Private renting pitfalls

Before you commit to a six or 12 month contract, plan ahead in case things go wrong.

What happens if you can't pay the rent?

Don't ignore rent arrears. You could be evicted and lose your tenancy deposit. Your landlord could get a court order to make you pay, and you could have to pay court costs too.

It's important to speak to your landlord as soon as possible if you fall behind with your rent. This gives you the chance to explain why you haven't been able to pay and could help you keep your tenancy.

You might be able to claim housing benefit or universal credit to help with your rent, but it might not cover all your housing costs.

Could you be evicted?

If you have rent arrears, or have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement, your landlord can apply to the courts to have you evicted. You may have to pay court costs for this.

Find out more about the eviction of assured shorthold tenants. Most tenants with private landlords have an assured shorthold tenancy.

Your landlord will find it harder to evict you if you are an assured shorthold tenant and they have failed to comply with tenancy deposit protection rules.

How can your landlord recover money that's owed?

Whether or not you are evicted, your landlord will want to find a way to get the money you owe. There are two things your landlord can do.

The first is to talk to you and come to a private arrangement about how you'll catch up with your rent payments.

The second is to take legal action against you. Your landlord could apply to the court for a money judgment. This is also known as a county court judgment or CCJ. It sets out how much you owe and how you should pay it back.

You have 14 days to respond to the claim. If you lose, you may have to pay court costs.

Having a CCJ against you affects your ability to take out loans and get credit. It could also make it more difficult for you to rent privately in the future as most landlords and letting agents carry out credit checks.

Do you understand your contract?

A fixed contract means a fixed commitment. You are usually asked to sign a contract that commits you for a minimum of six months or a year. If you leave before the tenancy ends you still have to pay the rent.

Some contracts include a 'break clause' which gives you the option of giving notice to leave before the end of the fixed term, otherwise you need your landlord's agreement to end the tenancy early.

Your landlord can only take court action to evict you within the fixed term if you have broken the terms of the tenancy agreement, for example, by having rent arrears.

What happens if you split up with your partner?

If you both sign a joint tenancy, you each have the right to live in the home, even if you break up. Unless you get a court order you can’t stop your partner living in the home.

A joint tenancy means you are both responsible for paying the rent. If one of you leaves, the landlord can ask either one or both of you for the money. Whoever is left behind risks being evicted if the rent isn't paid.

Find out about how and when you can end a joint tenancy if one of you leaves.

See the Citizens Advice online guide to housing rights in rented homes when a relationship ends.

Sharing with friends or fellow students

When you sign a joint tenancy agreement with housemates you're all responsible for paying all of the rent.

If one of you can't pay, the rest of you will have to find the extra money, or risk being evicted.

Find out about paying gas and electricity bills if you are living in shared accommodation.

If one person leaves a joint tenancy early, yours and their responsibilities don't end. The landlord has a legal right to pursue any one or all of the joint tenants for the whole rent payment, including the person who has left. If the rent isn't paid, everyone left in the property could be evicted.

It's best to talk about the situation if anyone wants to leave. If some of you don't want to move out, you can try to negotiate a new agreement with the landlord. Or you may be able to find someone to take on the share of the person who wants to leave, although the landlord would have to agree to this.

A fixed-term tenancy can only be ended early if all the joint tenants agree. And your landlord must also agree the tenancy can end early (unless there is a 'break' clause in your tenancy agreement that allows it).

Find out more about ending a joint tenancy.

What does it mean for your guarantor if things go wrong?

You may need a guarantor if you are a student or young person renting for the first time, or you can't prove that you can pay the rent. The guarantor has to sign a document agreeing to pay the rent if you do not.

This document is legally binding and your guarantor should check what they are agreeing to cover, as it may be more than just your rent. For example, if you're in a shared place, your guarantor may risk being held liable for your housemates' unpaid rent​.

Your guarantor would usually need to be a UK resident and own a property.

Last updated 08 Feb 2017 | © Shelter

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