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Liability for rent

This content applies to England & Wales

Liability for rent following the breakdown of a relationship.

Sole tenants

The position of the married sole tenant and the non-tenant partner in relation to liability for rent can be summarised as follows:

  • the tenant remains liable for the rent as long as the tenancy continues
  • the tenant's rent liability is brought to an end if the tenancy is ended with a valid notice to quit (see validity of notice to quit on the page on Solutions involving the courts for details)
  • the court can order a transfer of rent liability from one spouse or civil partner to another under matrimonial or family law
  • rent liability is transferred on the voluntary assignment of a tenancy
  • a non-tenant partner cannot be held liable for rent unless the court has ordered a transfer of liability or there is an assignment
  • a non-tenant partner cannot be held liable for arrears that accrued before an assignment unless s/he has specifically accepted responsibility for them in the assignment.

However, there are a number of practical issues that need to be addressed:

  • in practice, although the non-tenant partner is not liable for rent or arrears unless the tenancy has been assigned or liabilities transferred by the court, a landlord may take possession proceedings if the tenant does not pay the rent. It is in the non-tenant partner's interest to pay the rent if s/he wishes to remain in occupation. S/he should only repay arrears if it seems essential to prevent possession from being granted
  • for secure or protected tenancies, the court will only grant possession for rent arrears if it is reasonable to do so. If the non-tenant partner is paying the current rent, the court may refuse possession and suggest that the landlord pursues the tenant for the arrears
  • a non-tenant partner has the matrimonial right to pay rent and the landlord cannot legally refuse it. If the landlord will not accept the rent, s/he should put the offer in writing to the landlord (and keep a copy) and put the rent aside so that it is available if the landlord tries to take possession for rent arrears
  • a non-tenant partner/former spouse or civil partner should be treated as liable for Housing Benefit purposes (as the partner/former partner of the liable person) if s/he needs to make the rent payments to stay in the accommodation.[1] See the housing benefit section for more information about housing benefit.

Sole licensees

The position of the married or civil partner sole licensee and the non-licensee partner in relation to liability for rent is similar:

  • the licensee remains liable for the rent as long as the licence continues
  • the licensee's rent liability is brought to an end if the licence is ended with valid notice (see validity of notice to quit on the page on solutions involving the courts).

As for tenants, there are a number of practical issues that need to be addressed, even though most licensees can be evicted relatively easily:

  • in practice, although the non-licensee partner is not liable for rent or arrears, a landlord may take possession proceedings if the licensee does not pay the rent. It is in the non-licensee partner's interest to pay the rent if s/he wishes to remain in occupation
  • a non-licensee partner has the matrimonial right to pay rent and the landlord cannot legally refuse it. If the landlord will not accept the rent, s/he should put the offer in writing to the landlord (and keep a copy) and put the rent aside so that it is available if the landlord tries to take possession for rent arrears
  • a non-licensee partner/former spouse or civil partner should be treated as liable for housing benefit purposes (as the partner/former partner of the liable person) if s/he needs to make the rent payments to stay in the accommodation.[2] See the housing benefit section for more information about housing benefit.

 

[1] reg 6(1) Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987 SI 1987/1971.

[2] reg 6(1) Housing Benefit (General) Regulations 1987 SI 1987/1971.

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