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Liability for rent

This content applies to England & Wales

Liability for rent following the breakdown of a relationship.

Cohabiting joint tenants

The position of joint tenant cohabitants in relation to liability for rent can be summarised as follows:

  • where the tenancy is in joint names, both cohabitants are liable for the rent both jointly and independently of the other, regardless of who is occupying the property. This means that either or both of the tenants can be held responsible for the whole rent and it is not possible to argue that one tenant is only liable for a particular share. This is known as 'joint and several liability'
  • the joint tenants remain liable for the rent as long as the tenancy continues
  • the court can order a transfer of rent liability from one cohabitant to another under family law
  • rent liability is transferred on the voluntary assignment of a tenancy.

In practice, if one joint tenant fails to pay anything towards the rent, then the other will have to pay to prevent the landlord taking possession proceedings. The joint tenant who had paid would then need to go to court and take out a small claim against the other joint tenant to get back her/his share of the rent (see the page on Small claims in the section on going to court for information). This may not be possible if the joint tenant has simply left and it is not known where s/he has gone.

A problem may arise for housing benefit claimants where the other joint tenant has left, because a local authority may decide that housing benefit is only payable on half the rent. A local authority has the power to apportion the rent between joint tenants, for the purposes of establishing the eligible rent, 'having regard to all the circumstances, in particular, the number of such persons and the proportion of rent paid by each such person'.[1] In one case the Social Security Commissioner considered that the whole rent should be apportioned to the remaining joint tenant, he further provided guidance on how a local authority should exercise its discretion on this matter. A claimant can appeal if s/he is dissatisfied with the local authority's decision.[2] (For more information, see the section on Housing benefit.)

Cohabiting joint licensees

The position of joint licensee cohabitants in relation to liability for rent is very similar to that of tenants:

  • where the licence is in joint names, both partners are liable for the rent both jointly and independently of the other, regardless of who is occupying the property. This means that either or both of the licensees can be held responsible for the whole rent and it is not possible to argue that one licensee is only liable for a particular share. This is known as 'joint and several liability'
  • the joint licensees remain liable for the rent as long as the licence continues
  • the court can order a transfer of rent liability from one partner to another under family law.

In practice, if one joint licensee fails to pay anything towards the rent, then the other will have to pay to prevent the landlord taking possession proceedings. The joint licensee who had paid would then need to go to court and take out a small claim against the other joint licensee to get back her/his share of the rent (see the page on Small claims in the section on going to court). This may not be possible if the joint licensee has simply left and it is not known where s/he has gone.

A problem may arise for housing benefit claimants where the other joint licensee has left, because a local authority may decide that housing benefit is only payable on half the rent. A local authority has the power to apportion the rent between joint licensees, for the purposes of establishing the eligible rent, 'having regard to all the circumstances, in particular, the number of such persons and the proportion of rent paid by each such person'.[3] In one case the Social Security Commissioner considered that the whole rent should be apportioned to the remaining joint tenant, he further provided guidance on how a local authority should exercise its discretion on this matter. A claimant can appeal if s/he is dissatisfied with the local authority's decision.[4] (For more information, see the section on Housing Benefit.)

[1] reg 12B(4) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[2] Commissioners' decision CH/3376/2002.

[3] reg 12B(4) Housing Benefit Regulations 2006 SI 2006/213.

[4] Commissioners' decision CH/3376/2002.

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