My tenant owes 6 weeks' rent? How do I collect the debt?

Q: My tenant’s 6-month tenancy ends in 2 weeks and they owe 6 weeks rent. They have also damaged the property. I want them to be evicted as soon as possible, but how do I get my money back?

A: As there is damage to the property, it makes sense that you claim for possession of the property immediately. But if you want to recover the outstanding debt, then you need to show that you’re acting reasonably.

You can do this by speaking to the tenant fully about the situation and trying to help them resolve the situation (e.g. by helping with a benefit claim or rescheduling payments, if appropriate).

Do act immediately to make sure that your tenant realises that you’re serious. Send a warning letter weekly. Lawpack publishes various rent arrears letter templates which can help. Also send him a schedule of rent arrears, outlining what is due. This will act as good evidence in case you end up in court.

Afterwards, you can then use the following eviction procedures:

  1. Section 8 eviction procedure, which includes a money claim for rent arrears
  2. Section 21 standard procedure (where you need to attend court)
  3. Section 21 accelerated possession procedure (where you don’t need to attend court, as long as your paperwork is correct)

Using the section 8 notice procedure may be the quickest course of action. By serving the section 8 notice, you're giving the tenant 14 days’ notice and after this ends, you can apply to the county court for a possession order, as well as a CCJ (debt judgment).

The downside of using a section 8 is that unless the arrears are of two months or more, the possession order is granted on the judge’s discretion. There is also the possibility of a late part-payment and the tenant can counterclaim for the property’s alleged disrepair.

With the section 21 notice, you must serve two months’ notice. You should do this immediately to catch the remaining fixed-term notice period. Although it will take longer to obtain the possession order, you’re guaranteed to get it as long as you follow the correct procedure.

With the standard procedure route you can also add a money claim, but you may need to wait a month or two longer for a court hearing date than if you used the accelerated possession procedure. This shouldn’t be a problem, as you won’t be able to assess the extent of the money claim until the tenant has left the property.

So, the best course of action seems to be as follows:

  1. Serve a section 21 notice immediately, making sure that the service is correct and that you have evidence of serving the notice properly.
  2. If the tenant shows no sign of leaving at the end of the tenancy, apply to the court for a possession order using the accelerated possession procedure as soon as the notice period finishes.
  3. Once the tenant has been evicted assess the damage caused and calculate your money claim.
  4. Pursue the money claim from (1) any deposit protected in a tenancy deposit scheme; and (2) by using the small claims court (for amounts up to £5,000).

When making a claim using the small claims track, do make sure that you have evidence of the following:

  1. Rent schedule
  2. Bank statements showing missed payments
  3. Inventory showing the extent of the damage, plus quotations and invoices for repairs.

For more information on eviction procedures, Lawpack publishes a Tenant Eviction Kit, which includes Section 21 Notice and Section 8 templates. We also publish a guide called Making a Money Claim Online, which gives expert advice on how to make a small claim of less than £5,000.

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Published on: October 4, 2012

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