If you have failed to pay your rent on an assured shorthold tenancy, you could be taken to court for a possession order. The good news is that you will not be forced out quickly, or maybe at all.
The eviction process is a long and tricky affair with at least five different stages, and we break it down for you here.
This guide is for anyone who wants to know more about the process of tenancy evictions – and how many times you can fail to pay before anything happens. Read on for answers to common eviction questions.
What is rent arrears?
Rent arrears is an amount of money you have failed to pay for rent on time. For example, if you miss two months of rent payments of £600, you have arrears totalling £1,200. Getting into arrears could cause you to lose your rental home, but you won’t lose it straight away. You’ll still owe the unpaid rent.
Can a landlord evict you for rent arrears?
Landlords can evict tenants for rent arrears on fixed term agreements, but it is not a simple or quick eviction process. The process for evicting tenants because of unpaid rent starts with a section 8 notice to seek possession. And it may escalate to the landlord applying for a type of court order called a possession order.
You don’t have to leave unless the County Court or High Court requests you that you do. Below is a full breakdown of the process for the owner to evict their tenants…
What happens when a landlord tries to evict a tenant?
- Notice to seek possession
The landlord must give the tenants notice that they want them out of the property and will be taking legal action if they don’t leave. This will be a section 8 notice because the tenant has not kept to the terms of the tenancy. You may be able to agree on a repayment plan and avoid eviction.
Depending on the type of tenancy you have, you are entitled to a minimum notice period, i.e. if you rent from a private landlord or not, and depending on the type of tenancy agreement you have.
For example, if your fixed term has ended or you never had a fixed term tenancy, the landlord can issue the tenant with a section 21 notice. A section 21 must provide at least 2 months’ notice and even longer for evictions during the pandemic.
If you receive a notice to seek possession, you should seek support from a debt charity or Citizens Advice as soon as possible. There is no obligation for a tenant to leave the property at this stage, but you may prefer to.
If you leave the property within the notice period, and you have rent arrears, the owner can still take legal action to recover the unpaid rent.
- Initial legal action
If you choose not to leave after receiving a notice to seek possession, the landlord will need to ask the court to give him/her permission to repossess the property.
You will first receive a claim form and defence form; the latter is to be completed and sent back. You should complete this form within 14 days of the date you received it.
The court will then reply with a notice of review letting you know of the review date. This is when the court will decide if there should be a possession hearing.
- Possession order
At the possession hearing, the landlord can ask the judge to issue a possession order to allow the eviction. This is an order that typically requests the tenant leaves by a certain date.
There are different types of possession orders, namely:
- Outright possession order
- Postponed possession order
- Suspended possession order
An outright order means you should leave by the date stated, whereas a postponed or suspended order allows the tenant to continue reading at the property but must keep to certain terms – or they will be ordered to leave.
If the tenant still remains in the property after the day the possession order requests they leave, the landlord then has to apply to the court and ask for something called a Warrant of Possession.
This is a warrant that allows landlords to take back possession of their property from the tenant using enforcement officers.
There are ways to get this warrant set aside or suspended, but you will have to convince a judge and give good reasoning.
- Notice of eviction
The final step in the process if it gets this far is to serve the tenant with a notice of eviction. You will receive a notice period of the time the bailiffs will arrive to repossess the property.
If this happens, they will not harm you, but they can use reasonable force to enter the property, such as using a locksmith. If bailiffs are used, the costs associated with their service may be chased back from the landlord, as well as any legal fees and of course your rent arrears.
How many months rent arrears before eviction?
In general, you can be evicted from your tenancy if you have missed eight weeks or two months or rent payments. Because tenants pay rent monthly and in advance, they can officially be evicted the day after missing the second payment, i.e. one month and one day.
Landlords cannot send a notice to seek possession before this time. It will take many more weeks or months for the eviction to be completed.
This is the general rule of thumb, but there can be differences based on the type of tenancy agreement you have.
Can I still move if I have rent arrears?
If you want to move council houses or housing associations with rent arrears, you might be rejected. Similarly, if you have unpaid rent arrears to a private landlord, you are unlikely to get a good reference and it can make it difficult to move to a new private tenancy – but not impossible.
Anyone who is evicted from their home can seek emergency accommodation from organisations like Shelter.
How can I get out of rent arrears?
No tenant wants to experience an eviction or lose their housing, so if you do owe money, you’ll probably want to get out of those arrears.
One way of getting rid of your arrears is to offer the landlord a repayment plan over many weeks or months based on your financial circumstances.
Before you talk to them and offer them repayment terms, you should work out your budget. You can use our budgeting guide for free guidance if your need help.
How far back can rent arrears be claimed?
Your landlord can chase you for up to six years to pay your arrears. This period starts from the day the arrears began, not when the tenant left the property. If a landlord manages to get a CCJ forcing you to pay, they will have a further six years to enforce it with a numbe rof possiblke methods, including bailiffs.
Reasons except rent arrears your landlord can evict you
Be aware that landlords can evict their tenant for other reasons not associated with not paying their rent. You may be served a notice to seek possession because of anti social behaviour, fraudulent claims in the agreement, damage or another breach of the agreement.
Search for free support and advice!
There are a number of charities and organisations waiting in the wings and offering free advice and support. If a landlord is trying to evict you and get a court order for repossession, speak with their teams for professional guidance.
You can read about the different charities on our debt charity guide! And search for answers to other possession order questions here at Money Nerd!