A lot of what you do as a landlord – marketing and viewing, repairs and refurbishments, stress management techniques – will probably feel like it’s done on the fly. There’s one process you can rely on to be procedural, bureaucratic and thoroughly long-winded, though, and that’s taking a tenant to court.
If you’re at the court stage, you’ve already served notice on your tenant – if not, you’re jumping the gun by quite a margin and won’t get very far. Check out our articles on Section 21 possession notices and Section 8 eviction notices to see what you’ve missed out on.
This blog post will refer to the court process in England and Wales; Scotland and Northern Ireland are different kettles of Atlantic cod altogether, and will be the subject of future posts.
For a heads-up, though: in Scotland, notice is actually served under Section 19 (during a tenancy) or Section 33 (after a tenancy has finished) of Scotland’s 1988 Housing Act. To evict under Section 19, you need an AT6 form, which you can download from the Scottish Government’s website. For Northern Ireland, see page 14 of the Northern Ireland Department for Social Development’s private tenancies guide.
Step one: find your local court
If you’ve served the notice in the right way, the time period has elapsed and your tenant still won’t budge, the real work has just begun.
First, you need to apply to the county court that’s most local to your property. To find a court in England or Wales, you can use the HM Courts and Tribunals Service court finder.
Step two: send the court the relevant bits and pieces
At this point, the process will vary depending on how you’re seeking possession:
Under a Section 21
Under a Section 21, you can apply for accelerated possession (which really isn’t that ‘accelerated’ at all, but there you go). You’ll need to send your local court:
- The accelerated possession form (form N5b)
- Copies of the first and latest tenancy agreements, if there’s more than one
- An HMO license, if your property is a house in multiple occupation
- Evidence that you protected any deposit you took when the tenancy began
- A cheque for the court fee, made payable to HMCTS. For information on fees, click here.
Under a Section 8
If applying for possession under a Section 8, you’ll need to send:
- A claim form (N5) and a particulars of claim form (N119)
- (In a claim based on rent arrears) A ‘schedule of rent arrears’ detailing the date and amount of rent due, the date and amount paid, and the amount outstanding. Record it clearly and accurately – it could cost you your claim if you don’t
- In the case that the arrears run for over two years, you’ll also want a witness statement to the fact
- A cheque for the court fee (see under ‘Section 21’ above)
Step three: now what?
Under a Section 21
The court will issue the claim, with a claim reference number, to the tenant, and write to you to let you know. After a grace period of 14 days, you can write to the court asking for a possession order (they’ll give you a form for this). You have three months to get the form in. If the tenant put a defence together to oppose or delay the claim before you make the request for the order, the court will have to accept it.
The claim then goes to a judge, who will decide whether to grant possession, set a date for a court hearing or dismiss your claim outright (which will only happen if you served the notice incorrectly or the judge doesn’t feel you have a right to possession).
If your tenant claimed for ‘exceptional hardship’, the judge might give the tenant six weeks, rather than 14 days, to leave your property.
Under a Section 8
The court will issue the claim, with a reference number, to the tenant, and then write to both of you to advise you of the date of the possession hearing. Your tenant has 14 days to put a defence together and send it to the court, which they’ll provide you with a copy of.
Next up is the nail-biting drama of civil court!
Step four: the court date
You or a legal representative have to attend the hearing (if there is one) to present your case for possession, as does your tenant to present their own case (if any). The outcome of the case will really depend on the circumstances and the judges involved – whether or not your tenant put together a reasonable defence, whether your notice was above board and whether or not the grounds for possession (in the case of a Section 8) are mandatory or discretionary.
It’s hard to advise exactly how someone should prepare for a date in court, but the following pointers are always vital:
- Do everything in the prescribed manner
- Document everything and have your documents in order
- If in doubt about anything, seek legal advice!
The judges might also grant a ‘suspended possession order’. This is like the reverse of a bail agreement – your tenants get to remain in the property, but under certain conditions. If they break them, you can again apply for possession. This sort of arrangement might happen if you apply under a Section 8 on only discretionary grounds.
Whatever the case, it’s up to the judges now – good luck!
Step five: if your tenants don’t leave
If the court grants you a possession order but your tenants don’t leave by the date specified, don’t go in and turf them out yourself. As tempting as this might be after such a long wait, this is unlawful eviction and will land you in a lot more trouble than it’s worth. At this point, have another long slog of red tape:
- Complete a Request for Warrant of Possession of Land form (N325)
- Send it to the court with – you guessed it! – a cheque for another court fee
- Fill in the forms the court bailiff sends you
- Return those forms (almost there…)
- And wait for the bailiffs to come and evict the tenant for you
…and thus (hopefully) endeth the saga!