Rent disputes and possession claims

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We are now almost a week into the restart of possession claims after the stay was lifted and there are a number of new rules which have been brought in to protect tenants and landlords. We have previously made it clear that the Courts are going to consider the impact that COVID-19 may have had on tenants.

It is more important than ever that landlords and tenants engage with each other to try to resolve matters. However, that is not always going to be possible and many tenants refuse to speak to their landlord or agent.

The NRLA has published its nine golden rules for dealing with rent disputes.

  1. Communicate – Tenants should discuss with their landlord the situation as soon as possible and landlords must try to understand the cause of the arrears, whether the tenant, their dependents or other occupiers have been affected by COVID-19, and how this has impacted on their ability to pay rent. The tenant’s general financial situation and their ability to follow a payment plan to repay arrears should also be considered. There must be evidence that the landlord has tried to have this conversation with their tenant, and we would suggest that a letter is sent to the tenant asking the questions above. If we are reactivating a claim that was sent to Court before 3 August 2020, then proof that there has been an attempt to find out what has happened and what the landlord could do to help must be filed along with the reactivation notice. Any new claims will also need to be supported by this information.
  2. Establish – Find out whether the tenant may be considered vulnerable. Are they disabled or a single parent?
  3. Signpost – The tenant should be signposted to organisations that may be able to provide support or advise on benefits and debt management.
  4. Agree – If possible, agree an affordable payment plan based on the tenant’s circumstances.
  5. Be Clear – There should be clear rent statements covering the last three months, showing any temporary reductions in rent or deferred payments. You should remember that if we have to issue possession proceedings and the tenant has been in occupation for a number of years, we are likely to ask you for a rent statement covering a two-year period.
  6. Consent – Where the tenant is claiming benefits, can the landlord receive direct payments from the Local Authority or could there be a deduction from the benefits to repay arrears?
  7. Guarantors – Is there a guarantor in place? If so, involve them in discussions with the tenants regarding payment of rent. Bear in mind that the guarantor’s financial position may have changed as a result of COVID-19.
  8. Mediate – There is always the possibility that an independent mediator may be able to assist in resolving differences.
  9. Record – In our opinion, this is one of the most important rules. Landlords should keep accurate and up to date records of all contact with the tenant as, if we get as far as Court, the Judge will want to see this information.

If you have any questions, please do give us a call.