Many landlords will soon find themselves in the unfortunate position of having to sue for rent when restrictions end – here’s how to go about it.

How can you recover rent owning when the tenant is refusing to pay? Yes, the government has provided measures to protect tenants during the pandemic, but as we come out of that, rent owning is still due.

If landlords want to forgive outstanding amounts or reduce the amount due as a matter of goodwill, that is up to their own discretion, but as far as the law is concerned, the total contracted amount owing is due in full.

Some landlords will decide to pursue their tenants for the money owned to them, many have mortgages to pay and it is not likely that their mortgage lenders will forgive them their payments.

For small-scale private landlords the rent is often a crucial element of their own income. There is no legal obligation on the private landlord to negotiate any form of rent reduction or early release from the tenancy agreement.

Questions to ask yourself before you sue

The first question is, can your tenant afford to pay? Suing someone who can’t pay or is unlikely to be in a position to pay in the future is futile, a complete waste of your own time and money.

Those on state aid, students, especially those from abroad are likely to be difficult, so think hard and long before pursuing these people.

If the tenant has left you, do you have a postal address where they are settled? You can’t pursue a claim otherwise; if they are on the move, you can’t pursue a moving target through the courts, and if they live abroad, it’s even more difficult, you might as well forget it.

Do they have a reputation to maintain? If tenants want to rent again, they will need a clean credit record, otherwise they will very likely get turned down for tenancies. If they are professional people they will not want a county court judgement on their CV, so you need to remind them of these facts.

Suing someone and successfully getting a county court judgement (CCJ) may give you some satisfaction, and that may be enough for some, but it does take time and money to proceed – sometimes its just best to put the loss down to experience and claim it against you tax liability.

Follow the practice guidelines

If your tenant is still with you, you may decide to go for eviction on the rent arrears ground and attached the amount of rent arrears to the claim (Section 8 of the Housing Act 1988), or simply sue for the arrears, whether the tenant is resident or not.

However, before such drastic action you should consider mediation, which allows an independent third-party to assist those involved in a dispute to try to reach a mutually acceptable agreement to resolve their differences. There are also other sources of financial help that tenants can be alerted to.

The starting point is to read the pre-action protocols  for rent arrears and evictions. The key thing is trying to negotiate with your tenants and giving them ample notice in writing, of your intentions. Write to them and give them time to pay, set up a schedule of re-payments if you can and remind them of the above points.

If that fails, write a letter before action giving them at least 14 days’ notice of your intention to claim and setting out the details of your claim, or serve a section 8 notice.

Should I use Money Claim Online?

The internet portal operated by HM Courts & Tribunal Service known as Money Claim Online is a convenient way to start off and pursue a claim. The Small Claims Court (or County Court) offers a convenient and relatively informal way for the man in the street to pursue debtors.

You can claim up to £100,000, but more commonly claims up to £10,000 are pursued on what is known as the “small claims track”. Legal professional’s costs cannot be recovered, so most people do not use a solicitor for this, but the court fee can be recovered if the claim is successful, plus the judge will usually allow reasonable expenses.

How do I progress my claim?

Keep it simple and concise. State your claim on the forms simply as rent arrears, setting out what and when it is due and answer the other questions of the on-line forms

If the other side puts up a defence, answer that in a simple straightforward manner, stick to the facts, the judge will not be impressed if you try to answer or stray into a load of emotional justification.

At the court hearing, present you case clearly and concisely and with courtesy, whatever the defendant may say.

Read more about mediation.

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