Using a guarantor
You might need a ‘guarantor’ so you can rent a place to live. A guarantor is someone who agrees to pay your rent if you don't pay it, for example a parent or close relative.
If you don’t pay your landlord what you owe them, they can ask your guarantor to pay instead. If your guarantor doesn’t pay, your landlord can take them to court.
Your landlord might want to check your guarantor is able to pay the rent in the same way they've checked your ability to pay. For example, by carrying out a credit check. Your landlord can’t make you pay for these checks, or for any paperwork to set up your guarantor.
There is a legal requirement for a guarantee agreement to be in writing. The agreement sets out the guarantor's legal obligations.
If you agree your occupation contract before your guarantor signs the guarantee agreement, there are extra rules. You can talk to an adviser if this applies to you.
Check if a guarantor is only liable for unpaid rent
It depends on what the agreement says. In many cases, a guarantee agreement also extends to other conditions under the occupation contract - for example, any damage caused to the property.
If an agreement does extend to other conditions of the occupation contract, then it's best that the guarantor checks the written statement. A ‘written statement’ used to be called a tenancy agreement. It sets out the terms of the occupation contract and shows exactly what obligations they are guaranteeing.
Check if the guarantor has to live in the UK
Landlords will usually want a guarantor who lives in the UK, as it's easier for them to take legal action against a UK resident if they need to.
This might present a problem for you if you're coming from abroad - for example if you're an international student. If you can't get a guarantor who lives in the UK, you might be asked to pay more rent in advance.
Guarantors of contract holders who live in shared accommodation
If you have a joint contract with other contract holders, the guarantee agreement usually applies to all of the rent - not just your share.
It's best to check the guarantee agreement carefully and ask the landlord or agent any questions if something is unclear. As soon as the agreement is signed, the guarantor is bound by its terms and conditions.
It might be possible to negotiate with the landlord for a change to a guarantee agreement. This would ensure that the guarantor's liability was confined to only your rent payments or any damage caused by you.
Check when the guarantor's liability ends
This depends on what the guarantee agreement says or what is agreed verbally.
Many guarantee agreements are open-ended and will refer to liability ‘under this occupation contract/agreement’. This means that liability could extend beyond the fixed period, to any extension, as well as to certain changes such as rent increases.
If this is the case, the guarantor’s liability might continue for as long as the occupation contract exists and will only end if the contract is legally ended by:
- the contract holder giving the correct legal notice
- by agreement between the landlord and contract holder
- a possession order from the court
- the landlord giving correct legal notice to end the contract because the property has been abandoned
It might be possible to argue that an open-ended guarantor agreement is not enforceable, but a court would have to decide this.
A change in the written statement
A change in the terms of the written statement could bring the guarantor's liability to an end. For example, a change to the rent or a renewal of the occupation contract would count as a change unless:
- the agreement said that the guarantee applies to any future changes or renewals
- the guarantor consents to the change
- the change is very small and doesn’t affect the main terms of the occupation contract - for example, correcting the spelling of a name
Checking the guarantee agreement
It's always best to check any guarantee agreement carefully so that the guarantor knows how and when their liability ends. It might be possible to negotiate a change to the guarantee agreement so that the guarantor's liability is limited. For example, by specifying the start and end dates the agreement applies to, such as the length of the original fixed period only.
Unfair terms in a guarantee agreement
A term might be unfair if it creates a 'significant imbalance' between the parties to the agreement. If a term is held to be unfair then it cannot be relied on and has no effect in law.
If the landlord tries to enforce a guarantor agreement that contains an unfair term, the guarantor could ask the court to decide whether the term is unfair. If the court agrees the term is unfair, it will decide whether the guarantor still has to pay.
You can refer a possible unfair contract term to the local authority's Trading Standards Officer, who should be able to provide further guidance.
If there are unfair terms in your agreement, you can report your landlord to Trading Standards.