Darwin Community Legal Service

Rent Arrears

Unpaid Rent

What happens if I don’t pay my rent?

If you fail to pay your rent on time you will fall into what is known as ‘rent arrears’. This means that you are behind in your rent and are in breach of your tenancy agreement.

It is important to keep a record of how much rent you have paid so you know if you are behind or not. You can ask the landlord to see a copy of the rental ledger or rental records to check whether or not you are in rent arrears.

What happens if I fail to catch up on my rent arrears?

If you fail to catch up your rent arrears, the landlord may be able to apply to terminate the tenancy agreement which means that you can be evicted from the rental property. You should first check your own rental records and compare it to the landlord’s rental ledger to see if you are behind in rent.

If you have been in rent arrears for NO LESS THAN 14 days, the landlord may send you a RTO3 notice, telling you that you are in arrears. For this notice to be valid it must be signed by the landlord and state:

  1. The address of premises
  2. That the tenant is in breach of tenancy agreement by failing to pay rent
  3. The amount of rent to be paid
  4. A repayment date which must at least 8 days after the RTO3 notice is given to you by which you are required to pay back the arrears.

If you are in arrears for less than 14 days, no action can be taken against you.

What happens if I fail to pay back the arrears by the repayment date?

If you fail to pay back the arrears by the repayment date, then the landlord may apply to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘NTCAT’) for an order for termination of the tenancy and possession of the property. The landlord can only make such an application, if they have first given you a valid RTO3 notice. The landlord has 14 days to make this application from the repayment date.

Can the landlord just remove me from the property or change the locks?

  1. You cannot be removed from the property by ANYONE without an order from NTCAT. This includes the real estate agent, landlord and police. If the landlord intimidates or bullies you into leaving, they will be in breach of the law and may be subject to penalties.

I am being taken to NTCAT for rent arrears, what do I do?

If you are taken to the NTCAT for rent arrears, it is important that you attend the hearing. NTCAT has discretion whether or not to make an order for termination. This means that even if you do not have the ability to pay back all the money right now, you can try to negotiate a payment plan or request that the NTCAT suspends an order for possession of the property.  If you do not appear at the hearing and you have been served the documents then it is likely they will make a decision without you there, so PLEASE call us or make sure you attend the hearing so you can tell your story.

If NTCAT makes an order for possession, they usually give the tenant 5 business days to leave the property. You can ask for more time to leave the property (up to 90 days) if you can show NTCAT that you can continue to pay the current rent and it would cause you hardship to leave any earlier.

What happens if there is an order from NTCAT telling me to leave?

If there is an order for possession, you must leave the property by the date specified in that order. If you are still in the property beyond that date, the landlord can take measures to take back possession of premises by going through the Local Court and getting a bailiff to come and change the locks. If this happens then you will have to arrange to collect your possessions. You will be liable to pay extra costs to the landlord, so it is not advisable to stay at the property beyond the date in the NTCAT order.

Are there any other consequences for failing to pay rent?

Even if you leave the property, it does not mean that the debt has gone away. The landlord has 3 years in which they can bring an action against you to recover the unpaid rent arrears.

You may also be placed on a tenancy database or “blacklist” if you fail to pay back your rent arrears. You may also receive a bad rental reference for the next property you are trying to rent. Please see our Tenancy Databases factsheet for more information.

Example of RTO3 notice and a link to the notice on the Consumer Affairs website:


Darwin Community Legal Service 2015: Non-profit community groups have permission to reproduce parts of this publication as long as the original meaning is retained and proper credit is given to DCLS, as the publisher.

Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is a guide to the law in the Northern Territory. It is not a substitute for legal advice. You should talk to a lawyer about your particular legal issue. The information contained in this factsheet is current as at September 2014.