Many landlords contact us about their rights and for legal support.
Here Alex Parkington answers some of the most frequently asked questions.
During lockdown some of my tenants have fallen into arrears. Due to the recent restrictions imposed on landlords, I am unsure what I can do. What are my rights?
Whilst a landlord’s ability to bring a money claim for rent arrears has not been affected by the pandemic, at the beginning of lockdown the government imposed a pause on bringing claims to evict tenants. That pause was known as a moratorium. That pause was lifted towards the end of August.
If you are a landlord looking to bring a new possession claim now that the pause has been lifted, the new guidance provided by the courts is clear in that their involvement in relation to possession claims should only be as a last resort. The courts have therefore placed an onus on landlords and tenants to try and find alternative means of settling matters e.g. agreeing a repayment plan.
If there are no alternative means of settling matters, then a possession claim can be typically by serving either a section 8 notice (rent arrears) or a section 21 notice (expiration of the tenancy’s fixed term), whichever is applicable. The notice periods for both section 8 and section 21 were previously two weeks and two months respectively. Currently, both notice periods have been increased to an enormous 6 months. Given this, it is perhaps even more important that you seek an amicable resolution with your tenant in order to avoid a lengthy and costly legal dispute.
Notice periods have been subject to much change this year so it is important that you keep appraised of any developments ahead of providing your tenant(s) with notice.
How do I go about evicting a tenant, and how much will it cost me?
If you serve a valid notice and it expires then you may wish to make an application to court seeking that the tenant is ordered to leave. It is difficult to quantify what the total costs involved in such a claim will be. The only fixed costs involved in bringing a possession claim is the court fee, which is £355. Beyond that, any further costs in relation to a possession claim would largely depend on the following factors:-
- Whether or not you instruct a solicitor to bring the claim on your behalf;
- If you require representation at a hearing, in which case a barrister may need to be instructed to represent you; and/or
- How you go about evicting the tenant once an order for possession is obtained from the court (e.g. will bailiffs need to be instructed)
Your ability to seek an order that your tenant pays such costs will depend on the contractual relationship and it may well be that you are restricted only to very limited fixed costs. Even in the event you obtain a costs order, you need to consider your ability to enforce payment from the tenant.
How long will it take to get a possession order?
In addition to the current six-month notice periods, landlords face a further lengthy wait given the back log of cases that the courts currently face coupled with the courts not working at full capacity due to the pandemic. Even following expiry of the notice, it will likely take many months for the court to deal with your case.
Given the lengthy delays that landlords will almost certainly face when it comes to obtaining a possession order, landlords should, where possible, remain in contact with problem tenants and try to settle matters without the need to involve the courts.
Landlord’s should also consider whether seeking a voluntary surrender of possession would be in their best interests. Although taking such action would result in the landlord missing out on rental payments, it may be a more viable option for a landlord to seek a voluntary surrender of possession as this could save time, legal and/or court costs in relation to a possession claim being incurred and further unpaid rent becoming owed.