Rent Arrears, Service Charge Disputes, Deposit Disputes, Disrepair and Dilapidations Claims, plus general debts are all common reasons why Landlords, Tenants and Letting Agents would consider using the Small Claims Court.
The Small Claims Court in England and Wales is designed to resolve disputes where the sum involved is £10,000 or less.
The court proceedings are relatively informal and lawyers do not normally appear because there is a “no costs” rule. Litigants have to present their own cases, so if you’ve always fancied yourself as a bit of a Philadelphia Lawyer, here’s your chance!
Claims can now be processed on-line, using the Court Service’s Money Claim site.
In England & Wales there are about 300 County Courts which deal with Civil disputes, as opposed to criminal cases which are dealt with by Magistrates and Crown Courts.
The County Court is often situated in the same building or near the Magistrates Court, and administrative staff are there to advise on procedural matters, but not legal matters.
The County Courts have District Judges who are appointed by the Lord Chancellor from the ranks of solicitors with at lease 7 years experience. It is these judges who hear the Small Claims cases which can be for amounts up to £10,000.
The County Court Procedures involve 3 possible tracks depending on how much money is involved:
- The Small Claims track
- The Fast track
- The Multi Track
When a defendant decides to file a defence to a claim from a claimant, the court will serve an allocation questionnaire which, when completed, helps the court to decide which track is appropriate.
Having decided you have a legal claim, perhaps having taken some advice, you should always try to negotiate a settlement with the other party (defendant).
If you are aware of your legal position and you set out the facts clearly and concisely, preferably in writing (for use as evidence if this subsequently goes to court) you are more likely to reach an agreed settlement.
You may have to compromise on the settlement unless there are absolutely clear breaches of contract, so it may be expedient and less costly in the long run to accept a lower figure.
You also need to consider that there are absolutely no guarantees as to the outcome of the case, and that the preparation for a case involves a considerable amount of time and effort if you are to stand any chance of winning.
Checklist for making a successful claim:
Landlord often have tenants leave owning rent or having left damages in the property. You should consider pursuing these arrears through a small claims court as a little persistence often pays off.
1. Make sure you have kept the tenants informed of the arrears situation and its consequences as this developed – rent arrears letters and rent arrears schedules – see these documents here: www.landlordzone.co.uk/documents
2. Make sure you have the tenant’s current address before commencing any claim – you may need to do a tenant trace to find the address first.
3. Write a letter before action, a final demand giving them 14 days in which to pay or make arrangements to pay, failing which you inform them you are taking legal action.
4. Decide whether it is worth the time, effort and expense to progress a claim. If the tenant is solvent and working it is almost certainly worth it. If the tenant is not working and on welfare with no prospects of getting their life back on track, then it is probably not worth the bother. You need to write off the debt and put the loss down to experience.
5. Read the guides below.
6. Go to www.moneyclaim.gov.uk and start your claim.
7. Gather together ALL your documentary evidence and organise it into referenced sections.
8. Keep it simple and straightforward – compile your Particulars of Claim and Evidence in a concise and clear manner, stick to facts, no opinions and ramblings and keep it brief – Judges will cringe if they see a wad of rambling disorganised notes.
9. Be prepared to attend an informal hearing in front of the judge to support your case – need not be a terrible ordeal.
10. Follow up and collect your money when you win.
A Guide to Court Action
Tom Entwistle, LandlordZONE®
If you have any questions about any of the issues here, post your question to the LandlordZONE® Forums – these are the busiest Rental Property Forums in the UK – you will have an answer in no time at all.
©LandlordZONE All Rights Reserved – never rely totally on these general guidelines which apply primarily to England. They are not definitive statements of the law. Before taking action or not, always do your own research and/or seek professional advice with the full facts of your case and all documents to hand.