Here is a question to the blog clinic from Rajiv (not his real name) who is a landlord.
I have a tenant who, during the AST, fell into arrears by 5 months claiming she wasn’t receiving her housing benefit.
She subsequently has gone into a periodic tenancy and has started paying a reduced amount in rent but is still over £5000 in arrears.
I would like to evict her now but I do not know my rights – can I still recover the debt using a collection agency?
From the sound of it you need to take steps to evict this tenant ASAP as she is unlikely ever to make up the arrears or pay the full rent. This is the only way you can stop the arrears increasing.
Don’t worry about being harsh by evicting over Christmas by the way. It is now mid December so you are not going to get possession before late February / early March at the earliest.
I am assuming by the way that if you took a deposit, you protected it properly and served the prescribed information. If this was not done you need to sort this out first.
You then need to serve a section 8 notice based on rent arrears and a section 21 notice ASAP. Make sure you do this in a way you can prove if she denies it later. Serving by hand with an independent witness is best. DO NOT serve just by ordinary post as you cannot prove the letter actually arrived.
You then need to issue proceedings in the courts once the notices have expired. The section 8 notice will expire first but the section 21 procedure is more straightforward and less likely to go wrong.
Getting the rent arrears
So far as the rent is concerned, if you use the standard procedure based on ground 8 this will include a claim for a money judgment and you will get a CCJ, whereas the section 21 route is for possession only.
You can issue a separate claim for the rent (for example using the Money Claim Online service) if you decide to use the section 21 ground. However be warned that in my experience landlords rarely recover rent arrears from tenants who are evicted for non payment of rent. Particularly where, as here, the tenants are on benefit so will not have the money anyway.
Landlords often find this hard to accept but if your tenants don’t have any money, they can’t pay your rent, even if you get a Court Judgment (and note that many judgments go unpaid, I think it is about 30%).
So far as a debt collection agency is concerned, unless they are a firm of solicitors (when they will get a judgment for you via the courts), all they can do is go round and bang on the door and talk to the tenant. They have no special legal powers. You want to be careful about this as you do not want to be accused of harassment.
You are best concentrating your energies on getting vacant possession ASAP so you can start renting to a paying tenant.