Can landlords evict their tenants?
"I own a two-bedroomed flat that I’ve been renting out to a couple for the past eight months. They were both made redundant two months ago, and since then have not paid any rent.
"When I queried this, they said they simply hadn’t got any money, but would pay me back as soon as either of them found a new job. I’m not happy with this, as I rely on the monthly income.
"Do I have the right to evict them?"
Janet Waine, a partner at Stevens & Bolton LLP, says:
Yes, but you need to obtain a court order in the County Court under the Housing Act 1988. It’s a criminal offence to evict tenants from residential property without one, and you could be subject to a damages claim.
You’ll first need to serve a ‘Section 8’ notice, giving two weeks’ prior warning of your intention to issue proceedings and specifying the grounds. The most relevant one in your case would be Ground 8. Under this, the court has to make an order for possession if the rent is at least two months in arrears.
You should also specify Grounds 10 and 11, which are discretionary grounds for possession, in case your tenants are able to make some payment before the court hearing, reducing their arrears to less than two months.
There are two types of people in debt – those who won’t pay and those who can’t. As a landlord, you’ll need to use your discretion as to whether your tenant is deliberately trying to get away with not paying their rent or whether their circumstances are genuine.
Clearly, in this situation, you rely on the rent from your tenant to supplement your monthly income. But before you go down the eviction route, it’s worth considering the time and costs involved.
First of all, the time. In order to evict your tenants, you will need to first wait for the rent to be two months late, or eight weeks if rent is paid on a weekly basis. You can then serve a Section 8 notice – this can be drafted by yourself or a solicitor. You then have to give the tenant two weeks' grace to pay the money they owe.
If they fail to clear the arrears during this time, then you will then have to raise a County Court claim. You will be given a court hearing date, which is usually set between four and six weeks after you make the application.
Assuming it finds in your favour, the court can then decide how quickly the tenant should be evicted – it might order immediate eviction or give them as long as six weeks before they have to leave.
According to Graham Kinnear, a director at Landlord Assist, in rental disputes the court normally gives the tenant 14 days' notice to vacate the property.
Of course, there is no guarantee they will follow the court order. If this happens, you will have to apply to the County Court again and wait between two and three weeks for a bailiff to be appointed.
Secondly, there is the cost to consider. You can appoint a solicitor or specialist firm to help you through the eviction process, which can be costly. Alternatively, you could go it alone but bear in mind, though, that while this is the cheapest route, if there are any mistakes in your application you will have to start the whole process again. Either way you will still have to pay the court fee of £150.
Once the tenant has been evicted, you’ll need to fork out to advertise the property and get new contracts drafted up, plus deal with any pressing maintenance required within the property. There is currently a surplus of rental property on the market, which means you could also have a wait before you find new tenants.
An alternative to the stress and cost of evicting the tenant is to sit down with them and work out an arrangement that suits you both. In this case, the tenants have lost their jobs, but you could assume that once they find work again they will be in a position to pay their rent and make up their arrears.
Kinnear says: “Ask yourself whether there were any problems with the tenant before – if not, it might be worth coming to an arrangement that suits both their and your circumstances.”
For example, could you temporarily reduce the monthly rent to an affordable amount? If so, you could continue to earn an income from the property and get the rest paid to you once the tenants’ circumstances have improved.
However, you will have to make sure all parties are completely clear of the terms of such an arrangement, and get documents written up to protect you both should things break down in the future.
“Arrears” tend to be associated with debt. If you fall behind and miss payments on any outstanding debt, the amount you failed to pay is an arrear – the amount accrued from the date on which the first missed payment was due.