Check carefully that the amount of rent arrears is correct. Your rent may include water charges or service charges, for example, heating, lighting and any other services provided by the landlord as part of the tenancy. If you pay these charges as part of your rent and you are in arrears, all of the charges included in the rent will be treated as part of your rent arrears.
If there are sums included in the arrears that are not genuinely rent, they cannot be included. However, the landlord may take separate legal action to recover these.
Check to see whether you are entitled to any housing benefit to help with the cost of your rent. This may be the case for example if you have a partner or family, or you have a disability.
What can you do if you have rent arrears on your current property
Reach an agreement with the landlord to repay the arrears
If your landlord wants to recover the arrears rather than end the tenancy or licence, it may be possible to reach an agreement about repaying the arrears. Any agreement with the landlord should be in writing.
A landlord is more likely to negotiate payment of the rent arrears if the arrears are at an early stage, if you have otherwise been a good tenant and if there are genuine reasons for your financial difficulty.
If there is a high demand for your kind of housing (eg if there are always a lot of students looking for accommodation), it is more likely that the landlord will refuse to negotiate and try to get possession of the property, so that it can be let to someone else.
Usually an agreement to pay rent arrears is to pay them in addition to the current rent, so if your rent is £100 a week, you might agree to pay £120 a week until the arrears are paid off.
If your landlord agrees to accept this kind of arrangement, it is very important that you keep to the agreement. If you break the agreement it is very unlikely that the landlord will agree to another one.
What if the landlord hasn’t done the repairs?
This is not an excuse for not paying the rent. Withholding rent because of disrepair puts you at risk of losing your home.
If you are an assured shorthold tenant, the landlord has an automatic right to possession if your rent arrears are equivalent to at least eight weeks’ (for weekly payment) or two months’ (monthly payment) rent. The court has no discretion in making the order.
If you are thinking of withholding rent because of disrepair, or using your rent to pay for a repair, please get specialist housing advice before deciding what to do.
What action might the landlord take
Start possession proceedings
A landlord can start possession proceedings for rent arrears. Depending on the type of tenancy or licence, the andlord may first have to serve the correct form of notice.
Take court action for repayment of the arrears
The landlord may take court action to recover the money owed at the same time as, or instead of, a possession claim. The landlord’s court costs will be added to what you owe.
If the court makes a money judgment against you, it will affect your credit rating. You may have difficulty getting credit and borrowing money in the future. A money judgement for rent arrears is a County Court judgement and it can be enforced against you: for example by asking the court bailiffs to attend at your home and take goods, or asking your employer to take money from your wages to pay the debt.
You may get notice from your landlord, depending on the type of tenancy or licence.
A notice does not mean that you have to leave immediately. You should check the notice carefully. If you are in any doubt about what a notice means, get specialist housing advice immediately.
You should keep paying rent even after you get a notice, because you are still liable for the rent. If the landlord refuses to accept the rent, try and save the money in a separate account if you can and get specialist housing advice.