Evicting problem tenants and possession notices

Evicting Problem Tenants – How to Serve a Possession Notice

As a sensible residential landlord and buy-to-let property owner you will always quite naturally be very careful about the tenants you rent your properties to. As a matter of course you will usually vet them thoroughly before reaching any agreement and carefully check-out their personal and financial background to make sure that they are of good character and financially sound… and in most cases they will be. However, when things go wrong and you are unfortunate enough to be landed with a problem tenant then you’ll need to understand what your rights are and what to do about it, and this might involve familiarity with various processes including how to serve a possession notice, how to go about evicting problem tenants and the recovery of rent arrears.

The vast majority of tenants are happy to abide by the terms or their lease, pay their rent on time, treat your property with respect and generally present you with very few problems.

Any problems that do occasionally arise are usually comparatively minor, although occasionally most buy-to-let landlords will be faced with a problem tenant.

Dealing with Problem Tenants

In an ideal world it would be great if there were only honest, well behaved tenants, but as a landlord you will be very much aware that sometimes you can find yourself misled, and having to deal with what may be politely termed as “problem tenants”.

Unfortunately, as a property investor and buy-to-let landlord, they come with the territory.

In the majority of instances such troublesome tenants are simply an irritation that need be dealt with in a firm but professional manner using the law to resolve your issues.

Evicting Problem Tenants

However, on occasions you might when all else has failed need to resort to evicting your problem tenant, and this can be a particularly trying time, both for the landlord and the tenant.

There are formal eviction procedures (Possession Notices) that need to be followed very carefully if you are to be successful in evicting a tenant that is in breach of the terms and conditions of their lease, and you should make yourself fully aware of these before starting any formal action.

As a landlord you also need to be aware of the pitfalls as far as you are concerned and it is always advisable to make sure that you are not going to be hoodwinked at any stage by a manipulative tenant, because the most awkward ones are usually those who know all the tricks and dodges, they may even have a track-record of such obstructive practices.

For example, if your tenant is in serious breach of their obligations (e.g. failure to pay their rent, damage to your property) and you are going to apply for a possession order at the County Court, correctly serving a formal Possession Notice on the tenant is an essential step.

How to Serve a Possession Notice on your Tenant

So you go ahead and serve the Possession Notice documents on your problem tenant.

Some time goes by and you find that your tenant is still sitting tight and nothing appears to be getting done.

It is then that you discover that your tenant is insisting that they have never received the Possession Notice… therefore stealing more time living in your property – illegally in your eyes – and to add insult to injury, probably without paying any rent.

It is therefore vital that you are able to prove that the Possession Notice documents have been handed over to them and that this has been recorded correctly.

That you may think is easier said than done, but there are steps you can take that will help you to convince the relevant people – who in the final analysis may be a Judge in a court of law – that the eviction notice was served as and when you stated.

How to Prove your Possession Notice has been Served

The first thing to avoid is serving the Possession Notice by ordinary postal means… if you do this you may be on a very sticky wicket.

If your tenant pleads “I never received any such eviction notice”, how can you prove he/she is lying?

Unfortunately it’s more than likely that you can’t, however there are a number of things you can do to help protect your position as follows:

  • Recorded Delivery

    What about serving the notice by recorded delivery?

    Well, that’s much better of course, but wary, worldly-wise problem tenants such as the one you are dealing with here would probably not answer the door to collect recorded delivery items.

  • Serving Possession Notices by Hand

    So, if you can always serve the possession notice by hand… and if you’re lucky enough to find your tenant at home and they come to the door then deliver it personally and take some notes for later on.

    If there is no reply then pop the document through the letter box.

    Ah you might say, but could not the tenant again claim that no such document had landed on the doormat… and it’s the problem tenants word against yours?

  • Take an Independent Witness

    Relying on your word against theirs could cause you a problem and that is why you should take a reputable, independent witness with you as you serve the Possession Notice.

    A neighbour, business colleague or letting agent might suffice, but probably not a relative, because anyone of that ilk could have their independence questioned in court.

    And there have been occasions, rare it must be said when the judge has believed the tenant rather than a landlord and a relative!

    Ideally your witness should be someone such as a police officer or maybe a letting agent, whose evidence would be beyond reproach.

  • Keep a Copy of the Eviction Notice

    You should always keep a copy of the eviction notice you have served, a note of the date and time it was served, the name and address of the person who served it – if that person was not you – and the name and address of the independent witness.

    Finally, if you have served the eviction notice on the tenant personally you should ask the tenant to sign and date a receipt to confirm they have received the document.

    The most devious of tenants will normally refuse to do this, but it is worth a try.

Use a Professional Process Server for your Eviction Notice

However, there is an excellent alternative to all this.

If, for any reason, you cannot serve the notice yourself, or you cannot face meeting the tenant – and that can sometimes be an alarming confrontation – then why not employ the services of a professional process server.

Process servers are there to help you in exactly this kind of situation…they would take most of the possible unpleasantness – and certainly the hassle – out of serving your possession notice on the tenant, and these experts are not particularly expensive.

You can rest secure in the knowledge that they will provide you with a proper certificate of service as part of their own service, and most importantly the judge will invariably accept their evidence in court.

The hope is that you will not have to face this kind of circumstance, but if you do then you are now equipped with all the knowledge that will make smooth your path as much as possible.

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Further reading…

More information about possession notices and eviction orders… here →

More information about the Section 8 notice to quit and the Section 8 possession notice … here →