The team at Woodstock has recently successfully concluded a difficult and interesting claim for a landlord client. The case involved a claim for possession, recovery of substantial rent arrears and losses arising from damage caused to the property.
Every hurdle that could be placed in front of the landlord and the team at Woodstock – was. But through persistence, the objective of vacant possession and judgment for the arrears of rent and damage to the property was obtained.
The claim for possession started before the pandemic.
A Section 21 notice had been served by the landlord. Unbeknown to the landlord and the gas engineer, who had carried out the gas safety checks at the property, he had allowed part of his required Gas Safety registration to lapse. As a result, the gas safety certificates in place were invalid. This, of course, rendered the gas safety certificate invalid.
The challenge that followed was gaining access to the property to obtain further certificates. This had to be done to allow a new Section 21 Notice to be served. This serves as a reminder to all landlords (and gas engineers) to check the gas safety registration before instructing them to carry out the required gas safety checks.
Agreement of access was finally given.
Access was finally agreed upon after communications from Woodstock reminding the tenant of their obligations under the tenancy and the obligations of the landlord. Fresh certificates were obtained and served, and a new Section 21 Notice was too. No rent arrears existed at this time so there was no option to serve a Section 8 Notice.
Following the expiry of the Section 21 Notice possession proceedings were served. Then the pandemic hit us, and the proceedings were served.
During the pandemic, we had strong but not conclusive evidence that the tenants had vacated the property. And that they started a new tenancy in another property. Despite our efforts to obtain confirmation that vacant possession had been given, to avoid court proceedings the tenants continuously refused to provide confirmation that they had vacated. They continued to defend the claim for possession brought under the accelerated possession procedure. The landlord had no choice but to continue with proceedings to avoid the risk of a claim for unlawful eviction by simply changing the locks and taking back possession.
Obtaining an order for possession.
We eventually managed to obtain an order for possession for the landlord. Given the challenge of the pandemic and constantly changing legalisation, it was a relief for the landlord to finally obtain an order for possession.
By the time possession was recovered considerable arrears had accrued. Due to the length of time it had taken, due to the pandemic, to obtain an order for possession. A claim was issued against the tenants and (crucially) their guarantor. Who had guaranteed the obligations of the tenants under the Tenancy Agreement, which included the payment of rent. Included in this claim was a claim for damage caused to the property.
The evidence available.
The success of the second claim fell upon the evidence available as to the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy and upon vacant possession being obtained. The landlord had a detailed inventory and check-out report. And obtained invoices for the works carried out to rectify damage to the property. This enabled us to successfully argue that the tenant was in breach of the tenancy. The landlord was awarded full damages.
In terms of the rent arrears, the ability to rely on repeated and clear communications to the tenant was key. Evidence asking for confirmation that they had vacated the property (and no response being provided) during the claim for possession, which they continued to defend, enabled our client to claim the full arrears of rent until the date a bailiff appointment had been secured and vacant possession legally obtained. Despite the tenant now arguing that they had vacated much earlier so should not be liable for the full rent arrears.
Thankfully the tenant has a guarantor which greatly improves the options for enforcement of the judgment debt. Which is the third (and hopefully final) challenge for the landlord.
The success of this case (despite its challenges) rests upon the due diligence done at all stages. And the collation of strong evidence to support our client’s case.
So, reminders for landlords:
- Ensure you have valid gas safety certificates.
- Ensure a gas engineer carrying out those checks has their required registrations.
- Gather solid evidence as to the condition of your property at the start and end of the tenancy.
- Ensure you have documentary evidence as to any repairs required as a result of damage caused to the property by the tenant.
- Communicate with your tenant – even if it doesn’t prevent court proceedings it will likely provide you with evidence to rely on in court at a later date.
- Always have a guarantor!