How to evict a tenant

There are any number of reasons why it might become necessary to evict a tenant from your buy-to-let property. There’s some drama associated with the word ‘eviction’ but the reasons for evicting a tenant are seldom because they have been unruly and the reality is often a lot more mundane.

For instance, it could be that you wish to sell your property or to live in it yourself, or, in a less positive scenario, your mortgage company might repossess it if you have fallen into arrears with your mortgage repayments.

Whatever the reason for issuing an eviction notice it’s important that as a landlord you stick to the letter of the law and aim to make the process as transparent and straightforward as possible.

Section 21 notice

There is a right way and a wrong way to supply an eviction notice. It’s important to be aware that it’s a criminal offence to evict a tenant without first obtaining the necessary court order for possession from the County Court. If you do not follow the proper procedure then even asking a tenant to leave could be considered harassment.

If it is necessary to evict a tenant then the law requires you to first give a minimum of two months’ notice under section 21 of the Housing Act (1988) – this is known as a section 21 notice. If you have agreed a fixed term contract with your tenants then it is possible for you to serve this notice before the end of that term if the agreement accommodates that in the form of a ‘break clause’.

It’s important that the notice is made in writing and that it is exact about the details, such as the date of the required possession and the reason for eviction. The earliest date for eviction is two months after you’ve served notice and it cannot be earlier than the end of a fixed term.

Some tenancy agreements are periodic, therefore they take place on a month by month or a week by week rolling basis. In this case the date must be the last day of the rental period. Be sure the date in your written notice is accurate otherwise you won’t be able to proceed.

Once an eviction notice has been received by the tenant, they can use their minimum of two months (more if they wish to remain until the end of their fixed tenancy period and they are not being evicted for reasons of having broken the tenancy agreement) to prepare to leave the property.

If your tenant does not leave the property once the section 21 notice has been served then you will need to seek a possession order from the court. Do note that you cannot make a possession order in the first six months of the property.

Though these can be quite far ranging, you do need to have proper grounds for eviction and the proper notice period must have passed before you can begin possession proceedings. The most common grounds are that a fixed term has expired and you have provided the proper Section 21 in anticipation of the end of the shorthold tenancy. The less appealing scenario is that of rent arrears.

Section 8 notice

A tenant may have a number of reasons for falling into rent arrears, and the ideal situation for both you and your tenant is that you can remedy the problem before court action becomes necessary. The Landlord Law Rent Arrears Action Plan  has some sensible suggestions to help you to achieve rent payments early on before problems can escalate. Maintaining good communication is essential at the early stages even if you do feel a bit hot under the collar about your own financial commitments.

However, if a tenant is falling into rent arrears and you have exhausted your other options then it may be necessary for you to take the next step in the eviction process, which is the issuing of a section 8 notice. You can give tenants notice using Section 8, which allows tenants between 2 weeks’ and 2 months’ notice depending on the terms of the tenancy they have broken. If your tenants then don’t leave by the specified date you can apply for a possession order from the courts. It can be useful in this second scenario to get legal support to assist you with the process.

Possession orders

There are two types of possession orders that courts can issue should you need to take possession of your property: the standard and the accelerated possession order.

- Standard possession order

If your tenant owes you rent then you can use a standard possession order by using an online service. Through this service you can monitor the progress of your claim in exchange for a charge (£325 in April 2017) . If your tenant has broken the tenancy agreement but they are not in rent arrears then you can apply for the court to evict them.

- Accelerated possession order

With an accelerated possession order procedure there is no court hearing and you can proceed quicker than with a standard possession order. You will need to approach the County Court for the area where your property is located and fill in a Form N5B. They will issue papers to your tenant and if you are successful the tenant will pay the court fee. On the whole and all being well you can expect the proceedings to take between six and ten weeks.

Seek professional help

Even if the eviction scenario is fairly straightforward it can be reassuring to have the support or professional help available to assist you with how to evict a tenant.

- Professional notice servers

On the rare occasion evicting a tenant might not be straightforward. For example, if a tenant does not answer their door they cannot receive notice. In this case you may need to bring a witness with you to observe the physical posting of the letter before 5pm, which means that is has been served the following day. The alternative is to use a professional service for this function, in particular if you are reluctant to engage the tenant or visiting yourself is inconvenient. The company will supply a certificate as evidence in exchange for a modest fee.

Whatever the situation, asking a tenant to leave their home is very serious, which is why it’s so important for you to stick to the letter of the law and be 100% accurate in all your activities, dates, correspondence and so forth. Mistakes – even easy-to-make ones – can be costly and the court might not find in your favour and you may be ordered to cover costs.

Evictions can be relatively straightforward if you take the appropriate action to manage the situation effectively. On the whole maintaining a good relationship with tenants can help you to avoid a lot of problems. Nevertheless, as a landlord it can be sensible to protect your investment against unforeseen circumstances.

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