Managing landlord and tenant disputes

Lease agreementTenant disputes can sometimes be unavoidable, but with the assistance of an experienced specialist landlord solicitor, obtaining a suitable and speedy resolution is possible.

Being a landlord in the UK comes with plenty of benefits, including the potential to earn a significant income and having access to tax reductions. However, you may encounter some tricky tenants in your time, and in some cases, a dispute may take place. From 2017 to 2018, the Guild of Residential Landlords has reported that the most common reasons for conflict between landlord and tenants are cleaning issues, damages, decoration, rent arrears and gardening.

Disputes can be unsettling, time-consuming and place a considerable burden on you as the landlord, but you don’t have to face them alone. Romain Coleman’s specialist landlord solicitors have years of experience in helping landlords effectively resolve disputes with tenants by ensuring that you understand your legal rights and that you take the most appropriate option to seek a resolution in your favour.

What are the most common disputes?

Before determining how you should go about resolving a dispute if one arises, it is helpful to know what the most common issues are. With these in mind, you can draft a lease that protects you and your landlord rights entirely. Our expert landlord solicitors can assist you with drafting a watertight lease, ensuring that your terms are correct.

Non-payment of rent

In a lease agreement, a landlord has a right to receive rent at a specified time from their tenant, and if this rent is not paid on time, the money owed is called ‘rent arrears’. As a landlord, it is possible to set up a payment plan with the tenant. If the tenant continues not to pay rent on time, you have the right to evict the tenant from your property. You can read more about tenant evictions at gov.uk.

Romain Coleman can advise you on the best route to take if your tenant fails to pay their rent. If you do choose to evict them, we can assist you throughout the legal process.

Dilapidations

Normal wear and tear is expected in any property since nothing lasts forever; however, it is vital for your lease to state who is responsible for the condition of your property. The wording of the lease is crucial; therefore, we advise you to utilise one of our landlord and property experts when drawing up the agreement. If either you or your tenant breaches this lease term, a ‘dilapidation claim’ can be made against either party.

Before proceeding with the renting of your property, you should make sure that your tenant is aware of their responsibilities, and that your lease terms protect you against a claim. If you want to pursue a dilapidation claim, our expert landlord solicitors with landlord and tenant dispute expertise can assist you.

Subletting

This issue can often be a cause for debate between you and your tenant, particularly if your tenant failed to ask your permission before proceeding. To ensure that your tenant is aware of their rights to sublet your property, it is crucial that your lease includes a term that discusses whether this is allowed. If your tenant breaches their contact, fails to follow their responsibilities when it comes to subletting your property or sublets illegally, our expert solicitors can help you understand your rights and assist you with taking action.

What must you as the landlord know?

Taking up the role of landlord is a great opportunity, but there are some aspects that you need to take into consideration.

Being a landlord is a business

In any business, you can make money, break-even, or make losses. These rules apply when renting out property. While property investments are a good long-term investment, there is no guarantee that you will succeed. As a result, you must make an effort to educate yourself on what it takes to succeed in the renting world. Our Property Plus service provides landlords with a dedicated helpline offering legal advice on various property issues.

Setting the rent for your property

Choosing how much rent you are going to charge your tenants is an important step. You can start by researching the average rental price for other homes around your property. Alternatively, you can hire an agent who will be able to value your property and give you an indication of the rent you could charge.

Ensure that your property is safe

One of the most important obligations you have is to ensure that the rental property is safe for human habitation. Otherwise, an endless barrage of lawsuits will hit you in the event that your tenants are injured. For instance, you need to have working smoke alarms in place, and if you provide any furnishings, they need to be rated fire safe.

Conduct due diligence

Before entering into a legal agreement with a tenant, it’s important that you do your research. Failing to conduct thorough research into the background of potential tenants, may result in disputes down the line. Carrying out a Right to Rent check is a vital part of the process – you can employ a letting agent to do this for you. This check involves determining whether or not your potential tenants have the legal status to live in the UK and making copies of their documents, e.g. their passports to keep throughout their tenancy.

What steps can you take to resolve a dispute?

Although you might want to rush into one of the processes mentioned below, an advised first step is to write a letter to your tenant. Within this letter, you can clearly outline the issues that you are facing in the dispute, and invite your tenant to respond. Once you have started a civil and open dialogue, you can both propose ways in which you believe the dispute can be resolved. It’s important to remember that both parties need to commit to the proposed changes and your tenant may wish to have their own input into the proposal, which you should take into consideration.

Arbitration

In the case that you and your tenant are unable to resolve an issue, you can make use of this form of dispute resolution. The process of arbitration involves you and your tenant bringing your dispute before a third party, to seek out a resolution. This third party (it can be one or more people), referred to as the arbitrator/arbitrators, listens to both of your arguments, before coming to an agreement. Arbitration is an alternative to court action (litigation) but can be just as binding (unlike mediation).

Mediation

Unlike arbitration, mediation is not binding and is a less formal process. This process involves meeting with your tenant and a trained mediator who will listen to both sides and make a decision about how to resolve the issues you are facing. Mediation can be a more favourable process, as it gives you and your tenant the chance to communicate with each other face to face in a neutral setting, making the process a lot easier to solve. If your tenant decides not to follow the ruling reached by the mediation session, your only other option will be to litigate. To successfully resolve a dispute through the process of mediation, you can employ the mediation services of Romain Coleman’s landlord tenant-disputes solicitors in London.

Litigation

Litigation, which is the act of pursuing legal action, should only be used once you exhaust all other avenues to deal with the issue, as the process can often be long, complicated and expensive. During the process, your tenant may be allowed to continue living in your property, despite not paying rent or adhering to the terms of the contract. Before proceeding with litigation, it’s essential that you consult one of our solicitors so we can advise you as to the next best steps.

Small Claims Court

A small claims court hears disputes of less than £10,000 in the UK. If your dispute with a tenant is less or equal to this amount, you can head to the small claims court. Parties have to represent themselves during the dispute. It is a less expensive alternative to filing a case in a county court or civil court.

Accelerated Possession Order

Landlords can use this option as an alternative to lengthy and costly court proceedings. This procedure allows you to evict your tenant and take possession of their property as compensation for non-payment of rent.

Although this order can only be used if:

  • Your tenant moved into your property after the 15th of January 1989.
  • Your tenant is the holder of a short-hold tenancy agreement.
  • Your tenant has refused to vacate even after getting an eviction notice with a reasonable eviction period.
  • Your tenant has a periodic agreement that has passed the first six months or an expired fixed-term agreement.

As a landlord, you will need to fill out the accelerated possession form, which you submit to the court plus all other required documents. The court sends a copy to the tenant and a defence form. The court can issue a possession order even if there is a court hearing, allowing you the legal right to take possession. After the possession order has been issued, you might not be able to ask for uncollected rent. However, you could apply for another order to get rent arrears.

Protection schemes for financially based disputes

Many tenant disputes arise from costs, such as services like cleaning. Deciding who should pay for these services can sometimes be a long and arduous process, but in the meantime, there are official bodies that you, as the landlord, can make use of.

Landlords can take advantage of one of these three Tenant Deposit Schemes:

However, these services also offer an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service, which provides free, independent adjudication at the end of the tenancy. ADR can be a cheaper way of figuring out who owes what to whom, and what the deposit can be used for if necessary. Although, it’s important to note that these schemes and services only apply at the end of the tenancy.

Romain Coleman can help you resolve your tenant disputes

London-based Romain Coleman has years of experience in landlord and tenant law and can help you determine whether mediation or litigation is the better option for you. Our dedicated specialist property dispute solicitors have resolved the disputes of many landlords across the country, and our proficient mediation service can assist you in achieving the fastest and most cost-effective resolution.

To speak to an experienced property dispute solicitor now, call us on 0208 520 4555 or contact us online, and we’ll be happy to help.

This article was first written in 2016 and was updated on 21/08/2019.

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This post is not legal advice and should not replace professional advice tailored to your specific circumstances. It is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

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