Know your rights: what to do when a tenant stops paying rent

Tenants who stop paying rent are one of the biggest problems for private landlords. Not only do they lose you money, but resolving the situation can be a lengthy and stressful process. That’s why it’s so important that you know the correct steps to take should your tenant fall into rent arrears. Being prepared and well-informed will make sure that you can quickly take action and hopefully stop the issue from getting too out of hand. Here is our step-by-step guide to what to do when a tenant stops paying rent.

COVID-19 Legislation

In March 2020, new protections were introduced to protect tenants facing rent arrears as a result of COVID-19, banning tenancy terminations and rent increases. These emergency measures expired on 2nd August 2020, meaning that the usual procedures for rent arrears can now be applied in most circumstances. 


However, if a tenant meets both of the following criteria, either now or any time between 9th March 2020 to 10th January 2021, they are not required to leave the property or pay an increase in rent until 10th January 2021:

  • The tenant is in receipt of Illness Benefit, Temporary Wage Subsidy, Employment Wage Subsidy or any other social welfare payment or State support as a result of loss of earnings due to COVID-19

  • As a result, the tenant is at risk of losing their tenancy


In order to receive this protection, the tenant must fill out a Self-Declaration Form to be sent to the RTB (Residential Tenancies Board), with a copy sent to you. If a tenant has fallen into rent arrears and does not meet the above criteria or has not given you a copy of the Self-Declaration Form, you can continue with the usual procedures for rent arrears, as detailed below.

First Steps

By law, tenants are obliged to pay rent on the property until the tenancy ends even if there is a dispute between you. But there may be an innocent reason as to why you haven’t received the rent this month. Or the tenant may have had a change in circumstance that they haven’t yet felt able to tell you about.


If a tenant hasn’t paid rent on the due date, the first thing you should do is give them a call before taking any further action. If a simple mistake is to blame for the non-payment, a quick phone call could get the problem sorted without the need for any paperwork and any unnecessary friction. If the tenant is no longer able to pay the rent for whatever reason, then it’s down to you whether you’d like to come to an agreement with them or start taking steps to end the tenancy.


If the tenant won’t answer the phone or if they still haven’t paid rent a few days after promising they would, then it’s time to take further action. Your next move will vary depending on how long the tenant has been living in the property.

If The Tenant Has Lived There For Less Than 6 Months

In this instance, as long as there is no lease, you are not required to give your tenant a reason as to why you are terminating the tenancy. If a tenant is already not paying rent during this time it might be better to cut your losses and simply end the tenancy before the rent arrears get out of hand. You can simply send the tenant a written 28 day Notice of Termination and hope that your next tenant proves to be more reliable.


If you decide to state rent arrears as a reason for ending the tenancy, you will need to follow the procedure below regardless of how long the tenant has lived at the property.

If The Tenant Has Lived There For More Than 6 Months

If the tenant has ignored your first attempt to remedy the situation then there is a series of steps you can take. From this point, it’s important that you contact the tenant in writing to make sure you have a record of your communications. It’s also vital that you include all the necessary information for each step so as to avoid any issues further down the line.

Step 1: Give the tenant a Warning Notice

First, you should issue the tenant a written Warning Notice. You might want to send this through recorded post, deliver it through the tenant’s mailbox or even put it on the door of the property to make sure the tenant gets it.

In the Warning Notice you must do the following:

  • Make it clear that they are in rent arrears

  • Give the tenant a reasonable timeframe to remedy the situation. Usually, this would be a minimum of 14 days, with more time if there is a build-up of rent arrears that you can’t reasonably expect the tenant to pay within 2 weeks. However, due to current COVID-19 legislation, you must give your tenant 28 days notice. You must also send a copy of this notice to the RTB.

  • Let the tenant know that you are entitled to terminate the tenancy if they fail to pay their rent arrears in the timeframe given. Note that the first day of the notice period is the day after the notice is served.

Hopefully this will do the trick and the tenant will pay what they owe. However, if they don’t, it’s time to move on to step 2 which kick starts the eviction process.

Step 2: Give The Tenant A Notice Of Termination Of The Tenancy

Once the initial notice period has passed and you have received no money, you are entitled to issue a Notice Of Termination. In order for the notice to be valid, you must:


  • Send the notice in letter form, not email

  • Sign, or get your agent to sign the notice

  • Date the notice

  • State the reason for the termination of the tenancy

  • Specify the termination date (see the table below)

  • State that the tenant has the entire 24 hours of this date to leave the property

  • State that if there is any issue with the validity of the notice it must be referred to the RTB within 28 days of receipt


The notice that you need to give the tenant will depend on how long they have lived at the property. Here is a breakdown of those notice periods.


Duration Of Tenancy

Notice Period

Less than 6 months

28 days

More than 6 months but less than 1 year

35 days

More than 1 year but less than 2 years

42 days

More than 2 years but less than 4 years

56 days

More than 4 years but less than 8 years

84 days

More than 8 years

112 days

You will also need to complete a Notice of Termination Return Form and send it, along with a copy of the notice, to the RTB. This must be done within 1 month of the notice period ending. It’s a simple form that asks for straightforward information about the tenancy including your reason for termination, and you can download it here

What next?

If the tenant is still in rent arrears once they have vacated the property you can pursue a case against them through the RTB by submitting a dispute resolution application. Even if you don’t have the tenant’s forwarding address, as long as you provide their RTB with the PPS number they should be able to trace them within a few weeks.


Although the RTB prioritise cases of rent arrears, unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that you will ever get your money. However, you are entitled to retain part or all of the deposit to cover any rent arrears which should go some way towards recouping the cost.

Summary

In an ideal world tenants would always pay the rent on time, but it’s an unfortunate reality that rent arrears are a fairly common problem for landlords. In fact, according to the RTB they can account for almost half of all tenancy terminations. While you can minimise the risk through thorough proper referencing, the truth is that anyone can fall behind on their rent. But as long as you act quickly and use the proper procedures, you will be able to get the issue resolved.

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