The single most important obligation you have as a tenant is to pay your rent in full and on time.
Not doing so, or falling behind with payments, is never a good situation to be in – for you or your landlord.
What are rent arrears?
Rent arrears is essentially the money owed to a private landlord when a tenant falls behind with their rent.
So, when a tenant has not paid any rent at all, or has not paid it in full, the amount owed to the landlord is referred to as ‘rent arrears’.
What to do if you fall behind with your rent
While the temptation when falling into arrears on your rent might be to shut up shop and hope the situation goes away, the fact is this simply won’t happen.
Your landlord, or letting agent if they use one to manage your rental home, will be well aware of the situation with your rent and, if you have missed payments already, there’s a strong chance you’ll have been informed either by phone or by letter.
The best thing to do if you have fallen behind with your rent, or you think you’re about to, is to front up.
Contact your landlord or letting agent and request a face-to-face meeting so you can explain the problems you’re having.
Remember to also put everything in writing to your landlord or agent after you have discussed your issues with them.
Keeping a paper trail of everything is vital.
Your landlord is far more likely to be sympathetic to your situation if you are honest from the start.
So, don’t be tempted to carry on like nothing has happened or, worse still, leave the property in the middle of your tenancy without informing anyone.
If you do so, you’ll still owe rent and your landlord will be able to take action to claim this.
Rent arrears letters
If you’ve already fallen behind with your rent, you will have almost certainly received a letter from your landlord or letting agent and potentially a phone call before that.
Don’t ignore their correspondence.
The timescale for a landlord dealing with a tenant in arrears rarely lasts beyond three weeks, so you have a small window of opportunity to try to resolve the situation.
After an initial letter informing you of your situation and reminding you of your obligations, plus a timescale for you to settle your arrears, your landlord will probably write again (or contact your guarantor if you have one) two weeks later if you have still not done so.
If you, or your guarantor, still do not settle the debt, you will probably get another letter a week later from the landlord, confirming their intention to take legal action to evict you and recoup the rent you owe.
Help with rent arrears
While contacting your landlord or agent to discuss your situation is absolutely the best way to deal with rent arrears, there is also help available, depending on your situation.
Firstly, check how much rent you owe and be certain that a mistake has not been made somewhere along the line.
Once you know how much you owe, speak to your landlord about the potential for a payment plan to pay off the arrears.
Show your landlord, if you can, how you are reducing your monthly spend to pay your ongoing rent and top that up with an additional arrears payment
Rent arrears are classed as ‘priority debt’, so if you have other debts that need paying, your rent should be paid first and take priority.
If you are on a low income, you could be eligible for housing benefit for universal credit housing costs, which can sometimes go directly to your landlord if you request they do.
If you are unable to resolve your rent arrears situation with your landlord or agent, speak to a housing advisor.
Court action and eviction procedures
If your landlord does not agree to a potential repayment plan, or you have failed to keep to one, you will probably face an eviction procedure.
Depending on your tenancy, you may be evicted under an accelerated procedure, which means there is no court case for you to argue your side of the issue.
If your case does end up in court, the judge could make a series of orders, which include:
- Throwing the case out: This could happen if, for example, you aren’t responsible for the arrears
- A postponed possession order: This means you can continue to live in the property under certain conditions, like continuing to pay rent and clearing your arrears. But if you fail to meet the conditions, your landlord can apply for a possession date and warrant of possession to reclaim their property
- A suspended possession order: This is the same as a postponed order, but you won’t be informed if your landlord applies for a warrant of possession
- An outright possession order: This means you will be told to vacate the property by a certain date
- A money judgment: This is where the judge will make a County Court Judgment (CCJ) ordering you to pay back what you owe to your landlord or face further action