Getting evicted: tenants rights, rent arrears and landlords' responsibilities explained

Getting evicted: tenants rights, rent arrears and landlords' responsibilities explained

If you're having issues with your landlord, it’s vital you understand your rights as a tenant.

Katy Ward

Rights, Scams and Politics

Katy Ward
Updated on 15 April 2019

Missing rent payments

The proportion of private tenants between the ages of 35 and 54 has nearly doubled since 2006, the Family Resources Survey found.

And, unfortunately, those who rent are more likely to be in financial trouble.

According to debt charity StepChange, 80% of people searching for help with problem debts are tenants and often single parents. The majority of these found themselves struggling after a financial crisis such as divorce or redundancy.

This year saw a number of new rules for landlords, some of which you may not be aware of.

We've put together a guide to help if your landlord is attempting to evict you.

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Paying off rent arrears

If you’re behind with your rent, it's sensible to act quickly to resolve the problem.

If you can't get back in the black, this situation could devastate your financial life. You could end up homeless and struggle to find alternative accommodation.

If you're living in social housing, your local authority may refuse to offer you alternative housing if there's evidence you have deliberately left yourself homeless. In the longer term, you may find it difficult to get credit or secure a mortgage.

If you have more than eight weeks of arrears with your rent, your landlord could take legal action so the court will have no choice but to evict you. You should contact your landlord to make arrangements to discuss clearing your debt.

If you're living in social housing, your landlord should have a procedure for tenants in arrears, which includes agreeing a reasonable repayment plan.

Private landlords could attempt to force you to repay your rent arrears sooner, but can't harass you by taking steps such as cutting off your utilities.

For more information, contact Citizens Advice.

What to do if you're threatened with eviction (image: Shutterstock)

Being taken to court

If you're behind with your rent, your landlord could try to evict you, which is known as "seeking possession".

This process usually involves obtaining a court order, but your landlord can't evict you without a court's permission. If he or she tries to make you leave without taking you to court, this is against the law.

During court proceedings, your landlord may let you stay in the property if you don't fall behind with your rent again.

If your landlord plans to evict you, there are a number of things he or she must do. These include:

  • giving you notice -- known as "seeking possession" 
  • if you haven't left on time, your landlord can apply for a possession order from the court
  • if you still haven't left by your eviction date, your landlord can ask for a warrant of possession

You'll then get a notice from bailiffs with details about the eviction.

You'll normally have the right to a written notice if your landlord wants you to leave your home. The main exceptions are if you're an excluded occupier, which means you share accommodation with your landlord. 

When your landlord requests a possession order, he or she may also ask for a money judgement against you. This means you'll have to repay your rent arrears, even if you have moved out of your home.

Getting a notice to quit or notice seeking possession doesn’t necessarily mean you'll have to move out of your home immediately. Your landlord still needs a court order before he or she can evict you and can’t apply for a court order until the notice period has expired.

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Section 21 to be scrapped?

At present, you don't even need to be behind on your rent for a landlord to make evict you: a Section 21 notice would give you two months to leave the accommodation and the landlord wouldn't even have to provide a reason.

These are also known as 'no-fault evictions', but the Government has now announced proposals that could see the controversial legal process scrapped.

Providing more detail, Prime Minister Theresa May said: "Everyone renting in the private sector has the right to feel secure in their home, settled in their community and able to plan for the future with confidence.

"But millions of responsible tenants could still be uprooted by their landlord with little notice, and often little justification.

"This is wrong – and today we’re acting by preventing these unfair evictions. Landlords will still be able to end tenancies where they have legitimate reasons to do so, but they will no longer be able to unexpectedly evict families with only eight weeks’ notice.

"This important step will not only protect tenants from unethical behaviour, but also give them the long-term certainty and the peace of mind they deserve."

To be clear, any changes wouldn't mean a landlord can't evict a tenant no matter what, simply that they would need to have a legitimate reason for doing so.

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Your landlord's responsibilities

Your landlord will need to keep your property in a decent condition if he or she rents out the home. Their responsibilities include repairs to:

  • water system
  • gas systems
  • electrical wiring 
  • drains 
  • gutters
  • sinks
  • baths 
  • toilets

These are your landlord's legal responsibilities, regardless of what he or she may have included in your rental agreement.

Property owners can't refuse to make repairs based on disability, gender, pregnancy, race, religion or sexual orientation. Doing so would be classed as discrimination and may be against the law.

It’s also illegal for landlords to conduct ‘revenge evictions’; if you make a legitimate complaint about the property, which is backed up by the local council, than the landlord can’t evict you until the improvements have been made.

A landlord is legally required to make repairs (image: Shutterstock)

If your landlord lives with you

There are key differences between renting from a "live-in" (or "resident") landlord and a typical flat or houseshare.

While a tenant is entitled to privacy, lodgers don't have the right to exclude landlords from the room they're renting. This means you can't put a lock on your bedroom door to keep your landlord out.

In this situation, you're classed as an "excluded occupier". Because the property is regarded as the landlord's main residence, the law will be in his or her favour and he or she only has to verbally ask you to leave.

A live-in (or resident) landlord only needs to provide "reasonable notice" to evict you. The definition of "reasonable" is normally classed as 28 days, but could be shorter. 

When moving into a new property, you might want to consider signing an agreement that sets out the conditions on which your landlord can evict you. 

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Assured shorthold tenancies

If you're an assured tenant, you won't normally live with your landlord and you'll pay rent for your main home.

You'll be classed as an assured tenant if your lease lasts for more than six months.

You should be able to stay in your home unless your landlord can provide the court with sufficient evidence there's solid ground for you to be evicted (a Section 8 notice).

These grounds could include:

  • consistently missing rent payments
  • damage to the property

You'll also be entitled to:

  • your home to be kept in reasonable condition
  • twenty four hours’ notice if your landlord wants to get into your flat or house
  • your partner to take over your tenancy if you pass away

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Your immigration status

If you're in private rented accommodation, your landlord is entitled to check whether you (or any other adult you live with) has the right to live in the UK. 

Relevant types of proof include:

If you're waiting for a decision about your right to live in the UK, suggest your landlord asks for a "right to rent" check from the Home Office, which should arrive within two working days.

What if you're not legally allowed to work in this country? Your landlord could potentially evict you without going through the courts and could do so within 28 days.

How to get help

If you're struggling to cope with a housing issue, there are a number of websites you can visit:

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