“I’ve got a Problem Tenant – what should I do?”

09 August 2018

This is one of the most frequent enquiries received by our Landlord and Tenant team – an experienced landlord who has a history of good tenants living in his/her properties, but doesn’t know what to do when a tenancy goes wrong.

At Curtis Law Solicitors we have expertise in advising Landlords across Lancashire and Greater Manchester, and our specialist team are on hand to assist whatever issues you are facing.

There have been so many changes in recent years, bringing further ‘protections’ to tenants and placing further ‘obligations’ or ‘responsibilities’ on landlords shoulders. The net effect of these changes means that, whilst landlords still have legal avenues open to them to deal with the problem tenant, they have to ensure that the follow the rules exactly and ensure that all paperwork and processes are complied with in full.

It remains a criminal offence to evict a tenant in the wrong manner. You are not allowed to force a tenant out other than by obtaining a Possession Order from the Courts. It is so easy for a tenant to accuse a landlord of harassment when requests that the tenant leaves the property have been made and the court process has not been followed. Landlords do have to be careful here!

A proper Notice must be served on the Tenant. We advise landlords every week about whether a Section 8 Notice or a Section 21 Notice is the most appropriate route, and we always look at the various pros and cons, as well as discussing the costs and timescales. Where a tenant has not paid rent and has run into some arrears, the suitable route is very often a Section 8 Notice. However, proper legal advice should be taken before serving a notice as various factors in each case can impact which route is most advantageous to the Landlord.

Court proceedings can begin once the Notice has expired. The different Notices have different notice periods – meaning that Court action cannot begin until that period has expired – this most commonly ranges from 2 weeks to 2 months. A formal Court application is required, and we frequently issue these online using the Court’s online portal for speed and a discounted Court fee! There are two alternative Court applications which can be made, depending which Notice was issued, but a general estimate of the timescale from issuing the application to obtaining an Order would begin at 6-8 weeks.

A Possession Order is granted. The Court will consider your representations – as well as those of the Tenant where they engage with the process – and can then grant a Possession Order requiring the Tenant to vacate the property, usually within a standard 14 days. At this point the tenant has been ordered by the Court to leave, and they must comply.

Enforcement action can then be taken to evict the tenant. If the Tenant fails to vacate in line with the Court’s Possession Order, we would instruct Bailiffs to attend and evict the tenant. At this point you would be advised to change the locks and take back control of your property.

Recovering the rental arrears. Where the Tenant has incurred significant rental arrears – and where an appropriate Section 8 Notice was served – the Court would also be asked to make a money judgment against the tenant. This is a County Court Judgment (CCJ) entered against the tenant for the full arrears, as well as some costs and interest. As with any CCJ, if unpaid, there is a wide range of enforcement options to consider in order to enforce the debt. This could be attendance by a bailiff, an attachment of earnings order, securing a charge against their property etc.. Again, proper legal advice is required on a case-by-case basis to ascertain which option would be most likely to succeed.

Iain Blundell, Solicitor leading our Landlord and Tenant department, comments: “There have been a lot of changes over the past 2 years which Landlords are very often not fully aware of. It is absolutely critical to get sensible legal advice at the start, to avoid problems later down the line. For example, where a notice has not been served correctly at the beginning, the whole court claim can be thrown out. This results in wasted time and money for the landlord who still has an unwanted tenant in their property and is faced with the prospect of starting again from square one!”

Bethany Wetherby-Green, also a specialist within our Debt Recovery and Landlord and Tenant teams, adds: “There’s been so many changes recently that it’s difficult to keep up with them! Changes to Stamp Duty, mortgage tax relief and tax allowances have followed changes to the formal Notice procedures, the mandatory Tenancy Deposit Scheme and the requirement to serve certain prescribed documents at the outset of a tenancy have all impacted Landlords. A proposed compulsory Ombudsman scheme is coming soon, as well as new 3year standard tenancies. Landlords need to be aware of all these changes!”

Are you a landlord? Or Letting Agent? Do you need advice about how to deal with the deluge of recent changes? Need advice on problem tenants, tenancy agreements, or property matters? We can assist with a wide range of Landlord and Tenant enquiries – please contact us direct on 01254 297130.