A growing number of tenants are defending eviction cases at court and appealing judges’ decisions, with figures of defended cases rising from 9% last year to 13% so far this year.
The rise is even where the tenant is in arrears – and courts are increasingly likely to be sympathetic. In other cases, the tenant simply knows more about lettings law than the landlord, and can run rings around the latter.
The claims are from Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action. He said landlords are suffering as listed county court closures are putting pressure on neighbouring courts to manage the workload, which with an increase in defended cases means long delays, all the while leaving landlords without rent.
He said: “As the increased cost of living and rising rents put strain on tenants, our instructions for rent arrears cases going to court have risen. At the half-year point, these were 11% up on the same time last year.
“Experienced landlords, who already know the market and are aware of the competition for rental properties, are less tolerant of defaulting tenants and unacceptable behaviour towards the treatment of their property.”
However, amateur landlords are most at threat, according to Landlord Action.
Shamplina said that with free advice for tenants now more readily available from the likes of Shelter and Citizens Advice Bureau, many are now more conversant on rental laws than their landlords, and are using this to their advantage.
Shamplina said: “A delaying tactic used by tenants, such as filing a defence on the day of the hearing, making it difficult for the judge to grant a possession order within the listed five minutes, is resulting in many cases being adjourned to consider further evidence.
“Thus the tenant can remain in a property for longer rent-free, putting amateur landlords in financial hardship through expensive court costs and loss of rent until the second hearing.
“In a recent instruction, a landlord we are working on behalf of had an eviction date of October 27. The tenant has since been to court to appeal the case on the grounds of disrepair, something which was not mentioned at the first hearing.
“We did not receive notification of appeal and the judge has allowed the tenant to file a defence and counterclaim against our client, whose case has now been adjourned until February 2012, leaving the landlord extremely distressed.”
Shamplina warned landlords not to neglect their duty of care in relation to reported repairs and maintenance issues, even if the tenant is in arrears.
He said: “In this instance, if the case goes to court, quite rightly tenants have grounds to defend the case put against them, along with the support of free legal advice by duty solicitors which is now available to tenants.”
He added: “We are finding that even when the grounds for possession are mandatory under Ground 8 of the Housing Act (owing two months rent arrears), judges are being much more sympatric in this tougher economic environment, making issues even more difficult for landlords who do have a genuine case.”