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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!

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