Managing landlord and tenant disputes

Signing a lease

Tenant 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 steady income while allowing the property value to increase over time. However, you may encounter some tricky tenants in your time, and in some cases, a dispute may take place.

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 action to seek a resolution in your favour.

The importance of lease agreements

At the heart of every landlord-tenant relationship is a legally-binding document called a lease or a tenancy agreement. This document spells out the obligations which both the landlord and the tenants must follow. It usually covers:

  • The type of tenancy and length
  • The amount of rent and how it should be paid
  • Terminations and/or break clauses
  • Tenant’s obligations
  • Landlord’s obligations
  • Dilapidations
  • Other conditions and rules
  • Specific terms agreed by the parties

At Romain Coleman, our solicitors have been helping commercial and private landlords in London by creating tenancy agreements that aim to prevent future disputes in the first place. Whether you want to rent out your commercial buildings to multiple tenants or find a new tenant for your buy-to-let, give us a call on 0208 520 4555 today and we will help you craft a lease that best meets your investment strategy.

What are some common disputes?

1. Non-payment of rent

Renting out your property means you can collect rent from your tenants regularly. If the rents aren’t paid on time, the money owed is called ‘rent arrears’. As a landlord, your first option is to call the tenant and remind them to pay. If this fails, send them a formal letter stating that they must pay the rent in full by a certain date. You must also explain that if the rent remains unpaid, you could take action against them.

After multiple letters and attempts, if the tenant still doesn’t pay the rent, then you must follow the appropriate procedures according to the terms spelt out in the tenancy agreement. At Romain Coleman, our solicitors 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.

2. Dilapidations

Dilapidations refers to the condition of a rented property when the tenant occupies it and when the lease ends. It can cover repair, maintenance, decoration or to remove alterations. There are usually three stages involved:

  • Before signing the lease, you the landlord have done the necessary repair or reinstatement; the property is ready to be rented out.
  • The tenancy agreement usually states who should be responsible for dilapidations when your tenant occupies the property.
  • At the end of the lease, the tenant should leave the property in good condition.

It sounds straightforward, but disputes surrounding dilapidations abound. Many tenants refuse to carry out reasonable repairs or to reinstate alterations they have made. If you find yourself in this situation, talk to one of our landlord solicitors and we will give you the appropriate advice on what you can do and how you can make claims for dilapidations.

3. Subletting

Subletting has become an issue for landlords in London, due in part to online platforms that allow tenants to advertise, giving them a chance to sublet all or part of the property easily, albeit illegally in many instances.

Typically, we find most tenants who sublet are keen to make a quick buck but unaware of the risk involved. For example, they do not know that subletting can affect their home contents insurance and failing to check the immigration status of the subtenant can result in a fine. Also, when excessive wear and tear happens or when the subtenants damage any fittings or furniture, the tenants are ill-prepared to deal with these issues.

Whether your tenant has the right to sublet depends on the tenancy agreement. 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.

When it comes to subletting, one common question asked is how would you the landlord know if they are subletting? One way is to browse through online platforms and see if images of your property are being advertised. Alternatively, make regular checks on the property.

What steps can you take to resolve a dispute?

1. An initial discussion

A good first step is to speak to your tenant about your concern. If it doesn’t work, write a letter to your tenant. Within this letter, you can clearly outline the issues that you are facing 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. As a landlord, you must not send letters that contain threats and you certainly cannot harass your tenants, as harassment is both a criminal offence and a civil action under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.

2. Tenancy deposit

Your tenant pays a deposit and the money is there to make sure they don’t damage your property. Upon receiving the deposit, you must put the money in one of the approved schemes within 30 days.

If you want to deduct money from the deposit at the end of the tenancy, you must produce evidence and state how much you intend to deduct. The tenant can object to your proposed deductions. In this case, the tenancy deposit scheme you elected to use will decide if the value is reasonable.

3. Mediation

Mediation involves a mediator who is independent, impartial and trained in conflict resolution. The process allows you the landlord to sort out any differences between you and your tenant speedily and cost-effectively. Repairs (who should do them), breach of tenancy terms and entry rights are areas of dispute that benefit greatly from mediation.

Mediation can take place face-to-face, over the phone or online. Once a decision is reached, the mediator will confirm the details in writing and send to both parties to sign. Once the agreement is signed, the mediation process outcome is legally binding.

Successful mediation depends largely on how much you know about your rights as a landlord, how the tenancy agreement is interpreted, the relevant facts, along with your level of preparedness and your willingness to compromise. Having one of our experienced landlord-tenant dispute solicitors by your side, we can help to communicate your case eloquently, thereby maximising the prospects of reaching an agreement.

4. Arbitration

Arbitration is another effective way to settle a dispute between a landlord and a tenant as the case is heard outside the court system. It involves an arbitrator, an independent person who listens to your case and looks at the evidence before making a decision. The decision made is called an “award” and it is legally binding. If either you or the tenant is not happy with the decision, neither of you can take the case to court to get the decision changed.

5. Small claim court and county court

If the dispute between you and your tenant is a straightforward rent arrears case and the money involved is less than £10,000, you can apply to a county court to claim the money you’re owed by the tenant.

In the event that the tenant denies owing the money, disagree with the amount, or if you do not agree with how they have offered to pay you, then the case may be referred to a mediation service or be transferred directly to the local county court for a hearing. Please note that you must make every effort to attend the hearing as being absent can see you losing the case.

If your claim is more than £10,000 and the tenant has ignored you, you can get a county court judgment (CCJ). While we can certainly advise you on the right legal procedures, you must decide if the tenant has the ability to pay before incurring further costs which you may stand little chance of recovering.

6. Eviction

You can evict your tenant using a Section 21 or Section 8 notice, or both. Have a chat with our experienced landlord solicitors before deciding whether you should initiate Section 21 or Section 8. In fact, we encourage you to talk to us before letting the dispute escalate to an eviction.

7. Standard possession procedure or accelerated possession order

If you have served a Section 21 notice but the tenant has not moved out by the date specified in the notice, you can:

  • Use standard possession procedure if you plan to claim rent arrears.
  • Use accelerated possession order if you don’t plan to claim rent arrears.
  • Use accelerated possession order to get back your property first, then make a separate court claim for the rent arrears.

8. Litigation

Litigation, which is the act of pursuing legal action, should only be used once you have exhausted all other avenues to deal with the dispute. Beware that litigation can be long, complicated and expensive. Talk to us first and let us review your case and discuss options with you.

Useful tips for landlords in England

1. Being a landlord is a business

The strong rental market in London has enticed many property owners to become landlords. If you make an effort to educate yourself on what it takes to succeed in the renting world, or you are willing to engage a trusted landlord solicitor like us right from the start, chances are you will know how to best protect your investments and deploy strategies that can minimise future disputes between you and your tenants.

At Romain Coleman, we also have been serving landlords in London since 1964, helping them understand legal issues and navigate legal processes surrounding tenancy agreements and disputes. You can contact us to discuss a specific issue or you can subscribe to our Property Plus service. Property Plus is a dedicated subscription-based helpline service providing legal advice to landlords and property owners. If you are a subscriber, you can call to ask anything from tenancy issues, statutory obligations relating to property, and other legal information which you need to manage your property effectively.

2. Ensure that your property is safe

As a landlord, you must know your responsibilities and fulfil them to minimise disputes or even lawsuits. Your responsibilities include:

  • Keep your rented properties safe and free from health hazards. This includes fitting and testing smoke and carbon monoxide alarms and following the appropriate fire safety regulations.
  • Make sure all gas and electrical equipment is safely installed, certified and maintained.
  • Provide an Energy Performance Certificate for the property.
  • Check if your tenants can legally rent your property in England.
  • Protect your tenant’s deposit in a government-approved scheme.

3. Conduct due diligence

In addition to checking their right to rent, it is wise to do background and credit checks. For instance:

  • Verify their identity
  • Check if your tenants can legally rent your property in England.
  • Carry out a credit check, including bankruptcy check
  • Get references from their employers and previous landlords

Failing to conduct thorough due diligence into the background of potential tenants may result in disputes down the line.

Romain Coleman can help you resolve your tenant disputes

At Romain Coleman, our landlord solicitors are well versed in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. We have helped landlords across London with various issues and disputes and we always do our best to 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 to kick-start the conversation.


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This article was first written in 2016 and updated in 2020.

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.