This guide offers some guidance to give students a basic understanding and awareness of the legal risks and implications of going on rent strike.
A rent strike, or withholding rent, has no basis in law. There is no legal right to withhold rent even when a landlord has failed to carry out repairs or when the rent is very high or unaffordable. At times it can be a powerful tactic to try and encourage change, but it should be remembered that withholding rent can be a risky tactic. As rent is not paid rent arrears build up putting tenants at risk of losing their homes. Tenants that do not pay rent run the risk that their landlord will issue possession proceedings and try to evict. The last few years has seen a huge increase in the cost of student accommodation. Rent costs have spiked and student debt skyrocketed. Rent strikes are growing as a part of a campaigning tool to encourage universities to better control rents and provide better value for money. The impact of covid-19 on students’ return to campus in 2020, where students have found themselves locked into tenancy contracts they no longer need, has renewed calls for rent strikes across the country. But what are the implications? Do you know the possible risks?
A rent strike is a political action and can be a way to highlight the issue and try and achieve change. However, there are potentially very serious consequences:
A rent strike, or withholding rent, has no basis in law. There is no legal right to withhold rent even when a landlord has failed to carry out repairs or when the rent is very high or unaffordable. At times it can be a powerful tactic to try and encourage change, but it should be remembered that withholding rent can be a risky tactic. As rent is not paid rent arrears build up putting tenants at risk of losing their homes. Tenants that do not pay rent run the risk that their landlord will issue possession proceedings and try to evict. What are the possible implications?
As rent builds up arrears accrue, and a landlord can issue a claim for possession. It can be surprisingly easy and relatively quick for a landlord to gain possession where there is unpaid rent. For an assured tenant, if a landlord is able to prove at least 8 weeks arrears, from when the notice of possession is served and the date of hearing the court must make an outright possession order. A landlord does not need to prove any particular ground, simply that there are rent arrears. There would be no defence to argue that the rent is “unreasonably high” or prohibitive. A rent strike would not be a defence to a possession claim. The court would also order the tenant to pay legal costs and court fees which can add to the debt.
A landlord can bring court proceedings for the unpaid rent. Rather than a claim for possession or even alongside a claim for possession a landlord can issue a claim for a County Court Judgment for the unpaid rent. A claim for such a debt can be issued online and lead to a County Court Judgment. Enforcement of the court order can then follow and allows a landlord to take a range of options:
The consequences of rent arrears and/or a county court judgment can have longer term implications as follows.
It is common for landlords to seek references before agreeing to let a property to a prospective tenant. As part of checking whether or not to rent landlords can ask for details of rent payments to previous landlords. If your rent payment history and rent has been withheld a potential landlord can be less likely to consider you are a tenant in future.
Students on rent strike 16 A County Court Judgment for rent arrears is information that will be linked to you through credit reference agencies. It can have an impact for a number of years and will not be avoided simply because the debt arose through a rent strike. Details of past debt and financial problems will be stored by credit reference agencies and checked by banks, financial institutions and even some employers. This may be linked to you for many years and extend far beyond your time at University. A credit reference check can make it more difficult to obtain financial services later in life. A judgment because of a rent strike may stop you gaining a loan or mortgage.
A county court judgment against you for rent arrears is something that appears as part of your credit history. Certain jobs require you to disclose information about civil judgments and debts. For example, legal regulators such as the Law Society asks about Court Judgments, accountancy regulators check you are someone with ‘good standing’. Judgments that arise because of rent strike may impact in these areas. It is common for employers to check credit reference history for certain types of roles, for example those working in finance can be checked for past debt and credit problems. Employers will not know from such checks that credit problems arose because of a rent strike. All they will see is that there was a judgment or debt.
The Home Office when extending visas frequently asks whether there is a civil Judgment outstanding. If you need to apply to extend a visa or vary your visa status the presence of a civil Judgment can have implications for your visa application.
If engaging in a rent strike put the money aside into a separate account and weigh up the potential implications. Go in with your eyes open and be aware of the risks and real dangers.
Undeb Bangor do not have the expertise or capacity to provide legal or housing advice to individuals, but you can find sources of information and support here:
Shelter Cymru can offer housing advice online and on the phone.
Their helpline number is 08000 495 495
Citizens Advice Bureau - You can contact your local bureau for legal or housing advice.
LawWorks - This charity may be able to help you find pro bono advice.