Too many evictions could be avoided, says housing lawyer
A recent report (April 2018) by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee highlighted the shocking imbalance of power between tenants and landlords. Nearly half of tenants (44%) interviewed said that fear of eviction prevented them from raising issues with their landlord, such as disrepair to the property.
Social housing lawyer Farzana Chowdhury from London solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen says that fear and lack of knowledge about one’s rights results in many evictions that could be avoided.
Eviction can cause huge disruption and upset, particularly for families with children. There are three stages to eviction and appropriate action by the tenant at each stage could prevent the eviction or at least make at as little distressing as possible. The stages are: 1. Notice from the landlord seeking possession of the property. 2. Court proceedings for a Possession Order. 3. Notice of Eviction. Farzana explains that, at each stage, a tenant has the power to act.
Farzana offers the following legal advice for anyone facing the disruption of eviction:
- In most cases, people assume they must leave once they receive notice, but you are not obliged to vacate the property until the date for eviction from the property by bailiffs, stage 3 of the process.
- Check the notice: A landlord cannot take possession of the property until they have complied with the law around service of notice, which must be in the correct format and give the relevant period of notice to the tenant. For private tenants this is a minimum of two months.
- Engage with your landlord as soon as possible to stop things escalating. For council or housing association tenants, your landlord can only evict you on certain grounds such as rent arrears, anti-social behavior or unlawfully subletting the property. You should have received previous warning about any of these, after which you will be served with a Notice of Seeking Possession. This is the time to make contact.
- If you are in rent arrears, try and agree a payment plan. If you are on benefits, the most your landlord can require you to pay is £3.80 per week. Again, if you engage with your landlord, it reduces the likelihood of court proceedings being issued.
- Don’t simply ignore any allegations made by your landlord, such as anti-social behavior, sub-letting or any other ground for possession. Seek legal advice early on to try to solve them.
- If your landlord does issue a claim at court for possession of the property, ask a lawyer to file and serve a Defence on your behalf. If you are a tenant of a private landlord, your advisor may be able to check whether your landlord has complied with their legal requirements and, if they have not, you may have a Defence to the claim, which could result in the court striking out the claim for possession.
- Consider a counterclaim: if you are living with disrepair, you may be able to make a counterclaim against your landlord for compensation, which may be used to reduce or clear your arrears completely.
- If you are a council of housing association tenant, in most cases the courts will only make an Order for Possession if it is reasonable for them to do so. They can consider any relevant information including your previous behavior as a tenant, any attempts you have made to engage with your landlord and any other difficulties or problems you may be experiencing in your life which has caused the issues with your tenancy.
- If the court does make a possession order, ask the court for more time in the property if that may help you. When making the order, the Judge will give a date for possession, which can be anywhere from 14 days to six weeks. If you would benefit from more time in the property, explain why to the judge so that they can give you maximum time.
- If you know that there is no way to stop the eviction, do not leave things to the last minute. You may be able to make a homelessness application or get some advice or assistance from the local authority to help you find your own accommodation. Local authorities are legally required to help prevent homelessness and can do this in several ways such as homelessness advisors, details of private landlords, storage of your belongings if necessary and sometimes even financial assistance.
N.B. Legal aid is available at all stages of possession proceedings and homelessness advice. Your solicitor will be able to tell you if you are eligible for legal aid. If you are not eligible, you may have to pay privately for legal advice.