Ah, those dreaded words, ‘rent arrears’. Sometimes things do go wrong and, for whatever reason, your tenant just decides that they will not pay the rent. Fortunately, the type of instance I am going to tell you about is very rare and certainly comes under the heading ‘above and beyond’.
Before we start let me give you a behind the scenes peek at how the finance team work when rent arrears occur. In short, they are like a dog with a bone as you will see…
The most important thing is to establish why the arrears have happened, as we all know things can happen in people’s lives that were not planned. We have known of people being involved in accidents that have been permanently life changing, cancer diagnosis, death of a partner, death of a child, death of family overseas, loss of jobs or overtime which was always regular so relied on.
Mental health awareness and the fact that a tenant could rely on ‘breathing space’ means we have to tread carefully when gathering information. The more we know the more we can liaise between tenant and landlord to secure a good outcome for all concerned. The last thing we want to do is serve a section 21 and seek possession through the courts. If the tenants have not left or left owing monies, court fees can be very high. That is why a rent and legal protection policy is a great idea.
What does this boil down to?
- We chase arrears as soon as they happen with a gentle reminder to the tenants so we can nip things in the bud.
- Thereafter a chase happens every day by various means: text, email, phone call and in some cases, post – updating our landlord regularly.
- We are always mindful of the defence a tenant may make if it goes to court. Therefore, every possible means of proven communication is used.
Case study on rent arrears
Our story starts in 2020 when we referenced new tenants for a property in St Ives. Referencing went well but due to an unsatisfied CCJ, we decided to ask for a guarantor – which our landlord was happy with.
Two years into the tenancy the rent was not paid. Once we were able to talk to the tenants (several tries, various excuses) we were advised that this was going to be a one-off situation as the tenants had changed jobs.
A month later we were able to carry out an inspection and found the property to be in less than perfect condition. This was mainly due to the fact that the tenants had been drying clothes inside the property without airing the house. As a result, condensation had started to build up on the bathroom ceiling. Our tenant put this down to the fact that the fan in the bathroom was not working – something that was checked a week after the home visit where we found no problem.
Rent was now a month overdue so we approached the guarantor who paid the rental for their grandson. We suggested a payment plan as the landlords also have financial commitments. All we received back were emails telling us they were terribly busy and could not deal with anything.
We updated the landlord to check what they wanted to do. Our landlord agreed to give them a little more time to get themselves sorted out.
The late rent was eventually paid by the guarantor with another payment to cover two months of rental.
August rent was late, and the tenants advised us that their employer has now changed the payroll from the 4th working day of the month to the 26th and therefore they were effectively moving from 4 weeks in advance to working 3 weeks in arrears in terms of salary. We advised the tenants and the guarantor that yet again, the guarantor would need to pay the rent.
September rent was late and the whole process started again with the outcome of the guarantor paying the rental. Our tenants then put in a complaint that we had no right to contact the guarantor. Time was taken to disabuse them of this!
By October, the decision was made to issue a Section 21, for the tenants to vacate the property by January. By this time, we had three of our team working on almost a daily basis to issue notices and chase for delayed rent. Although correspondence viewed separately would seem extremely reasonable, adding the history together you can understand why we became a little cynical.
October rent was late again, and we started the process to chase. Again, at this point we were informed that both had new jobs – yes that’s two changes in less than three months… but they did have the time to get married!
On this occasion, the tenants wished to discuss a repayment plan for the due one month’s rent. The reasoning was that their previous employer has still not paid them, due to a clerical error due to the name change following the wedding ceremony. Strangely when we asked for wedding certificates nothing arrived in the post.
Unfortunately, the tenants did not leave on the expected date and as landlord had legal cover, we were able to pass this over at no cost to the landlord to obtain accelerated possession.
During this time, home visits were cancelled at very short notice. One of the reasons being that they were afraid that one of their cats would attack us so they had to be at the property to make sure this did not happen! And they were very busy people so they could not be at home.
The tenants were also being advised by the district council to stay at the property until a court date was obtained. During this time our tenants advised us they had been struggling with mental health for the last 18 months. A huge red flag. Again, we offered to try and help, but only on the basis that new employment contracts are sent through to prove new employment and hence affordability to discuss a repayment plan and movement of rental date with landlord.
A court date was finally granted in June, and possession was obtained.
Due to the fact that the landlord had legal cover these costs were covered. Since the tenants were highlighting mental health issues the case become quite complex. The legal costs would have been in the region of £8,000 – £9,000. Due to the fact that we had a guarantor, the landlord was paid rent in full, albeit late. However, the safety net would have been the rent guarantee policy they had in place.
You only need a safety belt when you have an accident. The thing is you never know when you are going to need the safety belt.