Do you understand your tenancy agreement?

What happens if you can’t pay the rent?
Don’t ignore rent arrears. You could be evicted and lose your tenancy deposit. Your landlord could get a court order to make you pay, and you could have to pay court costs too. If you have rent arrears, or have broken the terms of your tenancy agreement, your landlord can apply to the courts to have you evicted. You may have to pay court costs for this. If you have an assured shorthold tenancy, you are unlikely to win the right to stay in your home. It’s important to speak to your landlord as soon as possible if you fall behind with your rent. This gives you the chance to explain why you haven’t been able to pay and could help your case if your landlord decides to take legal action to evict you.

How can your landlord recover money that’s owed?

Whether or not you are evicted, your landlord will want to find a way to get the money you owe. There are two things your landlord can do. The first is to talk to you and come to a private arrangement about how you’ll catch up with your rent payments. The second is to take legal action against you. Your landlord could apply to the court for a money judgment. This is also known as a county court judgment or CCJ. It sets out how much you owe and how you should pay it back. You’ll have 14 days to respond to the claim. If you lose, you may have to pay court costs. Having a CCJ against you affects your ability to take out loans and get credit. It could also make it more difficult for you to rent privately in the future, especially through a letting agent.

Do you understand your contract?

A fixed contract means a fixed commitment. You are usually asked to sign a contract that commits you for a minimum of six months or a year. If you leave before the tenancy ends you still have to pay the rent. Some contracts include a ‘break clause’ which gives you the option of giving notice to leave before the end of the fixed term, otherwise you need to negotiate with your landlord if you want to leave early. Your landlord can’t take court action to evict you within the fixed term unless you have broken the terms of the tenancy agreement, for example, by having rent arrears. Your landlord will find it harder to evict you if you are an assured shorthold tenant and they have failed to protect your deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme, so always make sure your deposit has been protected.

What happens if you split up with your partner?

If you both sign a joint tenancy, you each have the right to live in the home, even if you break up. Taking on a joint tenancy means you are both responsible for paying the rent but if one of you leaves, the landlord can ask either one or both of you for the money. Whoever is left behind risks being evicted if the rent isn’t paid. If you’re intent on renting a shared property and taking a room with your partner we would recommend you each rent a room in the same shared accommodation. If anything is to happen over the term of the contract then you have somewhere to move to, if not then you’ll have lots of storage space or a study room to retreat to!

Sharing with friends or fellow students?

If you sign a joint tenancy agreement with housemates you’re all responsible for paying all of the rent. So if one of you can’t pay, the rest of you will have to find the extra money, or risk being evicted. You are all also responsible for paying gas, water, and electricity bills. If one person leaves a shared house early, yours and their responsibilities don’t end. The landlord still expects all the rent to be paid. The landlord has a legal right to pursue any one of the sharers for the whole rent payment, including the person who has left. If the whole rent isn’t paid, everyone left in the property could be evicted. It’s best to talk about the situation if anyone wants to leave. If some of you don’t want to move out, you can try to negotiate a new agreement with the landlord. Or you may be able to find someone to take on the share of the person who wants to leave, although the landlord would have to agree to this. Once you have all committed to a fixed-term tenancy agreement, one of you can’t end it on your own. A fixed-term tenancy can only be ended early if all the joint tenants agree. And your landlord must also agree the tenancy can end early (unless there is a ‘break’ clause in your tenancy agreement that allows it). Ending joint tenancies can be complicated.

What does it mean for your guarantor if things go wrong?

You may need a guarantor if you are a student renting for the first time, or you can’t prove that you can pay the rent. The guarantor has to sign a document agreeing to pay the rent if you do not. This document is legally binding and your guarantor should check what they are agreeing to cover, as it may be more than just your rent. For example, if you’re in a shared place, your guarantor may risk being held liable for your housemates’ unpaid rent. Make sure the people you’re looking to rent with are committed to staying for the full term of the agreement!