11th January 2023

Tenancy Disputes – rent and arrears

Article by Ben Greaves | Litigation

The cost-of-living crisis is hitting the UK’s private rental sector hard, with soaring inflation, interest rates and energy prices all exponentially adding to the cost of both renting and renting out property.

Some landlords may be tempted to simply increase the rent for their tenants to cover their rising costs, but there are rules and restrictions involved in doing this and the consequences of getting it wrong can be significant. For tenants increasing rents can make it more difficult to avoid falling into arrears, particularly in a cost-of-living crisis.

The Civil Courts have been placing an increased emphasis on the need for parties to be open with one another and to hold constructive conversations to a resolve any disputes. Unfortunately, an amicable resolution cannot always be achieved and in these circumstances, statutory procedures exist to enable intervention from HM Court and Tribunal Service.

Rent Increases

Housing Legislation provides protections to tenants to stop landlords from increasing rent in an arbitrary way. Whilst it remains open for landlords and tenants to agree changes to rent in writing, statutory procedures exist for tenancies outside of a fixed term. Care does need to be taken to ensure the correct law and procedure is applied in each case, particularly where a tenancy is a longstanding one which commenced before 15 January 1989. If you are unsure as to the type of tenancy that you have, advice should be sought in the first instance.

The majority of residential tenancies are now assured shorthold tenancies. Even if you follow the required rent review procedure, disputes over rent increases can and do arise. The tenant may feel the new rent being proposed is too high; they may object to paying a higher rent because the landlord has not carried out necessary repairs or maintenance; or they simply may not be able to afford to pay the new rent levels sought.

Where such a dispute arises in respect of an assured shorthold tenancy either the landlord or tenant can apply to the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber – Residential Property).

This allows an applicant to ask the tribunal to decide new rental terms when you renew your tenancy. The tribunal will come to a decision having considered evidence from both sides. The applying party will need to pay a fee to apply for a tribunal hearing and produce documentary evidence to support their case.

Either a paper hearing or an oral hearing will be held – the latter will take place either by phone, via video link or in person and you may be asked questions by the other party’s legal representatives (if there are any), as well as the tribunal hearing your case. You will usually get a decision within six weeks of the hearing, albeit time scales can vary.

Evictions for rental arrears

In these difficult financial times, it may be the case that tenants simply cannot afford to pay the rent being charged and have fallen into arrears. Again, there is an emphasis upon the need for open discussion and attempting to resolve the matter between the parties.  Unfortunately, in some circumstances, possession proceedings may be unavoidable.  

The primary route for rent arrears based evictions is set out in Section 8 of the Housing Act (as amended). A tenant must be served with a notice setting out which ground or grounds prescribed in schedule 2 of the Act the landlord seeks to rely upon. The notice must also provide the tenant with the correct notice period for the ground or grounds relied upon. In rent arrears cases, grounds 8, 10 and 11 will be the most common and depending on the circumstances either one or a combination of these grounds may be relied upon. Landlord’s must take care when serving Section 8 notices as not all grounds are considered equal; grounds 10 and 11 for instance give the court discretion as to whether or not they make an order for possession whereas ground 8 is a mandatory ground, subject to there being no defects or counterclaims.

The second option is to seek possession on a non-fault basis under Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 (as amended). Currently, no reason needs to be given for serving a notice under Section 21, but it must give the required notice period and be on the correct form. Given that Section 21 is not concerned with fault, the onus will be upon the landlord to set out their strict adherence to certain obligations relating to the tenancy.

A third option is to serve notice under both Sections 8 and 21 simultaneously, this is most commonly used where the arrears of rent are close to the minimum required under mandatory ground 8. Care needs to be taken when pursing this option as the rules set out under both sections will need to be satisfied.

For tenants who have been served with notices under either Section 8 or 21 as a result of rental arrears, it is important to maintain a dialogue with your landlord to try to resolve any underlying issues and to take independent advice as soon as possible.

This article has focused primarily on the remedies under the Housing Act 1988 and if your tenancy commenced before January 1989, it may be that a different regime applies to that tenancy under which both the eviction and rent review procedure will differ quite significantly. We can advise on older tenancies where a dispute has arisen.

How we can help

We act for both landlords and tenants in rent disputes, particularly where possession proceedings are being pursued or enforced. We are also able to advise landlords and tenants in respect of any proposed increases of rent or subsequent tribunal proceedings. Members of our litigation team include members of the Property Litigation Association, which highlights the experience we have within the firm of advising clients within this area of practice.

For further details, please contact the Litigation team on 01730 268211 or via email at .

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published. Specific advice should always be obtained relating to your own circumstances.