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Landlord disputes: Resolving rental and other disputes

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Sadly sometimes a tenancy does not go quite according to plan. What are the most common disputes between landlords and tenants, and how can they be resolved?

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What are landlord/tenant disputes?

Tenants can have disputes with their landlord for a range of reasons. If the property is not being well maintained by the landlord, or damage is being done to the property by the tenant, disputes can arise. If the dispute reaches the stage where rent is being withheld, then the landlord has a problem.

The best way to prevent landlord/tenant disputes from escalating is to keep good documentation and to stay calm if a dispute arises. Landlords should follow the right course of action that resolves the dispute to the satisfaction of both parties.

Types of landlord/tenant disputes

Rent-related disputes

One of the most common causes of disputes between tenants and landlords is rent arrears. If a tenant does not pay the agreed rent, underpays or delays payment, landlords should not immediately think about eviction. There may be justifiable reasons why the tenant can’t afford to pay, perhaps because of a change in their employment or domestic circumstances.

Landlords should contact the tenant first, establishing the reason for the rent arrears. If the reasons are genuine, landlords can agree a way forward with the tenant, perhaps through a revised payment plan. If no response is received, or the landlord feels that the reasons given for non-payment are insufficient, landlords can write a more formal letter to the tenant, requesting payment, or contact the tenant’s guarantor, if they have one.

Property maintenance disputes

Keeping a property well maintained is a tenant’s right, and a landlord’s duty. If the tenant feels that the landlord is not attending to matters of safety within the property, they have a right to complain. These issues might be things like keeping a boiler maintained, servicing gas and electric appliances, or meeting fire safety regulations. 

Possession proceedings

If the dispute between landlord and tenant has reached the point where there is no likelihood of resolution, the landlord has the option of initiating eviction proceedings.

Section 21 notice proceedings

Section 21 notices are less commonly used by landlords, because they are known as ‘no-fault’ evictions: landlords do not need a reason to evict the tenant with a Section 21 notice, and they are not always heard in Court.

Section 8 notice proceedings

A Section 8 notice of eviction can be served on tenants when they have breached the terms of the tenancy agreement. Section 8 notices give the tenant 28 days notice before court proceedings can begin.

Other disputes

It is not just rent, property maintenance and safety issues that can lead to disputes.

Noise and disturbance disputes

Landlords should be cautious when reacting to complaints from neighbours about noisy or troublesome tenants.

Take the time to establish if the noise was an isolated incident, or a regular occurrence. Talk to neighbours and arrange a meeting with the tenants, preferably not at the property but at a neutral location. The tenants should receive a warning first about their behaviour. If there is no improvement then landlords can escalate the issue.

Property damage disputes

It is a fact of life that there will be some damage to property by tenants, even if it is unintentional. Distinguishing between damages and normal wear and tear is likely to be the reason for the dispute. Landlords may not learn of damages until the end of the tenancy, but that is where good documentation will come in handy. Before the tenancy begins, landlords should prepare a comprehensive inventory, and take photographs of the property, so they can refer to it in the event of a dispute.

Tenants are responsible for the cost of any damages, and should report them as soon as possible. Landlords will look more favourably on tenants that report damages rather than trying to hide them. It may cost tenants more in the long term if they don’t report damages when they occur.

Security deposit disputes

Deposits are held by the landlord as security, so returning them at the end of a tenancy can be another source of dispute. If there are damages to the property, unpaid bills or rent arrears, landlords can deduct what they are owed from the deposit, or withhold the deposit entirely.

Tenants have more rights to have deposits returned to them under Deposit Protection schemes, but they need to prove that they are not liable for any costs or monies owed to the landlord.

Preventing Landlord Disputes

Problems can be averted before the tenancy even begins. Preparing a comprehensive tenancy agreement, which sets out clearly the rights and responsibilities of the tenant(s) and landlord, will provide a guide to what is expected of each party during the tenancy.

Resolving disputes

Informal resolution

Dispute resolution can be achieved informally. Tenants and landlords may be able to resolve the matter between themselves. Each party should try and provide evidence to support their argument, such as photographs, copies of correspondence or receipts.

Formal resolution

If attempts at an informal resolution have not worked, tenants and landlords may have little option but to involve third parties. The Residential Tenancies Board provides a dispute resolution service, as do any of the approved Tenancy Deposit Protection schemes. Citizens Advice will also be able to offer guidance and support. Tenants can also apply to their local county court to get their deposit back. Mediation services are also available.

Importance of dispute resolution for landlords

Landlords should try to explore every option to resolve the dispute before deciding to take the matter to court. Legal action will be costly and time-consuming.

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