Having a tenant in rent arrears is a tricky situation, as well as being sympathetic to their situation you’ve got to have your own best interests in your mind to move forward and have your asset making you money again.
Tenants disputing maintenance
First and foremost, one of the main issues that arise from rent arrears has come down to poor, or lack of maintenance or not addressing the general responsibilities of a landlord.
This may lead to your tenant not finding the conditions suitable to live in and stopping paying rent as a result.
As a standard practice you should be on top of any issues immediately, don’t neglect your property or tenant, it’s vital in ensuring you have an amicable tenancy with no issues.
Have a system that allows you to manage and record maintenance issues. Any calls regarding this, ensure you get your tenant to send it to you via email so you can electronically record it.
Follow a prioritised maintenance schedule that outlines timescales so that you rectify the issue. (For example, hot water or heating issues, having someone sent out within 24 hours, whereas a broken cupboard fixture may not be dangerous and can wait up to 7 days for a contractor to repair or replace)
Following it will lead to you being better informed, and on top of any problems that come your way. Making it manageable and less likely to feel overwhelmed with the problem they’ve complained about.
As well as this, much less likely to accumulate rent arrears.
Record your payments!
As referred to in my article ‘How do rent arrears build up, and the best way to prevent them?‘, always keep a record of payments. This should be done as a minimum standard from the start of any tenancy as good practice.
Whenever rent is collected, a statement or receipt should be issued to your tenant, acknowledging the receipt of the partial or full payment for it to be recorded on both sides. This is beneficial especially for properties with separate paying tenants, to know who is, and isn’t in rent arrears.
Similarly, joint-tenancy tenants should be reminded that they are all equally responsible for full payments of the rent.
Write to your tenant
If you haven’t received your rent payment for a few days since the due date, normally the avenue you’ll consider is a phone call.
If for whatever reason, you can’t get hold of your tenant, a written letter should be sent via first class recorded or hand-delivered mail.
It should simply request that any outstanding funds be cleared, and reiterate that moving forward all payments should be paid in full and on time, as specified by their tenancy agreement.
Send a letter to the guarantor
If 14 days have elapsed since the rent was due, with no payment. Another formal letter should be sent, this time stating that if payment isn’t made promptly, legal routes will be taken to gain possession of the property.
If a guarantor has been involved in the agreement, a letter should also be sent to them advising they’re in arrears. This letter would normally send a shockwave through all parties involved and rent ‘should’ be paid soon after.
They still haven’t paid their rent arrears!?
21 days after the due date, if the funds have still not been received the third letter is recommended to be sent.
This is usually the first active step to getting your property back from the unpaying tenants. The letter should consist of a confirmation of the intended step of taking legal action against the rent arrears.
Alongside this, another letter should be sent to the guarantor stating rent has still not been paid. When the month is over and the second rent payment was due, your tenant is now classed as being in two months of rent arrears.
At this point, you have the legal right, under the Housing Act 1988 to claim possession of your property.
A Section 8 notice
Serving a Section 8 notice informs the tenant of your intention to take them to court if the rent isn’t paid in a further 14 days.
The prescribed form is very detailed, ensure you have read and filled it in correctly, as small discrepancies could set the process back.
- Complete a ‘Notice seeking possession of a property let on an assured tenancy or an assured agricultural occupancy‘ notice application.
- Include on the notice which terms of the tenancy they’ve broken, and include accurate figures.
- Enforce the tenants either 2 weeks, or 2 months, notice to move out. Dependant on which terms they’ve broken.
Your next step would be to apply to the court for a possession order if the tenant does not vacate by the time specified on the above notice.
An option to go through an accelerated possession order is possible, provided you are not aiming to claim back any unpaid rent.
It’s time to go to court
If you get no response to your demands for the rent arrears, you’re within your right to take legal action to take possession of your property.
A request can be made to the courts to make a judgement against the tenant/s for the arrears and other associated costs incurred.
If the process isn’t followed correctly, or the grounds are not reasonable enough, a judge will likely dismiss the case.
Some of the outcomes a court may give could be,
- To leave the property before a specified date as referred to in the order
- To leave the property before a specified date as referred to in the order, plus pay fees regarding outstanding rent and/or court and legal fees
- To pay a specified amount
- Or to allow the tenants to continue living at the property, provided they pay and obey the conditions of the order
A monetary judgement could include amounts to cover rent arrears, court, and legal fees. If a judgement is given, a timescale of 6 years will come into effect, you must enforce it within this time.
It’s risky, what’s out there to help me?
As mentioned in our article, ‘Everything You Need To Know About Taking Our Rental Guarantee Insurance Policy, you have the option to obtain insurance cover to protect you and cover rent arrears.
It’ll mean for a small monthly cost, you’ll be entitled to have expenses such as rent, and associated legal costs covered for you during the process of evicting your tenant.
In most cases they will run and oversee the eviction process on your behalf, taking your potential stress out of the equation.