“Don’t Shoot The Messenger!” Harassment vs Chasing Overdue Rents

by Property118.com News Team

10:04 AM, 19th September 2011
About 9 years ago

“Don’t Shoot The Messenger!” Harassment vs Chasing Overdue Rents

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“Don’t Shoot The Messenger!” Harassment vs Chasing Overdue Rents

When a tenant has beef with their landlord, I’m the guy they go to. My job is to either negotiate or prosecute, depending on the circumstances. This occasional and random series aims to let landlords know the common complaints that are made about them, the laws that cover them and how to deal with it.

My landlord keeps getting at me about my rent.

Rent arrears; the big bug bear of the lettings world. Your tenant owes you £3,000. They started by telling you there was a death in the family, or similar tragedy, which means they need a payment break.

You, being a reasonable soul, come to some sort of arrangement that will help them defer rent and pick up the slack later on. Trouble is, when it comes time to pay you can’t get hold of them. They don’t answer the phone and are never in when you call.

So you send a few text messages, an e-mail or 2, maybe even a visit to prompt a discussion. The next thing you know you have got a snotty letter from someone like me, or the CAB or Shelter, telling you that you are harassing your tenant.

What’s going on?????

Let me get my bit in first before I give you the bad news.

If someone owed me £3,000 I would be mightily annoyed, especially if I was a small landlord without the cash flow to spread around that is available to a portfolio landlord and pay the mortgage on the property in question. Buy to let landlords are often wholly dependent on the rent on a specific property to pay the mortgage. If the tenant doesn’t pay the rent, both landlord and tenant go down the pan.

What’s wrong with chasing up money that you are owed? Nothing at all………in the real world.

And now to housing law

You have to first separate real life from housing legislation. The law has grown in response to real life situations but there are always 2 sides to any story, and one side will always feel put out by the restrictions of each piece of legislation.

Landlords always tell me the law is biased towards tenants and tenants tell me the law is all for the landlord.

The landlords main enemy in chasing up rent arrears is a thing called Section 40 of the Administration of Justices Act 1970, which states:-

“a person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under contract, he or she:

Harasses the other with demands for payment which by their frequency, or the manner or occasion of their making, are calculated to subject him or his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation;”

I have deleted a few words and underlined others for the sake of clarity to make this understandable.

So to cut to the chase what the Admin of Justices Act is saying is that you can commit a criminal offence if the way that you chase up the money that is owed to you is ‘calculated’ to cause alarm or distress.

Pay attention to the words, people. Law is all about words.

Anyone seeking to take legal action against you for sending letters, emails, texts or personal visits must be able to also prove that the motivation behind your actions are ‘Calculated’, to cause alarm, distress etc.

Proving motivation is extraordinarily difficult. I wish that Shelter’s admittedly well-meaning but flawed rogue landlord campaign would acknowledge these semantic problems. When the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 was drafted the original definition of harassment had the words “With the intent to cause” inserted in there. The result was that nobody ever got prosecuted for harassment because of the difficulty in proving what was going on in a person’s mind. They substituted the word ‘Intent’ with ‘Likely’, which on paper at least, made it easier to bring a charge of harassment. People in my position have only to consider if a landlord’s action are ‘Likely’ to cause the tenant to leave. Legally this is a world of difference.

Many solicitors or advisers will jump on a landlord for making persistent or excessive demands for missing rent, citing the Admin of Justices Act as relevant legislation, but the key point is a landlord’s ’Intention’. Is what you are doing ‘Calculated’ to cause distress or simply aimed at recovering monies owed?

You have to step aside from what you think and look at it from how it appears to the other person. Good intentions are not enough.

I can’t tell you how to word your letters to your delinquent tenant but bear in mind it is a fine linguistic line between asking for what’s yours and a type of harassment and cover your back. Get it wrong and you get me coming round and it’s not a pretty sight, especially since the girls in my office told me this week that I have big ears. And not metaphorical ones neither!!!!!


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Comments

Ian Simpson

15:51 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Not sure if this is quite relevant to the thread but here goes : Recently the police smashed open the front door and the tenant's door in one of my HMOs apparently looking for a fugitive from justice. When said individual was not present, they disappeared , leaving me with large bill for damage. Letter to local Chief Inspector commanding was responded to reffering to Section 8 something allows them to do this. A colleague who has a large property portfolio told me that the police ARE liable for costs if they don't find what they are looking for, but the Landlord is liable if they DO find - drugs/fugitives/skeletons in cupboards etc etc. Who is right?

16:27 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Ben

Stealing from a shop= Criminal Offence
Stealing from a Landlord = Legally Supported and protected
Trying to stop people stealing from a shop = Supported
Trying to find out why your not being paid rent = criminal act

Has the world gone mad

The point I was making with the supermarket example is, that if your not being paid you dont have to continue providing the service,This is ONLY different if you rent out houses. I include all bill council tax, TV licence and cleaner in my price, and these bills still need to be paid on top of the morgages, I cannot wait to recover the house through the courts. Am I within my rights to disconect all the services?

I also rent out by the room, so there can be up to 5 different individuals in my properties, If one of them sees that one has got away with not paying the rent for a couple months, then they will all be at it, best stop the rot before it starts.

To be fair the main reason I change the locks is to get them to contact me, this works, I let them back in the property once we have to come to an arangement, or we have agreed to part ways.....Its all about dialogue

beyond the provado of my posts, I do support the fact that tennents should not be harrassed, however, and this is the key point,this is only If they engage in positive dialoge and return calls and keep the landord updated then they deserve to be supported and protected from bullying.......If the useless little Sh*ts burry their head in the sand, refuse to return any calls, and avoid all contact, then the landlord can hardly be accused of harrasement. Harrasment would assume contact....and as there is nmo confirmed contact, how can harrasment be proven

My understanding of the law is that it is all about reasonableness............and that is right, It is reasonable to expect rent on time, its is reasonable to not harrass the tennents, but most off all it is reasonable to get a reason and justifcation why rent is not being paid......this is where you and the law is wrong........because you support the tennent in the first instance, and immediatly send a letter to the landlord, have you ever told the tennent to pull their finger ourt and face up to the issues, and speak to the landlord.

I have no issues with anyone that contacts me and lets me know there are issues, I have one tennent at the moment I am working with because they have been made redundant, I have another....that just is not making any attemp......I have finally contacted him last night, via his work, and I am looking to help him out.....But I guess...contacting him at work amounts to harrasement?

Might be harrassment, but it works....... and personally I would prefer a criminal rrecord, than for my properties to be repossessed because I could not pay the mortgage.......Come on, i think we can all agree, the laws are probably valid, but we need some common sense when applying laws...

Ben Reeve-Lewis

17:10 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Jeez Billy this could be better sorted over a pint (Mine's a Kronenbourg and a packet of Pork Scratchings)

I am genuinely heartened to hear of the slack you are cutting your recently redundant tenant, and I have to say when I hear a tenant turning off their phone and not talking to the landlord I pretty much tell them to sling their hook and stop wasting my time.

But I still think that you misunderstand the law at its root.

You are 100% spot on when you say that the law is different if you rent out houses. It is, It absolutely is. Decades of legislation has grown in response to situations that came up wherein landlords harassed and assaulted their tenants.

It started in 1917 with the Glasgow rent riots, where landlords were evicting families for rent arrears while their menfolk were dying in the trenches and moved up in time to deal with Rachman and Hoogstraaten (Still in business as a landlord). These kinds of incidents are the very reason why the law is as it is in 2012. Shelter, who even I have a beef with, have recently gathered figures from local councils that show that there are well over 11,000 cases of harassment and illegal eviction this past year. That is a serious social problem, I'm sure you will agree.

If a tenant owes you rent, you cant pay your mortgage right? And if the bank turned up one day and changed the locks on your property, without following due legal process, you would come to me and I would be the first to go to court on your behalf and get an injunction to stop it.

You need to understand that the same law, that you think is a problem, that stops the banks doing that to you, is the same law that stops you doing the same thing to your tenant. You cant hate it for operating one way and not the other.

People's homes are not bags of frozen peas, the supermarket analogy doesnt apply here.

Do you want a word from the wise? Someone who has been involved at the frontline of landlord/tenant disputes for 21 years? If your tenant owes you money the legal machinery is there for you to take them to court and get possession. You will also get a money order attached and do you know what? You wont get a penny. The tenant will either do a runner or meet an agreement to pay @ £3.20 a week, the minimum the court will entertain and when they default on that you will throw more good money after bad in chasing it up and you still wont get it.

Welcome to the world of landlord/tenant law. get used to it or get out of the game. And I dont say that arrogantly. I see this day in day out, it is part of the situation. In another post Steve said how pissed off he was that he had to take action againts a tenant once in 18 years. Sounds like a low risk game to me.

When I was a self employed housing law trainer I was often in a situation where I was owed £5,000 by a council for training I had done and yet had to borrow £200 off of family members to get through the month because councils are rubbish at paying invoices on time, but that is the lot of the freelance trainer. I ended up going bankrupt and ended up back in a day job because councils and housing associations, my clients, didnt give a toss about my circumstances and just paid when they paid.

I'm sure that dealing with troublesome tenants is a right pain in the arse but every human endeavour has its problems. It does no good, and changes nothing to bleat on about how unfair life is. There are probably easier ways to make a living than being alandlord, I know, I was one once.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

17:27 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

And @Ian. Cant help you there mate, you are in criminal law territory not housing law

Mark Alexander

20:26 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Hi Billy

Having read your post I'm beginning to question whether you should be letting on the basis of licence instead of AST's. This is on the basis that you are providing a service similar to a room only hotel, especially by including cleaning and all bills. If that is the case the rules under discussion will not apply. I'm no expert on this but it's something I would check out if I were you. One problem with this if you can let under licence as opposed to AST might be VAT if your rentals exceed the threshold.

Regards

Mark

HMOLandlady

21:10 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

To Ian S. Re: police bashing down doors looking for something - I too had the police burst into one of my HMOs brandishing a warrant. They took a battering ram to the front door, broke every fire door off its hinges, sent 8 arrogant officers in with bullet proof vests, held all tenants in their rooms - all for half a spliff. Don't get me wrong, I have a zero tolerance policy on drugs but had warned our local PCSOs that something wasn't quite right with a young lady there and asked them to keep an eye on the place whilst I went down the possession route (of property, not drugs!). They said that, if they find what they're looking for they don't pay for damage but if they do, its up to the landlord to work out how to pay for it. Having said that, a week later they broke down another door in another house looking for someone who was supposedly committing suicide! I eventually wrote to them with the addresses of my HMOs asking them to desist from breaking down my doors and call the bloody number for me clearly displayed in the hall and I would gladly let them in with my keys!!!

John Bolland

21:18 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Ben

This is fair for once BUT LHA and other benefits especially to single mothers has bred a part of our nation that is idle, feckless, unprincipled and they think we workers owe them a living and a free home. Not true we owe them nothing. The mess the UK is in now is because of nonsensical payments to the long term idle and immoral. Really its the Bastardisation of Britain socialist program. Norway, far richer than us stopped such benefits when it saw the damage they did to a family environment with a mother AND father figure. Now these Brides of the State know they can get with a child £16,000 year from the state. Cloud Cuckoo Land. They swop partners with regularity. The mass of anti landlord legislation is just to take the problem off the public purse.

22:26 PM, 22nd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Wouldnt say entirely lucky the majority of my properties are in the street i lived for 16 years owning 23.5% of the street! This trouble property was out of my area but one im banking on improvement due to area works & demolision but 4 years on this hasnt completed. Unfortunately i now see these bad tenants ending up nearer to my main lets as they have to move somewhere. Sure ive had losses but generally the tenants moved out on there own accord leaving bad debtors chasing them but the LHA changes allow a tenant to get on the bad footing from day one with the landlord. Yes a real dumb system the LHA and compounded by the council now being far less helpful hiding behind disclosure which again is daft as a Landlord knows a majority personal and finacial details anyway!

Recently i heard from a third party that a tenants change in circumstances would create difficulty. I simply reduced the rent by £60 pcm this preferable to a void. In 20 years ive only kept one bond and thats because the tenant didnt ask for it knowing the mess they had left.

I like to think im a fair landlord always offering affordable rents for property (i dont need rules to tell me) that is upto my standard and that is would i move in.

Yes the eviction process left me bitter even 4 years on, the way i was treated and robbed. I was lucky in that the tenants didnt show and string the process out even longer and apart from rubbish no damage was done.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

5:31 AM, 23rd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Well that was an interesting debate but I think we have gone way off topic now and I think I have another article coming out on Property 118 soon that will probably annoy you all as much haha

Bear in mind that the intention of this series is a help piece for landlords, not tenants. My aim is to let you the landlord know the kinds of things your tenants come in to moan at me about - what the legal position might be - and how to avoid trouble. Many if not most complaints I get turn out to be complete rubbish when I investigate them and even the ones where a landlord has acted out of order is usually the result of something the tenant has done in the first place.

When I sit in an interview room looking sympathetic while they tell me the landlord has threatened to change the locks this weekend because they owe them £3,000 I say through gritted teeth andunder my breath "If you owed me 3 grand I''d change the bloody locks on you as well", but my job is to make sure the law is adhered to. I absoletely hate having to make that phone call but it is my statutory duty as a working Tenancy Relations Officer to investigate complaints put before me.

Having said that I also see, on a surprisingly regular basis, landlords who have pulled knives or guns on their tenants, stabbed them on the neck, I've had ears and throats cut and many broken fingers etc. Rent arrears or bad behaviour are no justification for that kind of thing.Those cases remind me that my job is still valuable

Sharon Crossland

8:48 AM, 23rd September 2011
About 9 years ago

Morning Ben,

Very interesting piece (as usual) and I see that Billy has received a lot of support for his views. I find the whole issue of rent arrears very interesting in that we have a couple of young mothers on LHA who rent from a leaseholder landlord on my (private ) block. This landlord is one that could be termed as 'rogue' because he carries out no health and safety checks, places his tenants in properties with dodgy wiring and, more recently, a property with a faulty gas meter which could have caused an explosion, according to the gas engineer who was called out when gas was smelt.

The point is that both these women (and their children) came from refuges and were basicallly told that they had no choice but to take the private flats they were offered. They apparently stated at the time that it was likely that they would accrue arrears as the rentals were very high: £1,200 and £1,000 per month respectively. Similiar properties in social housing would not have topped around £600 per month.

Guess what? They are now in arrears.

If anyone can explain to me how this works, I would really appreciate it.

Sharon

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