Sim Sekhon: Don’t head into legal battles alone
In this country, heading to court has long been considered the last resort, used only when other measures have failed. But it is often said that the UK is becoming more like the USA in its attitude to litigation. Landlords can – and do – find themselves facing legal actions brought by their tenants, and often it’s in relation to relatively minor issues.
The ideal, of course, is to stick to working within the law. But if there’s a minor breach or misunderstanding, the best course is to prevent things escalating into a situation where the legal profession is required. Discuss the issues with the aggrieved party and if you’re at fault, be big enough to make amends. Most people would rather have an issue sorted, and sorted quickly, rather than rely on the slow-grinding wheels of the legal system.
Will you be standing in the dock?
But sometimes, despite your best intentions, you could find yourself in a sticky situation. It might be that your tenant has had a negative experience with a previous landlord and is prepared to use every provision of the law to get redress – from you. They could see the opportunity to gain compensation if the property they’re renting is deemed unfit. They could take you to court if the deposit they have freely given you isn’t put into an approved deposit protection scheme – even if you’ve got the money safe and secure in a separate bank account. If you try to evict them and they disagree with the grounds, if there’s an illegal clause in the tenancy agreement, if you withhold more than they think is reasonable from their deposit to cover repairs when they leave, if they feel you’ve discriminated against them … the possible reasons go on and on.
With landlords often painted as the bad guys, a lot more powers have been given to tenants and the latest legislation – the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act – comes into force on March 20th. There are more bodies championing the rights of tenants than are supporting the rights of landlords and meanwhile, things like the mass miss-selling of PPI, have made claiming compensation a mainstream activity. Even if the case isn’t clear, there’s an attitude developing that legal action, or even the threat of it, is worth a shot.
Once a situation escalates into the legal arena. Things can become stressful, time-consuming, costly and damaging. The stakes can be high. With eviction sitting on a tenant’s credit reference, it’s in their interest to fight it if there’s a possibility they’ll win the case. Claims can be met with counterclaims, the action can be delayed, derailed and finally dropped without a satisfactory outcome.
The right type of legal advice
When I became a landlord, the situation was much simpler than it is now, but even so, it was tricky to find the support I needed for legal issues. That’s one of the reasons LegalforLandlords was born – and it’s also the source of our business name. The range of issues faced by landlords continues to grow, but most solicitors aren’t specialists in property rental. We are.
We operate a completely free advice line for landlords with a legal issue. If you need our help with a legal matter, our rates are transparent, fair and affordable. We can offer you guidance about the most effective ways to prevent problems arising and have cost-effective approaches if there’s already something that needs solving.
These days, with litigation so simple and reputations so easy to damage, you should do everything you can to stay on the right side of the law. But if you stray over the line, make a simple mistake, stumble into a grey area or come up against a tenant who, right or wrong, is determined to have their day in court, we’ll be here to give you a hand.