Tenant underpaying: What court action?

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LoungeLizard | 17:18 Thu 22nd Dec 2005 | Business & Finance
9 Answers

A tenant moves into a house, and is an otherwise satisfactory tenant.

At the outset, the tenant signs an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement to pay a monthly rent of 700 pounds (for 1 year).

The tenant pays the first month's rent of 700 pounds in cash, and the second month's rent by standing order.

When it comes to the third month, the tenant unilaterally declares that they're only going to pay 600 pounds per month; and duly pays that amount.

If the tenant still refuses to pay the full rent after persuasion, what would be the correct court action to take?

(The tenant has cited as a reason for not paying that they've spent a lot of money on decorations; but their decorations are outside the scope of the contract, it was agreed at the outset that their decorating was at their own expense.)


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unless the wallpaper was hanging off or mouldy and the place was adequately decorated, they are not allowed to decorate just because they don't like the colour or style without your permission, and even then they have to allow you to make arrangement to get a contractor and purchase the supplies. as you may have a dicount supplier or a family member to do it cheaper - you also could do it yourself.

i had the same problem once but when i thouroughly explained I am not liable for their taste requirements, they accepted.

write a long explanatory letter to them - don't get abusive, and include highlighted copy of your tenancy agreement.

even if they had a right they cannot deduct �100 per month permanently, only once.

Did they pay a deposit? If so then the balance could be taken from that at a later date. Surely this is a warning of what kind of tenants they are likely to be and surely it would be best to remove the problem i.e. serve them notice to quit?

I would recommend that anyone letting their property uses a letting agent and has adequate insurance. We let our house for 4 years whilst we were away with the Army and used a local letting agent and had Letsure insurance. We were lucky and didn't have any problems, but you never know, and the cost is worth the peace of mind.

You cannot take action for the possession of the property until the tenant is 8 weeks or 2 months in arrears. This is evidently going to take a while, so at the moment you could issue a small claim for the difference between the rent due and the sums paid. This might not be economic because the amount outstanding would obviously be increasing each month and you would only be able to include in the claim the sums actually outstanding at the time of issue. Then, even if you got a judgment enforcement might be difficult, for example you could apply for an attachment of earnings order but you would only get your money back by installments the Court consider affordable for the defendant.

You might be best off waiting til the end of the tenancy, keeping the deposit and then suing for the remainder of the outstanding amount, that is if you can't reach an amicable settlement before then.

One of the Grounds on which you can apply to Court to evict the tenant is if the tenant is persistently late in paying rent (Ground 11) but it is not a mandatory Ground so the judge has discretion on whether to grant the order. Also, I believe that in order to use this Ground the assured shorthold agreement has to allow for it. Clearly you could not use this Ground if the arrears have only just started. If the tenant has put in writing that he does not intend to pay more you might be able to take action on some other basis. What the tenancy agreement says about decorations could also be an issue.

You need advice from a solicitor or law centre or CAB.

This is still a breach of contract. You need to act asap and let him know you will not stand for it by applying for possession, he is not to know if and when you will get it. If he wants peace of mind to enjoy the property then he pays the agreed rent. Call his bluff.
Question Author

Thank you for the answers in this thread. What I am most interested to hear are suggestions for the exact, detailed court procedure.

Question arising from stanleyman's above answer: Precisely what grounds should be cited for possession?

The grounds for possession would be breach of contract. He agreed to pay �700 and now he is not. You may have to wait two months and you may not get possession for a small amount owing but you should get an order to pay you the missing money. The tenant could however ask for the rent to be assessed by a rent tribunal if he thinks it too high, which could lower it.

Under the Housing Act 1988 there are specific Grounds set out for seeking possession, and there is a set procedure you have to follow - starting with serving a Notice Seeking Possession on the tenant. If you want to seek possession you have to follow the procedure, but I don't think you at present satisfy any of the Grounds - unless the failure to pay the full rent has been persistent (see my previous post) and has not just started.

I think Stanleyman is referring to something different, which is a County Court money claim because the tenant has breached the contract by not paying the full rent. I do not think you could ask for possession as part of such a claim - only for the money which is due and unpaid. You would have to follow a procedure starting with a Letter before Action to the tenant. I'm not sure it is worth your doing this.

Your local County Court office should be able to give you more info on the procedures and on what you can and cannot do but your best bet (if you don't want to leave the situation as Killerschick suggests) is probably to see a CAB or law centre if you can't afford a solicitor.

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