Talk to your tenant
The first thing a landlord should do when having any problem with their tenants is talk to them, calmly and fairly. Their failure to pay might only be a temporary issue - especially at this time of year. Hopefully you can come to some arrangement about when you can expect to be paid or at least get some money towards the rent and organise when the rest is coming. It's always best to find out sooner than later if there is going to be a problem so you can both work around it. And remember to always stay professional in your dealings with your tenants. If you conduct yourself reasonably from the very beginning it's going to stand you in good stead should you have to take further measures.
Consider reducing the rent
If you have a good relationship with your tenant, it could be that reducing the rent for a short period could be a good option. It will help your tenant out and could save you the headaches and costs involved in finding a replacement. If you do this, you might want to make it clear in writing that the reduction is for a set period only, and give a date by which the rent will return to its previous amount.
Find out if local housing allowances could be an option
If your tenant is unable to pay because they have lost their job or perhaps their partner has left them, they might now be eligible for allowances from the government. Tell them to get in touch with their local council to see what benefits they might be able to claim to help them with their rent.
Let them leave
If they simply can't pay, it may be your best option is to simply let them break their contract (if you're still within the fixed term period) and leave your property. Then you can get a new tenant in and not waste any more time.
What to do if they are unresponsive
Hopefully, a simple conversation with your tenant will be all that's needed to solve the issue. However, there may be times when your tenant refuses to pay and also refuses to respond to your attempts to contact them either in person or in writing. If so, you may be able to get in touch with their contacts. If you're having no luck contacting your tenant, the next thing you should do is to contact their financial guarantor if they named one in their references. This person may be able to pay the rent for your tenant, or at least get in touch with them on your behalf. You could also contact one of their referees to see if you can get additional contact details for them. However, be sure to handle this with sensitivity and care and don't mention the rent arrears. Hopefully this is a temporary hiccup for your tenant, and you don't want to damage future relationships by embarrassing them.
What to do if they won't leave
A tenant who refuses to leave is every landlord's nightmare. If all reasonable attempts have failed, you may have to go through the process of legally possessing your house, starting with serving notice that you are seeking possession. Following the Housing act of 1988 & 1996 you have two options depending on where you are within the fixed period of your tenancy agreement.
Section 8 Notice
If you're still within the fixed term of your contract (normally within the first 6 months) you'll need to issue your tenant with a Section 8 Notice. With this you will need to detail the exact grounds on which you are seeking possession. Some of these grounds are mandatory - i.e. the court must give possession to the landlord if they are met - others are up to the court's discretion. The court may also take into account your behaviour throughout the process, which is why it's so important to have been calm and professional from the start. If the court decides that your application is justified they will grant you a possession order which will allow you to get your property back.
Section 21 Notice
Section 21 Notice applies when the fixed tenancy period has come to an end. It is not fault based, so you don't need to specify grounds on why you want to reclaim your property. And the tenant does not need to be in any breach of terms. It is the simplest process and many landlords choose to wait the fixed period out rather than progress with a Section 8. Once you've issued a Section 21 Notice, which must be in writing, your tenants then have two months to leave your property. It is worth noting, however, that if you go with the Section 21 you forgo any chance of reclaiming unpaid rent that might be due to you. But sometimes the best thing to do is just cut your losses.
Reclaiming lost rent
This is where the deposit will come into play. It may not cover all of your lost rent, but it should go some way towards recouping your losses. However, as your deposit must legally be placed in a deposit protection scheme, you will need to provide the scheme with proof that you are owed the deposit and your tenant failed to pay.
If it looks like you are going to have issues with your tenants, one of the first things you may want to do is check that your Landlord's insurance covers you for problems that may arise. You might want to think about extending your existing policy to include cover for loss of rent. And if you're going through the possession process, there's a chance that your tenants won't be taking the best care of your property, so check that you're covered for damage to your property by your tenant. If in doubt, talk to a specialist Landlord's insurance company like Towergate.
So that's what you can do if your tenants are unable to pay. But here's a quick checklist of the things you can't do;
- Enter the property without permission
- Forcibly remove them or any of their property
- Change the locks
- Sign up new tenants until the old ones have left