The accidental landlord: going to court to settle disputes with tenants is a last resort

Victoria Whitlock thinks negotiation is an important first step to resolving problems without losing sleep and money on legal fees
A newbie landlord asked me the other day whether it's easy to evict a tenant. The short answer is, I've no idea because thankfully I've never had to chuck anyone out. But I imagine it's extremely stressful, quite expensive and frustratingly time-consuming.

Landlord Action (landlordaction.co.uk), set up by landlords specifically to help other landlords evict problem tenants, would probably be able to give a more accurate response and if you've got a tenant you're struggling to get rid of, you might want to give them a call, if only because they have a free helpline (0333 240 9770).

The organisation claims to have been the first to offer a fixed-fee, all-inclusive tenant eviction service, which includes serving notice to quit, going to court to gain a possession order and — if the tenant still refuses to budge — arranging for them to be physically removed from the property.

Step One — serving the tenant with a notice — costs £117.60 and Landlord Action says this is often all it takes to prompt someone to pay up or get out, but if you need to go as far as Step Three, it will cost you more than a grand to recover your property.

Landlord Action tells me it has seen a 15 per cent increase in instructions from landlords over the last 12 months and I have no doubt it is generally successful in getting rid of stubborn tenants — the photo of a clenched fist on the home page of its website makes me think that anyone who messes with Landlord Action is fighting a losing battle. But I like to think I'd only take legal action to evict a tenant as a very last resort.

I know, I know — it's easy for me to say this because I've never had one who has given me cause to evict them, but I did once have a young couple who stopped paying their rent because they split up. She moved out several months before the end of the lease and he stayed in the property, but the rent payments stopped when she left.

As they'd both signed the lease, I reminded the woman that she was legally obligated to pay her share of the rent until the end of the term even though she'd moved out. I reminded her estranged lover that he was obliged to cover her share of the rent if she refused to pay. Both had good jobs and could easily afford the rent but each thought it was the other's responsibility — and so I got nothing.

Initially, I had to fight a strong desire to storm round to the flat and throw him out on his backside, or at least fling all his possessions on to the street (illegal, apparently, even when the tenant is a good-fornothing layabout) and I certainly considered taking them both to court to recover the lost rent. I played the court scene over and over in my head during many sleepless nights but in the end I decided it wasn't worth the stress.

Instead, I offered the guy an olive branch: I told him if he moved out asap I wouldn't chase him for the four weeks' rent he owed and in the meantime, he could pay me what he could afford. He paid me half the rent and left within a month.

I lost a few quid but I kept my sanity and didn't waste money on legal fees. In these sorts of situations, I reckon it's always best to talk to tenants, to try to come to a civilised solution you can both live with before resorting to legal action and employing an iron fist.

Follow our accidental landlord on Twitter at @VicWhitlock

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