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Guarantors in Northern Ireland: What you need to know

A guarantor is someone who has agreed to be responsible for the tenant’s obligations as determined by the tenancy agreement.  In Northern Ireland, guarantors were traditionally sought for student tenancies, but this practice seems to be becoming prevalent across the wider private rented market.

Before agreeing to be a guarantor for someone it’s important that you fully understand the implications of your decision.  Many guarantor agreements are ironclad with no get out clause or end date in sight.  Often a guarantor may be chased for a debt years after signing the original deed despite having lost contact with the original tenant.

Know what payments you are liable for

Never agree to be a guarantor for someone without first reading a copy of the tenancy agreement and a copy of the deed of guarantee.  A deed of guarantee is the document that you sign and should explain the nature of the guarantee and how long it lasts.  Often it will state that the guarantee is irrevocable.

The tenancy agreement will set out any charges that the tenant, and by extension the guarantor, is responsible for.  Check to see what charges, other than rent, the tenant is responsible for. Tenancy agreements, and particularly student agreements, may include charges for utilities or services like broadband.  You should also check if the tenancy agreement makes the tenant responsible for rates.

Ask the landlord or agent to provide you with a copy of both the tenancy agreement and the deed of guarantee.  Explain that you will not sign unless these documents are provided to you.  If the agent or landlord is unwilling to provide you with copies of these documents, you should consider whether or not you are comfortable entering into a contract with them.

Who are you vouching for?

If the tenant that you are vouching for is moving in with a group of others, it’s quite likely that your guarantee also extends to the other tenants.  Most joint tenancy agreements are set up on a joint and several basis for liability.  This means that each tenant can be held responsible for the actions of the remainder of the group.  So, if one of the other tenants moves out of the property, the remaining tenants will become responsible for covering the missing tenant’s portion of the rent.  If this isn’t paid, you, as guarantor, could be asked to pay this debt. 

Similarly, if one tenant causes thousands of pounds worth of damage, the landlord can choose to pursue any of the guarantors for reimbursement, even if the tenant known by that particular guarantor is utterly blameless.

If you’re concerned that the guarantee you’re being asked to provide extends to the actions of the other tenants, ask that your deed of guarantee be changed to clearly show that you are only responsible for the debts accrued by your named tenant and that the joint and several nature of the tenancy agreement does not extend to the guarantee.  Agents and landlords may be willing to negotiate with you about this, but are not obliged to agree to your request.

How long will the guarantee last?

The deed of guarantee should stipulate how long your responsibility will last.  Typically, a guarantee will last for as long as the tenant remains in the property.  While students often move out of a property after the initial 9 or 12 month term, other types of tenant may remain in a property for years. 

Typically, a deed of guarantee will not contain a “get-out” clause for a guarantor.  You could try to negotiate with the landlord or agent to get such a clause added, but they are under no obligation to agree to this request.

Your guarantee is based on the terms and conditions agreed in the tenancy agreement.  If, after the initial agreement ends, the landlord significantly changes the terms of the agreement you can argue that the tenancy that you guaranteed has ended and been replaced by a new one, rendering your guarantee void. 

How can you recover any money you’ve paid out?

Guarantors who end up having to pay money to a landlord because a tenant has defaulted on his or her obligations can take action against the defaulting tenant to recover the money that the landlord has demanded. 

If you’re guaranteeing a joint tenancy, it’s a good idea to ask your tenant to give you contact details for the other tenants in the property and for their guarantors.  You can then keep these somewhere safe just in case you end up needing them.

You can attempt to recover the money that you have paid out by taking the tenant or tenants to small claims court.  However, taking someone to court is only worth the time and expense if you know that this person has the means to pay you.

Can you fulfil the guarantee?

Many agents and landlords will only accept a guarantor who is a homeowner.  They do this because it is generally much easier to recover a debt from someone if that person owns a property or significant assets. 

Signing a guarantee means you have accepted responsibility for the tenant’s actions.  In the worst-case scenario, you could end up being forced to pay thousands of pounds to cover damage to the property or rent that has not been paid.  People may agree to be a guarantor out of the goodness of their hearts, but you should think clearly about risk before putting pen to paper. 

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Practical tips, Landlord

This article was written on 26 August 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.