• Sunday, June 26, 2022

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Rights and responsibilities of a private property landlord

HOUSE RULES: Lubna Shuja explains what is expected of landlords and why the tenancy agreement is important if they want to get back possession of their property.

By: Lubna Shuja

Legal advice on resolving disputes with tenants and how the eviction process works

DURING the lockdown due to Covid-19, private landlords were hindered from evicting their tenants for more than a year and-a-half due to successive bans, while notice periods were extended to take into account the impact of the pandemic on tenants.

Estate agent Hamptons International estimated there were 2.66 million private landlords in 2019, while private renters occupied around 18.7 per cent of dwellings in England in 2020.

In April to June 2021, landlord possession claims rose from 3,023 to 7,000 and it took on average 59.7 weeks for landlords to claim repossession, up 19.6 weeks in the same period in 2019.

The delay is due, no doubt, to the backlogs in the court system, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. What responsibilities do landlords have to their tenants?

As a landlord, you have to keep the structure of the property in good repair and keep the installations for utilities and sanitation in proper working order, including for heating and hot water.

You must ensure gas and electrical equipment is safely installed, keep your property safe and free from health hazards. And if it’s in England, you must check your tenant has the right to rent your property.

You must pay income tax on your rental income, minus the day-today running expenses and pay Class 2 National Insurance if your rental property counts as running a business.

What if I have a dispute with my tenant?

Disputes can arise between tenants and landlords for a number of reasons.

These can include:

* If you’re owed money by your tenant and are falling into arrears with your mortgage

* If your tenant says you’re not keeping the property in repair; or

* If a tenant is sub-letting your property without your knowledge.

In 2019, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government published a survey of private landlords in England, which found that 51 per cent of landlords were concerned about tenant behaviour, property damage, anti-social behaviour and disputes about deposits.

Rent arrears were a serious problem for 13 per cent of landlords. If you have concerns about your tenant or foresee a dispute on the horizon, the first thing to do is to speak to your tenant about your concerns.

If this doesn’t work, write a formal letter explaining the problem.

There are quite specific requirements and timescales that must be adhered to if you are seeking to repossess the property. A formal letter must include certain information and must allow a specified period of time stipulated by law, before you can start court proceedings.

The information and timescales will depend on whether the lease is a residential lease with a private tenant, or a commercial lease.

It is also recommended that you use a form of alternative dispute resolution – such as mediation – to try and resolve your case and keep it out of the courts.

This should also help to keep the costs down and assist in maintaining a good relationship with tenants.

Mediation involves an impartial person, a mediator, who is trained in dealing with disputes between two or more parties. The mediator will try to find a solution to the dispute, which both parties can accept.

If the issue still persists, then you can take your tenant to court.

Your case may go to a small claims court – if the case is worth under £10,000 – or worth less than £1,000 if your case concerns property repairs.

If your tenants owe you rent, you can make a possession claim online. I want to evict my tenant. How do I go about doing this?

The exact procedure landlords use to evict their tenant depends on the tenancy agreement – the contract between you and your tenant – and these must be followed. If you do not, you could be found to be harassing or illegally evicting your tenants.

Lubna Shuja.

Private landlords commonly use assured shorthold tenancy agreements (AST), which last a minimum of six months. ASTs are divided into fixed-term tenancies, which last for a set amount of time; and ‘periodic’ tenancies, which run week by week or month to month without a fixed end date.

If you want your tenant out after the fixed term ends, you can serve a section 21 notice – also known as a ‘no-fault’ eviction – to give your tenant two months to vacate the property.

However, if your tenant has broken the terms of the tenancy, you can serve a section 8 notice on them, which usually gives your tenant 14 days’ notice to leave. However, special rules were implemented because of coronavirus and this notice period should be checked.

If your tenant hasn’t left, you can apply for a standard possession order. If your tenant hasn’t left by the date that is given in a possession order, you can apply for an eviction warrant, which means that bailiffs can remove the tenants from your property.

Gaining back possession of your property can be a complex and difficult situation, so it is recommended that you seek specialist advice from a solicitor, who will be able to advise you and represent you in court.

Lubna Shuja is the vice-president of the Law Society of England and Wales. She will become the first Asian president in October 2022 and the seventh female president when she takes office. The Law Society: www.lawsociety.org.uk/public/for-public-visitors/; and Find a Solicitor – The Law Society: https://solicitors.lawsociety.org.uk/?Pro=True

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