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Rent arrears and possession orders after the death of a tenant

This content applies to England

The successor's liability for the deceased tenant's rent arrears and the impact of possession orders.

Liability for rent arrears

In principle a successor is not liable for any rent arrears owed by the original tenant at the time of their death.

The courts held that a statutory successor to a Rent Act tenancy was not liable for the arrears of the deceased tenant.[1] Although there is no further case law relating to successors to secure or assured tenancies, it is highly probable that this would also apply to these tenancies.

Liability for rent arrears on death of the tenant passes to their estate. If the tenant left a will the landlord should claim from the tenant's executor. If the tenant died intestate a claim should be made to the Public Trustee until the grant of administration when the claim should be made to the administrator of the estate. If there is insufficient money in the estate of the deceased to cover the arrears, they cannot be recovered.

Suspended/postponed possession order

The Court of Appeal held that the successor will take over the tenancy subject to the conditions of any suspended possession order in force at the time of the death of the original tenant.[2] If the successor fails to comply with the terms of a suspended (or postponed) possession order in respect of payment of current rent and arrears, the landlord can take action to obtain possession by either:

  • issuing new possession proceedings against the successor tenant, or
  • applying to the court under CPR 19.5 to make the successor tenant a party to the original possession proceedings. If the court agrees, the landlord can take steps to enforce the possession order (for more information see the page on Possession orders).

Outright order

If the successor has succeeded to a tenancy which has an outright possession order in force, the landlord can apply to the court for a warrant of possession after the date for possession.[3] If the order was made under a discretionary ground for possession the successor can apply to the court under CPR 19 to be joined as a party to the proceedings and, if this is permitted, they can then apply to vary the outright possession order to one that is suspended or postponed on terms. The successor should act without delay if they wish to do this.

[1] Tickner v Clifton [1929] 1 KB 207.

[2] Sherrin v Brand [1956] 1 QB 403, CA.

[3] American Economic Laundry v Little [1951] 1 KB 400, CA.

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