11:22 AM, 4th October 2011, About 10 years ago 2
When a tenant has a 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.
I get a couple of these allegations a month on average. Tenant owes landlord rent money who grabs hold of 52” flat screen TV and home cinema system and says they can have it back when they pay up.
Where do you stand? On very shaky ground, people. Prior to 1977 this was permissible under a rule called ‘Detinue’ which allowed landlords to distrain a tenant’s goods and, although we are 34 years past that time and our pink Mohicans have turned into bald patches (well mine has anyway), a common belief still persists that Detinue is allowed. I have even encountered a solicitor who advised a landlord that this was permissible.
There are a variety of these housing myths that people subscribe to, like the idea that if you were born and brought up in an area you will still get a council house. I can’t tell you how many sides are split and sandwiches are choked on when one of those enquiries come through our doors.
So, with the abolition of Detinue a fantastically titled law was brought in called the “Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977”. A tort is a civil wrong rather than a criminal one.
Part of this Tort refers to duties to abandoned goods left by tenants and customers, for instance when you leave a car at the mechanics and forget to pick it up, but seizing a tenant’s possessions in lieu of rent is known as ‘Trespass to goods’, defined in Section 1 of the Tort and is a definite no-no.
What the tenant will do in these instances is go to court and obtain an injunction for release of the goods. In my area I do them for the tenant. The reason being that although the actual cost of obtaining an injunction is only £175 (or free if they are on benefits) a solicitor will charge around £1,800 – £2,000 to obtain one.
I know legal expertise is valuable but £1,800 for filling in 3 forms and attending court for an hour?
Believe it or not they aren’t that difficult to do. Serving it is more of a problem when you can’t find the landlord.
Usually the injunction will contain what is called a ‘Penal notice’ which states that once served with the injunction, if the landlord doesn’t comply with the terms of it they can be put in prison for 7 days for contempt of court.
Like it or loathe it, I’m sorry to say folks that this is the way it is. I have never, ever, lost an injunction for trespass to goods. Judges pounce on them straight away and even a tenant owing £5,000 rent arrears won’t turn that law around.
I once even got an injunction against the directors of a well known high street building society whose staff refused to let a tenant collect her things when they repossessed a house from her landlord. The judge accepted no excuse.
If your tenant owes you rent, then evict them. Going to the effort of seizing their more expensive electrical goods is a hiding to nothing and will result in an annoying but compulsory visit to court to explain to the judge why you did it.
My wife, the wonderful Frazzy Cox once left her beloved Apple Mac at a menders for a few months while she got the money together to get it fixed. The computer guy refused to let her have it back unless she paid him storage fees on top of the repair. I didn’t bother with an injunction on that occasion, I paid a visit…..he even carried it to the car for me!
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