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When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Tenant rent arrears

Advice for landlords in Northern Ireland

This page is for landlords operating in Northern Ireland.  You can find advice for tenants elsewhere on our website. Private landlords in Northern Ireland can call Landlord Advice on 028 9024 5640 and choose option 5. 

Try to deal with rent arrears quickly and sympathetically. It will usually be harder for the tenant to pay their debts if they have missed several rent payments.

Talk to your tenants about rent arrears

Contact your tenants to find out why they have not paid the rent. Payments can be missed because of

  • an absence or sickness
  • banking problems
  • benefit or salary payment delays
  • tenant's unhappiness with conditions in the property.

Send a letter or email to your tenants after you have spoken to them. This message should explain

  • what payments have been missed
  • what the tenant agreed to do to repay the missing rent.

Getting help with money problems

If the tenant is having money problems, they could

  • speak to an advice agency who can tell them about benefits and help them deal with other debts
  • check if they can apply for benefits
  • check if they can increase their income.

Student tenants may be able to get financial help from their college or university.

Getting extra money to pay rent if tenant is on benefits

The amount of benefit that the government will give to private tenants towards rent is low. Many tenants will receive less in housing benefit than you charge for rent. There are 2 things you can do to increase the amount of financial help your tenants get towards their rent.

  • Encourage tenants to apply for a discretionary housing payment
  • Make sure tenants on universal credit are getting a rates rebate.

Discretionary housing payments

Your tenants can apply to the Housing Executive for a discretionary housing payment. An organisation like Housing Rights can help them with the application. The payment will usually be for a fixed period of time. The tenant can apply for a new award once their payment stops.

Rates rebate

Universal Credit does not help people with rates bills. Tenants who have to pay rates (or who have rates included in the rent charge) have to apply for a rates rebate.

You, the landlord, have to be involved in the rates rebate application. Your tenants cannot get this financial help if you do not set up a rates rebate account.

Getting benefits paid directly to you or the agent

Benefits to help with rent are usually paid to the landlord or to the agent, rather than to the tenant. But, tenants can ask for the payment to go into their account instead.

The benefit agency can make the payments to you instead if the tenant owes a certain amount in rent.  You can ask for payments to go to you, or your agent, by

Agreeing a plan to repay missing rent

It is often difficult for tenants to repay missing rent in a lump sum. You can ask the tenant to pay the debt in instalments instead. If you decide to do this make sure you set up your agreement in writing.

The Housing Mediation Service may be able to help you and your tenant agree a repayment plan.

Can you evict a tenant who is not paying rent?

Failing to pay rent is a breach of the contract. We recommend talking to your tenant to try to solve the problem. But, landlords can take steps to evict a tenant if they have not paid rent. You will have to write to the tenant. Your letter or email should

  • explain that you have decided to end the tenancy because of their failure to pay rent
  • give the tenant a date by which they must leave the property
  • make sure this written notice is given to the tenant at least 12 weeks before they have to move out
  • explain what you intend to do about the missing rent (e.g. use the deposit, take court action to recover the money).

If the tenant does not move out, you will need to speak to a solicitor. The solicitor can help you to take the case to court. You cannot evict a tenant without going through the proper legal process.

Recovering money owed

If the tenant still owes rent after they move out, you can

  • deduct the missing rent from the tenant's deposit, or
  • take court action against the tenant or the tenant's guarantor.

You can use the Small Claims Court if you are claiming any amount up to £3,000. If you want to claim more than £3,000, you should speak to a solicitor.

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Landlord Advice for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your tenant are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.