Are you a landlord who is having trouble with your tenants? Are they not paying the rent or are they partying from dusk until dawn? What can you do if they have damaged your property or are behaving antisocially? Are you thinking of evicting your tenants?
Tessa Shepperson, a legal expert in residential landlord and tenancy law, outlines how you can use the law to protect your property and deal with difficult tenants.
1. Don't take them on in the first place!
Finding a good tenant is the single most important thing in letting a property. Good tenants can be worth a lot of money, but if they're bad, you'll have nothing but trouble and you may end up evicting your tenants. So it's important that you pre-empt disaster, and the difficulty of evicting tenants, by checking them out carefully.
Ideally, you should look for a tenant who has a permanent job and who wants to stay ay the property for a long time. Get references, especially from their employer, and try to get tenants with a good employment history. You can do a tenant credit check to find out whether they’ve had any County Court Judgments (CCJs) - for more information on choosing your tenants, see our article Landlords: How to find, and check out, your would-be tenant.
2. Talk to your tenants and take action quickly.
Always deal with problems quickly because if you ignore them, they will only get worse. Try to avoid a confrontation with your tenants and try to be reasonable. Often you can resolve a problem by talking to them. Young people living away from home for the first time, for example, may not realise how intrusive their behaviour is.
3. Deal with initial paperwork for legal action.
Even if you're in discussions with your tenant, you should still protect your legal position. If your tenant is in rent arrears, for example, you'll still have to send out rent demands and a letter before you take any action.
If you're contemplating court proceedings for getting back possession of the property, you should take steps to serve the proper form of notice. This will be either a Section 8 Notice, which should be used after the tenant is in rent arrears of more than eight weeks/two months (depending if the rent is paid weekly or monthly), or a Section 21 Notice. The Section 8 Notice has a notice period of not less than two weeks, and a Section 21 Notice has a notice period of not less than two months and it must not end before the end of the fixed term. In many cases, you can use both notices.
Note that care needs to be taken in drafting these notices requiring possession, particularly Section 21 Notices, where it's easy to make a mistake. For example, there are different requirements depending on whether the Section 21 Notice is served during the fixed term or after the fixed term has ended. If you get the notice wrong, the Judge may refuse to make an order for possession at court. Further details and guidance about evicting tenants are given in Lawpack's book The Complete Guide to Residential Letting.
All of these notices of temination are available, ready to use, in Lawpack's Residential Lettings Kit, with detailed guidance on how you can use them, or you can download immediately Lawpack's Tenant Eviction Kit.
4. If problems are not resolved, start legal action.
Although there are instances regarding rent arrears where you may not wish to be evicting tenants (in which case county court proceedings for a CCJ will be appropriate), generally, court proceedings will mean that you’ll have to start proceedings for possession.
But often you may have to wait before you can start. For example, you can only issue proceedings under the Section 21 ground after the fixed term has ended and, for this reason, long fixed terms are inadvisable for new tenants.
For rent arrears cases (where a Section 21 is unavailable), it's best to issue proceedings under the mandatory rent arrears ground, which means that you can only evict the tenant if the notice requiring possession was served after their rent arrears have reached a period of two months/eight weeks. (If you use a mandatory ground for possession, this means that the Judge isn't allowed to refuse you a possession order if you can prove the ground at court.)
Note that the Section 21 procedure isn't related to rent arrears - it's the procedure which allows landlords to recover possession of their property after the fixed term ends, provided that the proper procedures have been followed, and you don't have to give the tenant any reason for asking them to leave. However, in practice, it's often used for evicting tenants in arrears of rent. Another advantage of the Section 21 procedure is that you can take advantage of a special court procedure, misleadingly called 'the accelerated procedure' (it's not really that quick), where there isn’t a court hearing. If the proper procedure and paperwork have been used, there is no defence to a claim under Section 21, which is why it's best to use it if it's available.
For this reason, the Section 21 procedure is also the best procedure to use if you want to be evicting tenants for bad behaviour. There are other possession grounds available for antisocial behaviour, which will allow you to start a court claim more quickly. But, for this type of claim, tenants can defend them and they will often obtain legal aid, so you may be faced with a long drawn out, contested (and expensive) court case where you're at risk of paying the tenant's costs if you lose. It's generally much better to wait and use Section 21 after the fixed term has expired. If your tenant's behaviour is so bad that you cannot wait this long, do take legal advice.
5. Don’t be too kind!
Be warned that court action can take several months. Especially in cases where the tenant is in rent arrears, it's very important that you continue with legal action until the tenant has repaid the rent. Many tenants have run up thousands of pounds' worth of rent arrears because their landlords have delayed court action by being 'kind' to tenants who promised to pay, but then didn't. Tell the tenant that you’ll stop the legal action once they have cleared their rent arrears.
6. Check if they want to be rehoused by the local authority.
Often tenants (e.g. families with children) will be looking to be rehoused by the local authority. Many landlords don't realise that their tenant will invariably be advised to stay in their property until they are evicted or rehoused, as they will lose their right to rehousing if they move out earlier.
The local authority will not rehouse them unless there is a possession order, and some local authorities will not rehouse them until there is a bailiff's appointment! The reason for this is that most, if not all, of local authorities don't have sufficient housing available and so will only rehouse families if they are forced to. Find out if your tenant is looking to be rehoused. If so, it's best for everyone if you proceed with your court action as quickly as possible.
7. Get help with court action.
Evicting tenants through the courts is complex and easy to get wrong, so before starting a court claim, you should get some help. Lawpack's books, The Complete Guide to Residential Letting and Renting: The Essential Guide to Tenants' Rights, both give preliminary advice on court proceedings, and you may find that the advice given here is sufficient
If you want to use a solicitor, most firms who deal with this work will charge a fixed fee (indeed you should be suspicious if they don't) and teaming up with Landlord Action Lawpack provides a fixed price tenant eviction service.
Tessa Shepperson is author of The Complete Guide to Residential Letting and Renting: The Essential Guide to Tenants' Rights is a solicitor specialising in residential landlord and tenant law, and editor of the popular online legal information service at www.landlordlaw.co.uk.
More rent arrears and tenant eviction advice
Published on: June 2, 2008