A case in point is the story this week of a commercial landlord shop owner in the Edgware Road, West London, who it would appear, hired two chaps to go along to the shop with sledge hammers and smash-in all the front windows.
The commotion caused by the raid, in broad daylight, alarmed nearby shoppers and must have frightened the life out of the lady shop tenant who ran out screaming onto the pavement.
As it happened two men were filmed smashing the shop windows before the two were arrested by a swarm of batten waving police officers, as the stunned shopper crowd watched on.
And there’s no shortage of stories in the press of residential landlords taking revenge on their tenants, cutting off services, throwing their possessions out on the street, changing locks, hounding them out of their homes.
Sometimes the boot’s on the other foot. Tenants also take revenge. According to one recent press story a tenant from hell in Andover, Hampshire, filled a home with 8,000 beer cans and full of waste after telling the landlord that he had left “a bit of a mess”.
One landlord of my acquaintance contracted a life-long infection after cleaning up the mess left in one of his properties, a trashed house with dog and cat excrement strewn all over the carpets and floors.
Clearing up the stomach-churning mess left by some tenants can be not only highly unpleasant, it’s extremely dangerous as my friend discovered. The task is best left to specialist cleaners.
So what are the consequences?
Most acts of revenge carried out by landlords are criminal acts. The protection from Eviction Act 1977 protects residential tenants from harassment and illegal eviction, making the offence a criminal matter, as is an act of criminal damage, such as the shop window smashing.
If you want to avoid getting a criminal record don’t even think about taking the law into your own hands. I know from personal experience how frustrating it can be when tenants don’t pay their rent or cause property damage and seem to be getting away with it.
Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, sensible landlords have had to be accommodating to their tenants, helping them when they see hardship and taking the view that a tenant who is paying what they can is better than no tenant at all – some commercial premises are virtually impossible to re-let at this time.
Tenants taking advantage
Of course, some tenants are taking advantage of the government’s protection measures, such as the ban on evictions for commercial tenants until next March 2022, but the courts are still available for rent arrears claims and landlords must be prepared to go down the proper legal route if their tenants really are taking the proverbial!
In my experience of letting both residential and commercial properties for more than 40 years, most tenants are anxious to pay their rent and also look after the premises. When tenants get themselves into difficulties however, as is more likely now during a pandemic, some degree of leniency and negotiation is called for, but that can only go so far.
Some landlords are not in a financial position themselves to forgo rent payments altogether, so frustrating as it may seem, if tenants are taking advantage, resorting to property damage or violence is not the answer.
Temporary Government restrictions
The temporary restrictions introduced by the Government to help tenants ride out the Covid pandemic limit the options landlords can take, but there are things they can still do when arrears are building up.
A couple of recent cases have shown that while the use of CRAR, commercial tenancy forfeiture or company winding up petitions are currently either restricted or prohibited under Covid rules, there is no ban on issuing debt recovery proceedings for longer term rent arrears.
There is also no ban on what is known as the court summary judgment procedure in respect of commercial rent arrears claims, that’s providing the money is properly owed, i.e., where the tenant can’t put up a valid defence or show why the claim should go to trial. A summary judgment considerably reduces the wait time for your claim to be dealt with and it means you can minimise a build-up of arrears quickly.
Residential tenants are still obliged to continue to pay their rent and abide by all other terms of their tenancy agreement to the best of their ability. Where there is financial difficulty landlords are often accommodating and the government has made a strong package of financial support available to tenants, but where they can pay the rent they are expected to do so as normal.
If you are experiencing the frustration of a tenant with growing long-term rent arrears, or otherwise breaching their contract terms, especially during this time of Covid, don’t be tempted to take the law into your own hands, it’s simply not worth it. There are remedies available and as things get back to normal it will become easier again to deal with delinquent tenants.