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Landlords going to the small claims court

My small claims court experience

My case came about because my tenant stopped paying the rent and I needed to reclaim both the unpaid rent and legal costs from their rental guarantor.

Here’s my warts and all experience of a small claim court hearing to reclaim my unpaid rent and legal costs.

Landlords need to give themselves plenty of time

I was told to be there by 10am, but as I will explain later, I was running late. I’d been around Nottingham trying to collect and document my rent schedule so that I could prove using my building society statements when the outlined payments were made.

As a result, I arrived at the Court with just minutes to spare. Not a good start, not helped by the ‘boarder control’ level security at the County Court where the Small Claims Hearing was taking place. The scanners were out in force, with the helpful guy from Group 4 security giving me a more thorough once over thant anything I’ve experienced at airport security. Let’s face it there will be a number of people attending court that will be more than a bit handy with a knife or gun.

My next challenge was to find the right room. Not so easy, I was confronted by a whole range of courtrooms within the inner sanctum and none appeared to correspond to the hearing room number that I’d been given.

Like the rest of the mixed crowd of suited booted accused and appelants; I had to report to the Court Usher and then wait for my case to be called. Fortunately, it wasn’t long. My case was called just a few minutes after I’d sat down and I duly entered the hearing room through a non-descript office door.

A long room was filled with an anonymous office table, down at the far end sat a middle age man in a grey suit looking more like a bank manager than Deputy Judge Roberts.

The defendant and I sat down, both either side of the table in front of the Judge.; ‘prostrate before the law’.

The Judge barely lifted his head to acknowledge mine and the defendant’s arrival. He introduced himself and set out the procedure for the hearing – like a boxing referee before a fight.

My legal case was straightforward

My case was simple – the tenant owed me £1450 in rent, and so guarantor needed to pay the debt. In addition to this, my court fees of £555 needed to be settled.

The hearing kicked off with me, the claimant, outlining my case.

My advice to landlords is to keep it simple. Try not to get involved in any legal slanging match or ‘tit for tat’ with the defendant. This would only confuse the case and annoy the Judge. Keep your case clear and concise and evidence it clearly.

My rental schedule

I had prepared a revised rental schedule, consisting of a number of columns headed: Rental Period, Payment Amount, Payment Date and Balance.

I had spent the morning in Nottingham collecting outstanding bank statements from the Nationwide to support my case. My strategy was to ensure that each payment could be cross-referenced against the bank statement to prove how much and when a payment was made (what a waste of time this was).

This is when the fun with the Judge started

Firstly, my revised and cobbled together Rent Schedule did not please ‘Your Honour’. In fact in the first 5 minutes of the case it could have easily been adjourned. The Judge rightly picked up on the fact that I had not forwarded a copy of this schedule to the defendant 14 days before the hearing as instructed by the District Judge.

The presiding Judge therefore immediately gave the defendant the opportunity for an adjournment. Fortunately, he was as keen as I to get the thing sorted, so thankfully the case continued.

The next hurdle – to establish the outstanding rent

I had been under the misapprehension that this would be pretty straightforward.

However, rather than accepting my way of calculating the outstanding rent by looking at it on a month to month basis to establish what was owed, the Judge instead decided to demonstrate his mastery of long multiplication by calculating the total rent due for the period and the rent paid and working out the difference.

This all fell apart with the first rent payment, which should have been the full months rent of £450, but in fact was paid net of the letting agent’s letting fee (a pretty standard practice).

I had done this deliberately so that the figure could be reconciled with the building society account payments.

After much deliberation, and tapping on his pocket calculator, the Judge eventually derived at a figure (the correct figure) that we were all happy with. A note for landlords and I’m not sure whether this is common practice but the Judge did not once ask to see my carefully compiled collection of bank statements (like previously mentioned – what a waste of time it was collecting them all together).

Court documents

It was interesting that during the case the Judge did not appear to use any of the documents I’d provided prior to the case. Instead he borrowed my original copy of the Tenancy Agreement and Guarantor Agreement along with the Notice for Possession.

The Defendants case

Having put forward my case, it was then over to the defendant, (the tenant’s guarntor )to cross-examine me. The guarantors main case revolved around the fact that he’d been duped into being a guarantor on the tenancy agreement, his argument was that he believed his responsibilty came to an end at the end date agreed on the fixed term tenancy. Alas for him – not so.

The defendant then put forward their own case, basically repeating the above, along with a variety of incidental points.

The summing up and judgment

So then came the scary part – the judgment.

The Judge pronounced that he was going to make his Judgment and that no new evidence was submittable. It all came about very suddenly and because I’d not mentioned the court fees (the case had naturally turned on establishing the amount of unpaid rent) I was left not knowing whether I was going to get anything for the legal expenses incurred.

The Judge had been making meticulous notes during the case and used them during his ‘speech’. The defendant and myself sat stoically as the legal process took it course.

Finally, after a five minute monologue where the Judge appeared to favour first one side and then the other, he eventually arrived at the judgement .

I had won! The judge had decided that I was entitled to all my rent and all the court legal fees about from the initial N5B Possession costs.

It was a victory of sorts, but as I will explain in another instalment it was all a bit of a pyrrhic victory when all was said and done.

Part two of the saga to follow

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