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Liability for rent

This content applies to England & Wales

Liability for rent following the breakdown of a relationship.

Joint tenants

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

  • where the tenancy is in joint names, both tenants 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 tenant to another under matrimonial or 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 section on Preparing for court for details). This may not be possible if the joint tenant has simply left and it is not known where s/he has gone.

One common problem is that where there is a joint tenancy, the housing benefit department may try to argue that only half the benefit is payable. Guidance for housing benefit departments states that the total rent should be considered for Housing Benefit in any claim by the remaining joint tenant.[1] For more information please see also the section on Housing benefit.

Joint licensees

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

  • where the licence is in joint names, both licensees 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 spouse or civil partner to another under matrimonial or 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 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.

One common problem is that where there is a joint licence, the housing henefit department may try to argue that only half the benefit is payable. Guidance for housing benefit departments states that the total rent should be considered for housing benefit in any claim by the remaining joint licensee.[2] For more information, see the section on Housing benefit.

[1] para 4.56 Housing Benefit Guidance Manual; OPSI.

[2] para 4.56 Housing Benefit Guidance Manual; OPSI.

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