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When everyone has a home

028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Adviser: Rates liability in the private rented sector

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Imagine you’re a private tenant, paying rent each month and confident that you’re doing everything that’s required of you.  One day you open your post to find a final demand from Land & Property Services insisting that you pay £2000+ by the end of the month or face court.  It’s particularly confusing when your tenancy agreement says your rent includes rates and your landlord’s responsible for paying these to LPS.

That’s what happened to my client, Ryan, who’d been living in a rented property for 3 years.  A year into the tenancy the owner sold the property with Ryan as a sitting tenant and a new landlord took over.  Ryan was assured that all the terms of the tenancy agreement would stay the same and was not given a new tenancy agreement.

Paying for rates twice

2 years later Ryan received a final demand for rates arrears.  LPS can’t make the landlord liable in these cases, so all I could do was negotiate an affordable payment plan.  LPS suggested that Ryan pay £428 per month to clear the arrear.  This proposal was unrealistic and unreasonable so I made a complaint and submitted an income and expenditure form.  LPS reconsidered its position and agreed to Ryan paying £89 per month over a 24 month period.

Ryan was now effectively paying the rates on the property twice; once directly to LPS and once to the landlord, via his rent payments.  So, I needed to get the landlord to pay him back.

Small claims action against the landlord

We helped Ryan make a claim through Small Claims Court.  The judge was quite clear that it was the landlord’s professional responsibility to know what the terms of the old agreement were or to draw up a new one.  The landlord reluctantly admitted that the existing tenancy agreement made her responsible for collecting rates and passing these to LPS and agreed to pay Ryan back in instalments.

It turned out that the new landlord had actually called LPS to find out whether she had to pay the rates. When she was told that the tenant was liable she assumed that’s where her responsibility ended.  It’s important that landlords get proper legal advice when taking on a new property and get a copy of the existing tenancy agreement if they’re not going to issue a new one.

Top Tips

  • LPS has to follow the legislation. If the law says the tenant’s liable, the tenant has to pay.
  • BUT, if your tenancy agreement says your landlord will pay, you can go to court to get your money back.
  • Check LPS guidance on payment proposals – don’t be afraid to hold LPS to this!
  • Landlords – it’s not enough to just establish you’re not legally liable.  Decide how you’re going to collect and pay rates and make sure your tenancy agreement reflects this.  

Tagged In

Adviser, Affordability, Practical tips, Private Tenancies