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My Tenant is in Arrears: Rent Arrears and Landlord Rights

For any landlord, non-payment of rent by a tenant can lead to considerable worry and also confusion as to your rights and options for resolution.  And with the backdrop of the recent Tenancy Fees Act 2019, landlords may be concerned that the odds are stacked against them when it comes to handling rent arrears, however this is not the case; there are a clear set of legal mechanisms which can be used to manage such events.  We detail your rent arrears landlord rights, and how to get rent arrears from a tenant.

07 August 2019
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Understanding your Rent Arrears Landlord Rights

A report compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in 2018 shows that problems with rent payments are not uncommon; after speaking to a sample of private tenants across the UK, they discovered that half said they find paying rent “fairly easy”, 9% said it was “very difficult”, 4% were already in arrears, and 5% had been in arrears in the previous year.  
In this article, we will take a look at the current best practice for landlords in how to get rent arrears from a tenant in such situations and outline the best way to get matters back onto an even keel.  

  1. Managing rent arrears- keep calm and make polite enquiries
  2. Send a late rent notice
  3. Send a further letter after 2 weeks and then 3 weeks
  4. Apply to the Court for possession of your property

Step 1: Managing rent arrears- keep calm and make polite enquiries

If your tenant has missed a payment, it is important to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Allow a few days to pass before taking any action, but if payment is still not forthcoming, your first step is to make a polite enquiry with them directly.  In most cases, the non-payment is simply the result of a genuine oversight, a family emergency, or an error by the bank etc.  It may also be that they have encountered difficulties, such as losing their job, other financial problems, or family matters such as separation.  By managing your rent arrears in this way, you avoid conflict early on.

Step 2: Send a late rent notice

If you have been unable to resolve matters by speaking to your tenant, once the rent is a week outstanding, the next best step is to send a late notice to your tenant by first class mail.  This letter will make it clear that rent is overdue and reinforce the importance of making rent payments on time.  It should also explain the potential consequences if the matter is not resolved and your rent arrears landlord rights, including Court action and eviction (if two month’s rent are not paid).  While some landlords may feel reluctant to send a late notice, perhaps due to the fear of souring relations with their tenant, the fact is this is a necessary step and the legal consequences of non-payment of rent need to be understood.  It is important to give your tenant every opportunity to respond and to attempt to repay any monies owed. This is a good way to get rent arrears from tenants.

Your tenant may offer/agree to repay any overdue rent amounts in the form of a ‘repayment plan’.  Consider any such offer carefully; while you are under no obligation to offer such an offer, if a tenant resumes payment of their normal rent with the addition of a portion of the unpaid amount, this might be taken into account if you take them to Court later.  Accepting a genuine offer to enter into a repayment plan can avoid the need to take the tenant to Court at a later date.

Step 3: Send a further letter after 2 weeks and then 3 weeks

If the initial late notice letter was unsuccessful in resolving the matter, we recommend sending another a week later making it clear that if payment is not received within a defined number of days, action will be taken to seek possession.  A letter should also be sent to any guarantor (if one exists) explaining that rent has not been received and this is due immediately.

A letter sent at 3 weeks should explain that having not received the rent owed, you now intend to regain possession of the property by taking legal action.

Step 4: Apply to the Court for possession of your property

If you’re still unsure how to get rent arrears from a tenant this will be your next step. By this point, if despite all of your efforts, no resolution has been found, it is time to seek to regain possession of your property (this can only be considered once the tenant is 2 months in arrears – i.e. the once the second-month due date passes without payment).  
It is important you understand rent arrears landlords rights (a property solicitor can help you with this!) You can issue either a section 8 notice, a section 21 notice, or both (please read our recent article on evicting an assured shorthold tenant which explains the options available in detail).  Both notices are used as a formal legal means to request a tenant vacates your property.  A section 21 notice can only be issued when a fixed-term tenancy is at an end, or is coming to an end (i.e. in periodic tenancy), is faster than a section 8 to complete as no court hearing will be required (and hence cannot be defended by the tenant), but will not result if rent owed being recovered.  A section 8 notice may, on the other hand, take longer and necessitate attendance at a Court hearing, but may result in a money order being issued by the Court enabling you to recover the rent due.

Your rent arrears landlords rights

When managing rent arrears, it is essential to remain calm and collected in the event rent is not forthcoming from your tenant.  When learning how to get rent arrears from tenant, there is no advantage to be gained in acting hastily or in a manner which may further inflame or escalate a matter which could otherwise be resolved amicably.  

Tenants fall into difficulty for a multitude of reasons; therefore, taking the time to understand the issues may ultimately resolve the matter and strengthen the trust between tenant and landlord.  Of course, legal action is sometimes essential, and in such situations, it is important to proceed carefully, observing the applicable timescales and the following the correct process for serving an eviction notice.  

And if you are in any doubt, do seek legal guidance from a commercial property lawyer or commercial lease solicitor before proceeding with any action; doing so will protect both your personal and commercial interests and bring the matter to a sound conclusion.

Having issues with tenants? Our solicitors for landlords will be able to assist you in all matters relating to difficult and challenging tenants. We are a Surrey law firm with your best interests at heart. To discuss your situation with us in confidence, please get in touch.