24 Jun 2020

Landlords or their agents wanting to obtain possession of their property should act sooner rather than later despite the current ban.

That’s the advice of property dispute lawyers at Irwin Mitchell, who are concerned at the backlog of possession court cases.

“In current circumstances, we believe that it will likely take at least 12 months from the service of a notice, for a landlord to recover possession of a property where county court bailiffs are required” says Sam Lane, a solicitor in Irwin Mitchell’s Real Estate Disputes Division. 

“It is therefore imperative that landlords do not waste time or delay taking steps to end ASTs, where they wish to recover possession” he adds.

Irwin Mitchell has in recent weeks noted a rise in inquiries from landlords seeking to recover possession of a property still in the infancy of an assured shorthold tenancy agreement, many of which had been entered into since March 2020, when the Coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation.

The majority of these situations occurred because the landlord was eager to let the property because it was, or was due to be, vacant. As a result, the landlord’s investigation into a prospective tenant was often reduced, a fact which is coming home to haunt some landlords now.

Lane says: “We recently had a case where a tenant was able to pay rent upfront for six months, along with a five week deposit. However, the tenant’s antisocial behaviour in month one led to three longstanding tenants threatening to leave.”

He cites another case in which a tenant was able to make payment of the first month’s rent and a five-week deposit, however, has been unable to make payment since.

He continued, “Whilst it is understandable that landlords want to ensure their properties are occupied and let, it is important that they do not cause themselves problems by cutting corners or “panic-letting”. Whilst it is likely that the rental market will become more competitive over the coming months, a short-term solution to an empty property now, could lead to a bigger problem further down the line.”

He says the current stay on evictions – which the government has recently extended until August 23 – does not prevent landlords from issuing possession proceedings or serving the necessary notice to terminate subject to increased notice periods.

”Existing claims for possession will sit in a queue of paperwork until at least August 23, and the court’s backlog is only going to grow. The government has not yet provided any guidance on how they will deal with the backlog, but the courts typically deal with post on a ‘first come, first served’ basis, with the exception of urgent applications” claims Lane. 

“Consequently, if a landlord issues a possession claim now, he will likely be significantly ahead of where he would otherwise be if he waited for the stay to be lifted a few months down the line, before starting the eviction procedures.”

Irwin Mitchell advises that landlords and agents should first attempt to open a dialogue with their tenant to see if an amicable solution can be reached, prior to resorting to legal remedies. 

However, if a solution cannot be reached, landlords should consider serving the requisite notice and/or sending the tenant a compliant letter before action in respect of the arrears. This letter would give the tenant a final chance to make payment, or agree a payment plan, before court proceedings are issued.

If the arrears exceed £5,000, another option may be to serve the tenant with a statutory demand. However, as Lane warns, “this is often seen as a pre-cursor to commencing bankruptcy proceedings and is a far more aggressive tactic. It should be carefully considered before being pursued.”

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