Should you fall behind with paying your rent, you run the risk of being evicted by your landlord and losing your home. Generally, your landlord will be less likely to threaten you with eviction if they can see that you are doing your best to put things right.
Taking steps as soon as you come into difficulties with making the payments can help to manage the situation.
What to do if you fall into rent arrears
Who is responsible for paying the rent arrears?
Are you a sole tenant or a joint tenant? This isn’t about who is living in the property but rather who is listed in the rent agreement as bearing responsibility for paying rent.
If you are the sole tenant, then you bear that responsibility alone and therefore owe the whole rental amount. If you are a joint tenant, then each tenant listed on the rent agreement has a responsibility to pay an equal share of the rent.
Unfortunately, if you are a joint tenant, then your landlord is within their rights to ask you to cover any rent not paid by another joint tenant in your household. Should you then pay the rent on behalf of another joint tenant to avoid falling into rent arrears with the landlord, the debt is between you and the other tenant. Where you are willing to cover another joint tenant’s rent, it is advised to set down in writing exactly how that tenant will repay you, with amounts, payment schedules and the dated signatures of both parties.
If the rent arrears relate to a previous tenant, you are not responsible for paying them. The exception to this rule is where you took over the tenancy by assignment or succession. In this situation, you may be liable for that tenant’s rent arrears but not necessarily.
How much do you owe?
Check how much rent your landlord says you should be paying each month. Is this the same amount that is stated in your rent agreement? Could this be the reason the landlord says you are in rent arrears? Legally, arrangements to increase rent must be outlined in your rent agreement.
Does the landlord say you have underpaid? Check your records, such as your bank statements or rent book, to find out how much you have paid. Do your records match with what the landlord says they have received? Does your landlord claim to have received less than you have paid? If so, you can use your records as evidence of your payments. You are within your rights to ask your landlord for a statement of rent payments received from you.
Where you have definitely fallen into rent arrears, calculate how much you believe you owe, and then check that figure against what the landlord claims you owe. Where the amounts are different, for instance, the landlord says you owe more than your calculations suggest, find out why. Don’t agree to pay back any more than you believe you owe.
What has caused the rent arrears?
There are many reasons that your landlord may claim that you have fallen into rent arrears, including:
You are a joint tenant, and although you have paid your share of the rent, one of the other joint tenants have not.
The landlord has increased the rent without telling you, possibly backdating the rent increase, and you have continued to pay rent at the lower rate. Arrangements for how rent may be increased should have been listed in your rent agreement. Has the landlord adhered to these arrangements?
Your rent is paid directly to your landlord through benefits and this payment has ceased. It is your responsibility to find out exactly why the payments have ceased.
You’ve been made redundant from your job, can’t afford to pay your rent, and are in the process of applying for benefits.
Whatever the reason is, you will need this information to understand your options.
Talk to your landlord
Should you fall into rent arrears, don’t ignore communications from your landlord, whether those are phone calls, emails or letters.
Instead, explain to your landlord why you have fallen behind with your rent. If there are steps you can take to rectify the situation separate from repayment, such as chasing benefit payments, then tell your landlord about these too.
Do your best to agree on a schedule of repayment. Generally, this will mean paying back the rent arrears over a number of months in addition to your usual rent payments. Only arrange to make payments each month that you can actually afford to pay. The purpose of the repayment plan is to get you out of debt, not create more problems for you. Make sure that any arrangement you come to is put in writing and signed by both you and your landlord.
If your landlord says no to a repayment plan, do your best to save the money owed so that should the case go to court, you can demonstrate that you were willing to pay back the money even though the landlord refused.
Can you claim or increase state benefits to help?
It may be possible to claim state benefits to help with the rent arrears if you are on a low income. Both housing benefit and universal credit may be available to you, or an increase in either of these benefits if you already receive them.
Where you are in rent arrears for 4 weeks or more, you can arrange to pay your landlord directly through benefits that you are already in receipt of. The landlord will not receive the total benefit but instead a deduction of up to £3.70 per week. This will eventually pay off the rent arrears owed, although it could take a lengthy period of time.
You may also be eligible for a discretionary housing payment if you already receive or are eligible for housing benefit or universal credit.
What to do if you are threatened with eviction
Your landlord must follow the legal guidelines for evictions. If they do not, they may face prosecution.
The exact guidelines vary depending on the type of tenancy you have and whether it is on a fixed term or periodic basis, but your landlord must notify you of the eviction in good time and present you with a valid eviction notice.
Take advice on your legal position to understand if the landlord is acting in accordance with their responsibilities.