This is part of a series of articles for landlords on preparing for the removal of the no-fault ground for possession under section 21.
Part 7. Keeping proper records
The beauty of section 21, for landlords, is that it allows you to evict a tenant, once their fixed term has come to an end, without giving a reason.
However, this does not mean that landlords routinely evict tenants without reason. There always is a reason. It’s just that when going through the section 21 process, landlords do not have to say what it is.
Common reasons for eviction include
- Rent arrears (probably the most common reason)
- Anti-social behaviour
- The landlord wants to sell up
- The landlord needs the property as a home for himself or his family
If landlords are going to have to give a reason why they are evicting their tenant, then it follows that they will need to be in a position to prove that reason – which will mean having evidence.
The importance of evidence
In court proceedings, if a defendant challenges a claim, the claimant will need to prove, on ‘the balance of probabilities’ that their claim is correct.
The way to do this is by evidence.
So what is ‘evidence’? Evidence is something which goes to support what you are saying.
For example, it can be:
- Some form of document – such as a letter, a bank statement or a receipt, or
- Testimony from someone independent which supports what you say
If these are not available then it does not mean your case is hopeless.
Frequently Judges have to decide which of two people they believe. This is their job – to ‘judge’. They tend to be pretty good at spotting who is telling the truth – although they are not infallible.
But your chances of success will be much greater if you have some independent evidence to back up your own statement to the Court.
Which brings us to records.
The importance of keeping records
Landlords really need to record EVERYTHING.
- All meetings,
- All inspections,
- All telephone calls,
- All work carried out at the property,
- All fees paid in respect of the property.
Some of these you will need to keep anyway for tax reasons. You just need to get into the habit of keeping records of everything else.
You are bringing a claim against your tenant who is in serious arrears of rent. The tenant turns up at the court hearing and claims that the property has not had any proper heating for months and that there is a leak in the bedroom ceiling.
If, when faced with that at court, all you can do is say to the Judge ‘That’s not true’ he will probably be minded to find for the tenant. Or adjourn the case to a longer hearing – which could be months into the future.
However, if you are able to produce:
- Receipts for repair work recently carried out
- A signed statement from the tenant at your inspection visit two months ago confirming that there were no outstanding issues, and
- A telephone attendance note from three weeks ago where you asked the tenant if there were any issues and he said ‘no’
The Judge is much more likely to dismiss the tenants’ claim and make your order.
Evidence for possession claims
It’s fairly easy to prove a claim based on rent arrears. However, the problem for landlords will be proving ‘anti-social behaviour’ based claims.
The government have promised that they will be changing the eviction process to make it easier for landlords to evict in these circumstances. However inevitably landlords will need to be in a position to prove any claim made, so care should be taken to record all events. For example:
- Letters and witness statements from neighbours
- Landlords’ and agents’ emails and letters to tenants
- Telephone attendance notes
- Records of any visits by the Police
- Date stamped photographs of the property (eg if it is in poor condition)
- Notes of all visits and property inspections
Setting up a system
It will be easier to keep and retain records if you have proper systems in place.
- Keep proper records so you can prove compliance with landlord regulations and service of documents on tenants
- Have a set procedure that you always follow when tenants report repair issues (letting agents may want to consider using the Fixflo service)
- Have a regular inspection program and keep proper records (our Property Inspection Kit can help here),
- Have properly designed telephone attendance notes and a filing system for keeping them (in chronological order)
The main thing is that you have a system and that you are able to find your records easily when needed.
How Landlord Law can help
Landlord Law has a comprehensive set of forms and other paperwork which you can use to record events. For example:
- Our New Tenancy Receipt form – a list (which you can adapt) of all the items you need to serve on tenants at the start of the tenancy with space for tenants to sign to confirm receipt
- The Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm check form – for you to use at the start of your tenancy
- The meter reading notifications – for use at the start and end of the tenancy
- The rent arrears schedules – self calculating pdf and excel spreadsheets in the correct format for court hearings
- The Right to Rent checklist – so you can keep an accurate record
- The ‘diary sheets’ to record events
Links to all of these forms can be found via our Landlord Law Checklists – which take you through the whole process of renting a property with links out to relevant content and forms.
It looks as if the law is going to be changed to ensure that landlords will only be able to evict tenants if they can base their claim on a valid reason.
To be able to do this they will need evidence. So landlords need to ensure that during the lifetime of the tenancy they retain sufficient records so that if this becomes necessary they will have the evidence to do so.
Keeping proper records is time-consuming and bureaucratic. Most people would rather not bother. However, it is part of being a professional landlord. Now is the time, if you have not already done so, to start putting in place procedures to ensure that detailed records are kept and retained.
So that if the worst comes to the worst – you will be able to prove your case.