The UK property market is seeing an increase in rent arrears cases and an increasing number of tenants defending eviction cases in courts.
According to Landlord Action, a company specialising in tenant eviction, says figures of defended cases have increased from 9% last year to an all time high of 13%, so far this year.
Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action, says there are a multitude of reasons for this increase with blame falling on both parties. However, he says landlords are suffering as listed county court closures are putting pressure on neighbouring courts to manage the workload, which with an increase in defended cases, is taking even longer, all the while leaving landlords without rent.
‘Firstly, as the increased cost of living and rising rents put strain on tenants, our instructions for rent arrears cases going to court have risen, at the half year point these were 11% up on the same time last year,’ he said.
‘Secondly, those experienced landlords, who already know the market and are aware of the competition for rental properties, are less tolerant of defaulting tenants and unacceptable behaviour towards the treatment of their property,’ he added.
However, the boom in the lettings market has also encouraged those who can secure a mortgage to dip their toes into the lettings arena and it is these amateur landlords that are most at threat, according to Landlord Action. With free advice for tenants now more readily available from corporations such as Shelter and Citizens Advice Bureau, many are now more conversant on rental laws than their landlords, and some are using this to their advantage.
‘A delaying tactic used by tenants, such as filing a defence on the day of the hearing making it difficult for the judge to grant a possession order within the listed five minutes, is resulting in many cases being adjourned to consider further evidence,’ said Shamplina.
‘These, often sham defences, put forward so the tenant can remain in a property for longer rent free, are putting amateur landlords in financial hardship through expensive court costs and loss of rent until the second hearing. In some circumstances, we have landlords who will continue a rent arrears case and try to evict the tenant under section 21, possession only cases,’ he explained.
‘In a recent instruction, a landlord we are working on behalf of had an eviction date of 27th October, the tenant has since been to court to appeal the case on the grounds of disrepair, something which was not mentioned at the first hearing. We did not receive notification of appeal and the judge has allowed the tenant to file a defence and counterclaim against our client, whose case has now been adjourned until February 2012, leaving the landlord extremely distressed,’ he added.
Whilst some landlords carry out thorough due diligence, others pursuing rent arrears do not comply with their care of duty as a landlord in relation to reported repairs and maintenance issues, something which should be upheld even if the tenant is in arrears.
‘In this instance, if the case goes to court, quite rightly tenants have grounds to defend the case put against them, along with the support of free legal advice by duty solicitors which is now available to tenants,’ said Shamplina.
‘We are finding that even when the grounds for possession are mandatory under Ground 8 of the Housing Act (owing two months rent arrears), judges are being much more sympathetic in this tougher economic environment making issues even more difficult for landlords who do have a genuine case,’ he added.