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Property Hawk

When a bailiff calls at a tenanted property

Landlords are never off duty.  Last week I was in the middle of a patisserie class of all things and my mobile goes off. 

It's my newest set of tenants:

"We've just had the bailiffs come round"  announces Clare, a very eloquent post grad student.

She goes on to inform me that a bailiff had just arrived on her doorstep and demanded she paid a bill of £700.  On the basis that both her and her partner are students the bailiff was left empty handed on this occasion.  His parting gift was a phone number, which presumably would make all things clear and lure in any unsuspecting debtor.

I have to admit Bailiffs are not something that I have had much experience with and so I really didn't want to jump straight into the 'lions den' before at least getting a handle on what was going on.

As a landlord of over 25 years I know in these situations its best to arm yourself with as much background information as possible before taking any action.

The backdrop to the bailiff

My suspicions were that the Bailiffs sudden appearance was connected to the recent change in tenants. The tenants had just moved in, so my best guess was that a council tax bill had gone unpaid somewhere down the line. 

I was a bit concerned over the size of the bill though.... over seven hundred quid even though. The property had been empty for just over a month. 

After a brief conversation with the new tenants I discovered they'd not yet registered with the Council, insisting they'd been told by the University that they didn't need to (Mmmm debatable??!! -  How do these intellectuals think the council would  glean their details otherwise? Maybe by osmosis? )

'Don't let the bailiffs in!

So my first call of action was to tap up an expert on these things, so I called Simon at Springfield Associates. His advice was clear - Make sure the tenants didn't  let any bailiffs into the property until things were cleared up. 

This is because if the bailiffs had the correct court order then they can enter a landlords’ property and seize property to the value of the debt.  This means items such as fridges, washing machine can be taken and sold for a fraction of their true value.

Having got some essential advice about the power of bailiffs the next stage was to get the tenants to thumb through any unopened mail to find out a little more of what was going on.  Their search turned up a number of council tax bills, a summons, and then a notice of enforcement from Equita - the agents for the Council.

Best approach was to contact the council direct

I contacted the Council to clarify the debt was an unpaid council tax bill and see; who the debtor was and what was the extent of the debt.  

I phoned the Council and to their credit they were very helpful and accommodating.  They checked to see if they could bring the case back from the bailiffs.  After a moment of trepidation whilst the council employee made a call to the dreaded bailiffs, she returned to the phone and chirpily announced that she had been able to bring back the debt from the bailiff.  It left me with a final figure of just less than a couple of hundred quid to pay (less than a third of what the bailiff was knocking to collect). 

I paid up there and then using my debit card whilst sitting in a coffee shop in Bakewell and in so doing ensured I wasn't going to be spending Christmas locked up in debtor prison.

The points to learn from my experience:

1. Never rely on your tenants to inform the council tax authorities
2. Don't rely on the post being forwarded by your tenant
3. Remember non-payment of the council tax results in a bigger bill
4. Never let the bailiffs in unless you have no legal choice
5. Don’t panic!



Comments (10)

Bailiffs and council tax ....
We have always made a point of checking mail that is left between tenants. We do this during final inspection when a tenant leaves. We have frequently encountered similar situations and have always resolved them before things got out of hand.
#1 - Barry Drake - 11/28/2014 - 08:53
bailiffs and council tax
So as landlord were you liable to pay the arrears of the previous tenant? Or were you just getting the bailiffs away from your property by paying the council tax bill for your previous tenants?
#2 - dave - 11/28/2014 - 12:35
bailiffs and council tax
@dave - He said the property had been empty for a month so I'd guess it was the council tax he should have paid for the month.

This is exactly why I do "all inclusive" rent then the council and utilities have my correct contact details and don't end up sending bills to empty properties.
#3 - Chris - 11/28/2014 - 16:27
You Paid???!!!
I'm sorry but maybe I am missing something... in this case the landlord paid the council a bill that was not theirs???

This is poor landlording in my opinion - if landlords did this then how they can provide a viable commercial business beats me.

I have never and would never pay a bill that was not mine. I don't believe landlords are expected to do this either... not even the council would expect this! Seems strange to me.
#4 - chris - 11/28/2014 - 17:56
Yes, you're missing something...
@Chris
... the owner _is_ responsible for whatever council tax legally accrues during a void period.
#5 - Ben - 11/28/2014 - 21:26
Council tax
My understanding of your situation is as follows.
The debt was a previous tenants and not the responsibility of the landlord or the new tenant. You had no liability to pay it. The debt collectors were instructed to collect the debt from the previous tenants not from the new tenants or the landlord. Also the debt collectors would only be able to remove goods that belonged to the previous tenants not the new tenants or landlords property. I always inform the council routinely, moving in and out dates with new tenants details and forwarding address of old tenants that way they can contact any previous tenant who owes them money direct. The debt collectors only went to your property because they thought your old tenants were still there because your new tenants and you had not bothered to contact the council.
#6 - Paul Gully - 11/28/2014 - 23:05
bailif
your a soft touch , you need not have paid a penny
#7 - craig - 11/29/2014 - 08:01
council tax and unpaid bills from previous tenants
Tenants are responsible for all bills.I will not refund any deposit,until I have the new address of the old tenants.So I can tell all creditors where they are.Also most tenancy agreements should say that deposits can be held to cover unpaid utilities etc or until the landlord is satisfied.However after unpaid rent or damages,the deposit may not cover unpaid bills ,so it is very important to know where the old tenants now live.I had one lot of tenants leave without proper notice thinking they would not be liable for the council tax,wrong !they are liable for the time of their tenancy even though they may have vacated and the property is empty.So I was able to get new tenants in within the month it was empty to start the next month,so I was not liable for any council tax.Most councils allow some empty period with no liability still,say 6 months.
#8 - Paul - 11/29/2014 - 09:50
@Paul "I will not refund any deposit,until I have the new address of the old tenants"

Really? How do you swing that? The deposit should be held by an approved scheme and as far as I know there is no OBLIGATION on the tenant to provide a forwarding address. Maybe if you had prior knowledge (or even suspicion) that there was an unpaid debt, the scheme might agree to paying you the deposit or part of it. But other than that, how could YOU withold the deposit.

Unless it's NOT in such a scheme?
#9 - Pat - 11/30/2014 - 19:31
Council Tax / Bailiffs
It was unclear, but I imagine the bill was for the landlord starting at the beginning of the void period and running through to the end of the year. There are three issues here: firstly inform the Council as soon as you get possession of the property. The tenant is liable for CT all the while they have "beneficial occupation". If a tenant leaves and you do not know or cannot gain access, the Landlord can legitimately claim not to be in possession of the property. Next make sure you tell the Council when the tenant moves in. That is standard good practice and whilst sloppy landlords got away with it when void periods were not charged for 6 months, most Councils now charge. Given thatin most instances full time studends get exemption from CT, it is crazy not to advise the Council.

I agree with Paul, there is no obligation on a tenant to disclose their new address and is completely unenforceable.

On the subject of deposits (to go a little off topic) we offer someof our tenants a different approach. Instead of a deposit we require 2 months rent in advance. That allows the tenant to not pay the final months rent (which they will probably not do anyway), the landlord has the benefit of the money in advance and the complexity of couples splitting up with the DPS is all avaoided.
#10 - Stephen Coomber - 01/24/2015 - 14:21
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