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Property Hawk

LANDLORDS GOING TO COURT

Going to court should always be a landlord’s last resort.  Unfortunately though, a court appearance is a fact of life for many landlords who are looking at regaining possession of their buy-to-let investment property, or are simply trying to retrieve rent & other monies owed to them by their tenant.

It is almost certain that any case that does go to court involving a landlord will end up in one of the 218 county courts in the country which deal with all but the most complicated civil law proceedings.  Each court has Bailiffs who enforce court orders and seek to collect money if a judgment has not been paid.

So as a landlord you have filed court proceedings and the day is fast approaching when you  will have to appear.  What does a landlord need to do?

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Justice

Firstly, a landlord should dispel any romantic notion that a landlord’s court appearance is a mechanism to bring about justice after months of suffering at the hands of a bad tenant.  One landlord neatly summarised the legal system governing the renting of property:

“it's got sod all to do with who's right and who's wrong, just who's filled in the proper bits of paper and knows their bundle of papers really thoroughly.”

This means that even when you as a landlord know that you have done the right thing, this will count for nothing in the eyes of the law.  Landlords should realise that going to court is case of proving a set of events against a list of very specific criteria.  It is nothing to do with justifying that you the landlord are a good person and that your tenants are bad.



Preparation

Careful preparation is definitely the key to any landlord’s court appearance, particularly if the landlord is representing themselves. A landlord really needs to know what the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR say about the area of law they are taking action over.  For example, the repossession of a landlord's buy-to-let property following a period of non payment of rent.  Civil Procedure Rules (CPR for those landlords that haven’t come across them before are the procedural code that sets out how the court deals with cases in a just manner.  Landlords before going to court should be aware of it and in particular the first few parts of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR that deal with how court business is run in respect of paperwork, dates of service, etc.

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It’s all about the evidence

As I mentioned previously the secret for any landlord who wants to obtain justice is providing sufficient evidence.  Before going to court a landlord will have to submit a pile of documentary evidence.  This folder of documentary evidence is known in legal parlance as a “bundle” and it should contain all the evidence that a landlord refers to in their statement. This might be letters that have been exchanged between the landlord and tenant, rent statements, the tenancy agreement, etc. A landlord should prepare their table of contents carefully, giving the date, a name for the entry (e.g. e-mail from defendant to landlord) and a one-line summary of the important point in the document. (For example a defendant states that they have no money available to pay rent). It is important that the landlord numbers the pages in the bundle and that they know what is where in case the judge decides to ask a question about it. A landlord should put post-it notes on the edges of their own copy so that they can find things quickly and simply. A landlord should present the court's bundle in a ring-binder folder so the judge can easily get to the pages that the landlord refers to (this is a requirement of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR anyway.)

A landlord should establish a clear timeline of everything that has happened to assist the judge in their determination. The landlord should also endeavour to give precise dates and amounts of money.
 
Finally, in preparing their statement, where a landlord makes reference to letters, e-mails etc, a landlord should make a note in their statement of the exact page number where this bit of evidence occurs in the landlord’s bundle.  This will help the judge when referencing the evidence and is also a requirement in the Civil Procedure Rules.

Most importantly a LANDLORD SHOULD BE WELL PREPARED. More importantly, they should be better prepared than their opponent, THE TENANT.

TIPS on the court appearance

1. Firstly, a landlord should try and stay calm.  A landlord should present their case in a dispassionate and calm manner.  Getting worked up or annoyed will not help a landlord’s case but getting across the facts and evidence will.

2.  Court appearances are often brief.  Landlords shouldn’t expect an epic appearance.  Where the defendant (the tenant) fails to show which is quite common and the evidence provided to the court is clear cut, the whole thing could be over in 5 minutes.

3. It is always useful for the landlord to have the basic facts on a single piece of paper as an ‘aide memoir’ and for easy reference  listing the page or paragraph reference in the landlord’s bundle of evidence (the landlord should bring the full details as well just in case)

If for example, the landlord is seeking possession under section 8 grounds the landlord might have the following information to hand:

  • Tenancy start date
  • Date the Section 8 Notice was served and how (proof of postage if the landlord has it)
  • Arrears figure worked out to the set date. I normally do a large print spreadsheet for the judge to see.

4. A landlord should keep their answers to any questions short (yes / no).  A landlord should be clear and concise. Landlords will probably find that the tenant will waffle on annoying the judge and digging a deeper and deeper hole for them selves. Remember a landlord can never prove a negative.  For instance, that a tenant has not paid rent.   Instead, a landlord should ensure that they lodge whatever evidence they hold and then claim that a tenant has not paid the rent; they should let the tenant prove that they have.

Remember all the evidence that a landlord has produced in court should have been submitted beforehand within a landlord’s witness statement.  The judge and the defendant will get a copy of this before the hearing.

5. Landlords should be aware that courts and even judges are not infallible. Therefore a landlord should always check any judgement carefully to ensure that the law has been correctly applied.  If in doubt a landlord should always seek clarification from the court, or if a landlord is still unsatisfied they should seek professional advice.  There have been cases for where the admin staff working at the court have not been clear on the judgement and issued an incorrect judgement or even that a judge has misinterpreted the law!



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