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Landlords hamstrung by legal obstacles and cost of eviction

by: Heather Greig-Smith
  • 03/05/2017
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Landlords hamstrung by legal obstacles and cost of eviction
Landlords are struggling with the cost of legally evicting non-paying tenants, according to research by StudentTenant.com.

The online agency found costs of eviction reach nearly £2,000 and the process takes at least six months. If there are also rent arrears, landlords are then forced to pay further court fees to recoup these.

StudentTenant.com said more and more landlords are experiencing tenant arrears. Landlords hoping to remove tenants are waiting over four months to regain control of their property if the court eviction order is left undefended by the tenant; and much longer if it is.

Landlords are required to serve a section 21 notice to the tenant, giving two months’ notice of their intention to evict, but the tenant is not legally required to leave the property.

If the tenant does not leave the property, the landlord must apply to court for a possession order to get the property back. The eviction process can take between four to six months, depending on how busy the court is.

When a landlord is granted a possession order, the court will set a date for the tenant to leave the property which is usually between four and six weeks. Only a court bailiff can evict the tenant from the property.

In addition, if the tenant refuses to pay rent throughout the nine-month eviction process, the landlord could be owed thousands of pounds in rental arrears; landlords are also forced to foot the bill for renovations and fixing any damage to the property, if it has been left in a bad condition by the evicted tenants.

Danielle Cullen, managing director at StudentTenant.com, said reform is needed to protect landlords’ rights when it comes to eviction.

“Local councils are encouraging tenants to stay in the property until the eviction date, usually months into the future, so they are eligible for emergency housing. Tenants can only apply for it once they have been legally evicted, and if they leave any earlier, they are choosing to become homeless and cannot receive any support,” she said.

“Landlords and tenants are being really let down by the regulations in the sector. When it comes to removing non-paying tenants, the government needs to make changes to make it quicker to remove a tenant in this kind of situation.”

Cullen added: “There also needs to be more support for tenants who are being evicted through no fault of their own. They should be supported in finding a new property, to prevent them from having to stay until they are literally forced out.”

Chris Norris, head of policy, public affairs and research for the National Landlords Association, said its research shows around a third of landlords have experienced rent arrears in the past year, with the average amount owed by tenants standing at more than £2,000 – a rise of more than £400 over the last 12 months.

“Gaining possession of a property can be an expensive and stressful experience for everyone involved but the problem is often made worse by bad advice. Almost half (47%) of tenants who have  been served a section 21 eviction notice by their landlord say they have been told to ignore it by their local council or an advice agency such as Shelter or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB).

“We’ve always known that tenants receive this kind of advice and it’s a huge problem because it damages the confidence of landlords who work in the community to home those who aren’t able to access social housing. It also creates unnecessary strain on tenants, landlords, and the Courts Service,” he said.

“We hope that the Homelessness Reduction Act will help to prevent the number of cases progressing through the courts by giving tenants the support they need while incentivising the good work that landlords already do in communities across the country.”

Bob Young, chief executive at Fleet Mortgages, said his own personal experience as a landlord acted as a learning curve and that there are steps landlords can take to cut risks.

“I had a tenant in one of my buy-to-let properties many years ago who was trying to get social housing and was advised (off the record) by the council to stop paying rent and wait for an eviction notice,” he said.

“It cost me a sum of money but I learnt two very valuable lessons. Firstly, regardless of what the letting agent says, landlords should always carry out an inspection and they shouldn’t skimp on the work required to make the property more ‘let-able’ and therefore widen the net of potential tenants. Secondly, landlords should really look at the references the letting agents hand them and ask questions.

“In the end, I put the cost down to a learning experience and it has been invaluable to me. There are poor landlords but there are also poor tenants – hopefully they’ll find each other.”

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