Here's what you need to know about rent arrears.
Getting into rent arrears can be distressing. But don't ignore the situation. If you don't take action to deal with the arrears quickly, you could end up losing your home. You will need to contact your landlord as soon as possible and try and make arrangements to pay back what you owe.
However, before you do this, you should check that you owe all the money your landlord says you do. You might not be responsible for all the arrears if:
- Debt - you're not the tenant or someone else you live with owes the money
- Payments - your landlord has not recorded all your rent payments correctly
- Rent - you took over the tenancy from someone else and your landlord is trying to charge you for rent from before you took over the tenancy
- Rent - you're not getting all the Housing Benefit you should be
Check through all the situations listed on this page to see whether you think any of them applies to you. If you think they do, you might need to get help before you contact your landlord to arrange to pay back the arrears. For more information about contacting your landlord, paying back the arrears and what happens if your landlord takes you to court, click here.
Are you responsible for the arrears?
You should check that you're the only person responsible for paying back the arrears.
If you're the only person on the tenancy agreement
If there's a written tenancy agreement which has your name on it, you will be responsible for both the rent and any arrears which have built up. If you’re the only person named on the tenancy agreement, you’re called a sole tenant. As a sole tenant, you will be the only person responsible for the arrears.
If other people live with you but aren't named on the tenancy agreement, they will probably be your subtenants. This still means you're responsible for paying all the rent and getting the money from your subtenants. If your subtenants aren't paying you what they owe, you can tell them to leave. If you're in this situation, you may need to get advice.
If there is more than one tenant in the property
If you live with other people, you should check to see what kind of tenancy you all have. If you are up-to-date with your rent payments but someone else is not, you may still have to cover their payments. This will depend on whether you are all on one tenancy agreement or whether there are separate agreements between each of you and the landlord.
If you are all on the same tenancy or licence agreement, you are called joint tenants. Each of you will be responsible for the whole of the arrears. This is known as joint and several liability. It means that if one of the other people on the tenancy agreement isn't paying their share of the rent or leaves owing money, you will be expected to cover it.
You may be able to take legal action against the other person to get back the money they owe. If you're in this situation, you should get advice about this. If you all have separate tenancy agreements, the landlord can't force you to pay arrears owed by any of the other people. If your landlord is trying to get you to pay rent owed by someone else who is on a separate agreement, you should get advice.
If there is no written agreement
You may not be able to check whose name is on the tenancy agreement because there has never been a written agreement. However, if you agreed to pay a landlord rent, this usually counts as a tenancy agreement and you will have to pay back any rent you owe. But it may be harder to prove what you’ve agreed to pay the landlord and how much you owe them. It may also be harder to prove if someone else who lives in the same property as you owes the money and not you.
If you are renting from a private landlord and have a weekly tenancy, your landlord must provide a rent book or similar document. Your landlord is committing a criminal offence if they fail to do this. However, if you rent from a private landlord and have any other type of tenancy such as fixed-term or monthly, you don’t have the right to a rent book.
In England and Wales if, you have an assured shorthold tenancy which was created on or after 28 February 1997, you can ask your landlord to give you the basic terms of the agreement in writing. If you ask for this in writing, your landlord to must do what you ask within 28 days. For more information about assured shorthold tenancies and other types of private tenancies, click here. If there’s never been a written tenancy agreement between you and your landlord and you’re not sure how much rent you owe them, you should get help from an experienced housing adviser.
Did you take over the tenancy from someone else?
If you’ve taken over the tenancy from someone else, you should check if you’re being charged for any rent owed from before you took over. Taking over a tenancy from someone else is called succession. An example of succession is where you’ve always lived with your mother in a council flat and she was the only person named on the tenancy agreement. When she died, you took over the tenancy from her.
In a situation like this, you are generally only responsible for any rent arrears that are owed after you took over the tenancy. However, special rules apply if a suspended possession order was in place when the tenant died. In these circumstances, you have to keep to the terms of that order. For more information about possession orders, please click here.
Is the amount I owe correct?
Check that the amount the landlord says you owe agrees with your own records. Look at your bank statements, receipts, rent book or rent card. Check that all the rent payments you’ve made have been recorded and the amounts have been added up correctly. Ask your landlord for a statement of your rent account if:
- You haven’t kept a record of your rent payments
- You haven’t got a rent book or rent card
- Your rent book or rent card is unclear
Check what’s included in the rent you’re paying. Your landlord is allowed to include things like water or service charges heating and lighting in the rent. If the rent you owe includes charges like these, you will have to pay them. However, there are rules about how much a landlord can charge you for gas and electricity.
You may be eligible for the £2,000 Imperial College student fund homeless prevention fund. Ask at your local council housing department for more information about this scheme which gives assistance to those facing evection due to rent/mortgage arrears.