Feature: Landlords let down by a broken legal system

By Sim Sekhon,  MD of LegalforLandlords

It’s comforting to think that the UK has a well-established and effective judicial system. If we are wronged we can turn to the courts. But it seems that for landlords, the system isn’t working. According to Sim Sekhon, MD of LegalforLandlords, the courts are clogged, there are insufficient judges and cases are taking months to be heard.

It would be easy to assume that the pandemic is at the root of the issue, but the problem predates Covid-19. The Ministry of Justice had its budget cut, and at the beginning of 2020, there were already reports of court delays, last-minute cancellations, shortages of both judges and a lack of county-court bailiffs.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated. Cases can take an age to be heard, but the problems of a responsible landlord with a non-paying tenant don’t make exciting headlines in the popular press. Housing charities spread their messages of disreputable landlords and make scant, if any, mention that there are some tenants fully able to pay but deliberately exploiting the clogged legal system.

The situation varies around the country, but the capital is perhaps the worst affected. Some landlords are waiting up to eight months for a hearing. Clerkenwell & Shoreditch, Barnet, Chelmsford, Central London, Willesden and Stratford Housing Court are all badly affected.

Imagine the frustration of waiting month after month for a hearing and then, when possession is granted, having several more months of grief as you wait for a court-appointed bailiff. It’s no wonder landlords are worried. Their income has taken a massive hit, they may be in real financial difficulties themselves, but they remain at the mercy of an underfunded system.

The proposed Renters Reform Bill with its plans to abolish Section 21 could make the situation even more difficult. What will happen when every eviction requires a court hearing?

We know all about the issues. Every day we have landlords venting their frustration on us. But there is very little we can do. Sometimes the landlord has made an error in the prescribed information or has failed to sort out a maintenance issue with the property. However minor, these things can be enough to stop proceedings in their tracks. For the landlord hoping to regain possession, find a new tenant, settle the debts he’s accrued or catch up on buy-to-let mortgage payments, the misery goes on.

With no sign of an imminent resolution to the problem, it is perhaps landlords themselves who need to take steps to protect their interests. They do not have to be passive in the face of the challenges. Firstly, landlords should ensure they are scrupulous with their administration and their responsibilities. Secondly, they should address any issues with non-payment as soon as possible. Thirdly, they should consider insurance to protect their rental income and cover legal costs should a tenant default.