D is for Distress for Rent

Non-payment of rent is not a new problem.

In 1662 the agents of Lord Albermarle, the then landowner,
wrote to the Juries of the Survey of the Honor of Clitheroe with a list of tenants who were in arrears and commanding them to investigate.

The ancient remedy gives the landlord the right to enter the property and seize and hold goods there until the rent is paid. This right existed for goods on the property irrespective of whether they were owned by the tenant or not. In 1689 the Distress for Rent Act 1689 (2 Will & Mary c5) permitted the landlord to sell the goods to recover the rent.

It was extended by the Distress for Rent Act 1737 (11 Geo 2), 'An Act for the more effectual securing the Payment of Rents, and preventing Frauds by Tenants', contains the marvellous introduction:

'Whereas the several laws heretofore made for the better security of rents, and to prevent frauds committed by tenants, have not proved sufficient to obtain the good ends and purposes designed thereby, but rather the fraudulent practices of tenants, and the mischief intended by the said Acts to be prevented have of late years increased, to the great loss and damage of their lessors or landlords:…'

Love it.

The 1737 Act extended the provisions to enable the landlord to recover goods fraudulently removed from the property to be sold to recover the rent, unless they had been sold on to someone not privy to the fraud. They may also seize cattle on the premises to cover rent. It also specified the procedure if the tenant had done a runner whilst in rent arrears, or who gives notice then refuses to leave (in which case double rent could be charged for the duration of the overstay).

These were dealt with at the Quarter Sessions so there may be lots of juicy entries there.

Interestingly the text of the act also specifies that it applies in the town of Berwick upon Tweed. Just in case it tried to pretend it was in Scotland.

Over time this was executed via bailiffs rather than by the landlord personally. The Distress for Rent Rules 1988 Statutory Instrument 1988 2050 specified and tightened the procedure by which a bailiff could be certified and used in these circumstances. Now the rules vary with the type of tenancy and its date of origin.

Interestingly, Rossendales Bailiffs is based in Birmingham, 100 miles away.

I also had a friend who claimed that tenants thought the census enumerator was the rent man so that is why they didn't appear on the census…