Eviction for rent arrears

If you are faced with eviction for rent arrears it is important to take whatever steps you can to prevent this from happening. It may be difficult for you to find a new place to live if you have been evicted for rent arrears.

Landlords can evict you for rent arrears

Your landlord could take you to court if you have rent arrears. The landlord can ask the court to order you to pay the money you owe in unpaid rent, and/or evict you from your home. You might have to pay court costs as well as the money you owe if this happens.

Even if you end up in court, there is often a solution but the sooner you get advice the better. Call our advice helpline or use our directory to find a local advice centre.

Alternatively, call Civil Legal Advice on 0845 345 4345. You may be able to get help from their legal advisers if you qualify for Legal Help funding. Be prepared to answer questions about your income and savings so the helpline adviser can tell you if you qualify. They can explain your options and help you decide what to do. Shelter is one of the five providers of Legal Help funded advice provided by this helpline.

Don't wait until the last minute. Act as quickly as possible or your options may be very limited.

Use Shelter's emergency housing rights checker to help you work out what you are entitled to.

Landlord's options for dealing with rent arrears

If you have rent arrears, your landlord could decide to do one or more of the following:

  • negotiate with you to pay back the money you owe
  • apply to the court for a money judgment to force you to pay back the arrears
  • apply to the court to have you evicted
  • if you live with your landlord, they could just ask you to leave.

Negotiating with your landlord

It is often possible to sort things out, but if you don't take action, the situation is likely to get worse. Contacting your landlord gives both you and your landlord an opportunity to go through the options available to you. It shows your landlord that you are serious about being willing to sort the problem out.

You can often find a solution over time – you may need to ask for time to pay the arrears back in stages, or time for a housing benefit claim to be processed. If you explain what happened to cause the arrears and make suggestions for how to tackle them, this will also help your case if your landlord does decide to go ahead with court action.

Some tenants are easier to evict

Most private tenants have assured shorthold tenancies. It is usually easy for a landlord to evict an assured shorthold tenant, and the landlord doesn't usually need to prove a legal reason for doing so. It is even easier for private landlords to evict you if you are an excluded occupier (this includes most lodgers) or an occupier with basic protection (for example if you are a student in halls of residence).

Some council tenants have introductory tenancies or demoted tenancies, which means that they are living in the property on a trial or probationary basis. If you miss rent payments while you have one of these tenancies, the council will be able to evict you very easily. If the council haven't started the eviction process before the end of the trial period, then your tenancy will become a secure tenancy and it will be harder for the council to evict you.

There are similar rules for housing association tenants who have a starter tenancy (normally an assured shorthold) or a demoted tenancy. Contact an adviser as soon as you think you may have problems paying the rent.

Ending your tenancy to limit the amount of arrears

If you decide to leave your home, then it's important to tell your landlord that you are leaving and give the landlord the correct written notice to avoid increasing any arrears that you have.

If you simply move out, you will still need to end the tenancy by giving the correct notice and may still be responsible for paying the rent until the end of the notice period.

 For most tenancies, you will have to give at least four weeks' notice. If you have a fixed-term tenancy, you may need to give more notice and will often be responsible for paying the rent until the end of the fixed-term. Check your tenancy agreement or contact an adviser if you are not sure how much notice you need to give.

Your landlord can usually take you to court for any money that you owe, even after you have left the property.

Rehousing following eviction for rent arrears

If you don't pay off your rent arrears and end up being evicted, it may be difficult for you to find a new place to live. Even if you are homeless, your local council may not have a duty to help you if you have been evicted because of rent arrears.

Some councils may say you can't go on the waiting list for a permanent home because of rent arrears.

Many private landlords ask for a reference from your last landlord and might not accept you as a tenant if you've been evicted for rent arrears. 

See Shelter's guide Rent arrears (35 pages) for more information on problems paying your rent.

Last updated: 1 January 2014