Private renting pitfalls

What happens and who has to pay if things go wrong while you are renting a home from a private landlord.

If you can't or don't pay the rent

If you get into rent arrears, your landlord can take steps to evict you.

Your landlord could get a court order to make you pay. You could also have to pay court costs. You could lose your tenancy deposit too.

Claim housing benefit or universal credit to help with your rent if you can. 

If you want to leave a fixed term contract early

A fixed contract means a fixed commitment. If you leave before the tenancy ends you still have to pay the rent.

You are usually asked to sign a contract that commits you for a minimum of six months or a year. Some contracts include a 'break clause'. This allows the option of giving notice to leave before the end of the fixed term. 

If you don't have a break clause, you need your landlord's agreement to end a fixed-term tenancy early.

If you leave owing your landlord money

Your landlord could take you to court if you leave owing rent. They could apply to the court for a money judgment called a county court judgment (CCJ).

If you lose, the court orders how much you have to pay back (including any court costs). 

If you have a CCJ against you, you could fail credit checks. It could mean you may not be able to take out loans, get credit or rent from a private landlord.

If your housemate leaves 

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

If one person leaves early, the landlord has a legal right to pursue any one or all of the joint tenants for the whole rent payment. This includes the person who has left. 

If the rent isn't paid, your landlord could get a court order to evict everyone left in the property.

It's best to talk about the situation if anyone wants to leave. You can try to negotiate a new agreement with the landlord if you want to stay. Your landlord would have to agree if you want a new tenant to take the place of someone who has left.

You can only end a fixed-term tenancy early if your landlord and all the joint tenants agree to it or there is a 'break' clause in your tenancy agreement.

If you split up

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

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.

In some situations, either one of you can end a joint tenancy.

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

If your landlord asks your guarantor to pay 

Your guarantor has to pay the rent if you don't. The guarantor agreement is legally binding. 

Your guarantor should check carefully what the guarantor agreement covers. In shared houses, the agreement may cover rent arrears for any joint tenants as well as your own.

You may need a guarantor if you:

  • are a student or young person renting for the first time
  • have a bad credit rating
  • can't prove that you can pay the rent

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

If you break the conditions of your tenancy

Your landlord can apply to the courts to have you evicted if you break the terms of your tenancy agreement.

This could include if you damage the property or are responsible for antisocial behaviour.

You may have to pay court costs if this happens.


Last updated 19 Apr 2018 | © Shelter

If you need to talk to someone, we’ll do our best to help

Get help

Was this advice helpful?

Email a link to this article

Thank you - your message has been sent.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.

Was this advice helpful?

Thank you - your feedback has been submitted to the team.

Sorry! - your message has not been sent this time.