10 Aug 2020
by Des Taylor & Phil Turtle, Landlord Licensing & Defence
“Rent Arrears must be accounted for BEFORE rent is eligible to be reclaimed under a Rent Repayment Order (RRO).”
At a stroke, this Judgement of the First-Tier Tribunal (in a case defended by Des Taylor of Landlord Licensing and Defence) means that the no-win/no-fee become almost worthless for the lawyers, and far fewer Rent Repayment Orders (RRO) will be brought against landlords in the future. Click here to download the full judgement
The Hastings law firm of Holden & Co LLP representing the rogue tenant would have expected 30-50% of the £7,184 amount. Let’s say £2,200 to £3,600.
After Des Taylor’s defence of the landlord against this malicious claim, the Tribunal made just a token RRO award, and so the no-win/why-bother lawyers stand to make just £250 to £420. In context, that’s 1-2 hours fee for 2-3 days’ work. Not exactly good business!
Thanks to Des Taylor’s ground-breaking win at the First-Tier Tribunal (Housing) the Rent Repayment Order Magic Money Tree so loved by Rogue Tenants is pretty much dead!
Des Taylor a director of Landlord Licensing & Defence, was able to persuade the Tribunal that the tenant making the no-win/no-fee Rent Repayment Order claim was a serial non-payer of rent, and had illegally taken in multiple lodgers whilst sometimes claiming universal credit.
Said Des Taylor, “It is ridiculous that a rogue tenant can attempt to claim over £7,000 in rent repayment order fees which the landlord will be directed to pay to the tenant in cash when the tenant owes the landlord £16,000 in unpaid rent.”
The victory for landlords came in two decisions by the Tribunal
Until this judgement, tenants and lawyers have been able to pick almost any period they like where the tenant paid the maximum amount as the “Relevant Period’ for the claim, and that’s exactly what this tenant did. There was only one period of 7 months when she’d actually paid any significant rent, so that of course was the period her lawyers picked and £7184 was the amount she was attempting to claim for rent repayment.
At the start of this maliciously chosen ‘Relevant Period’ however, the tenant was already £3,132.95 in arrears.
Stating that standard accounting practice must be applied to Rent Arrears, the Judge said in her findings: “The Tribunal is satisfied that it would be standard accounting practice for any landlady/landlord or council/housing association to apply any payments made during the Relevant Period firstly to any arrears that had accrued prior to the date of payment”
This decision that monies received must first go to arrears before counting as “Rent Paid’ for the purposes of a Rent Repayment order meant the Judge slashed the maximum RRO claimable from over £7,000 to just £4201.09.
But that was not all…
Rogue tenant behaviour
Although obviously a Judge cannot use words such as Rogue tenants, it was noteworthy and unusual that she reported in her findings “Mr Taylor submitted it was clear that the account showed the Applicant (tenant) was a person who constantly was in arrears (which had risen from £4,700 to over £13,000), that she was a ‘rogue tenant’ who failed to pay the rent, and then took advantage of the Respondent’s (landlord) ignorance of the licencing requirements.
“He (Taylor) submitted the Applicant had specifically chosen as the Relevant Period a time when rent was being paid, but she was in arrears at the start of that period, and for more than a year from July 2019 had paid no rent at all. He said the Respondent should not be doubly punished by being ordered to repay rent, when the Applicant had not been paying any rent for a substantial period.”
Summing up the Judge said “The Tribunal finds the Applicant’s failure to pay any rent since July 2019 to be a deliberate, persistent and very substantial breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement following the souring of relations between the parties in July 2019. This default has resulted in the rent arrears increasing very significantly.
“The Tribunal finds that as at the date of the hearing of this application, Mrs Awad owed the Respondent a total of £15,538.32 for the six-bedroom property she occupies with her family. She appears to have taken no proper steps to seek advice, to maximise her income or reduce her indebtedness and to have taken advantage of the Respondent’s inexperience. The Tribunal has given this very significant weight when considering the Applicant’s conduct.”
The Tribunal then decided that based on what Taylor had described as Rogue Tenant behaviour they would cut the already significantly reduced Rent Repayment claim by a further 75%.
The Judge said “This is to reflect the Applicant’s (tenant) continued persistent, deliberate and very significant breach of the terms of the tenancy as regards payment of rent and her obstructive behaviour in preventing the Respondent (landlord) from carrying out inspections.
And so the final figure awarded against the Landlord was £849.18 and that not because she deserves it in any way, owing as she does over £16,000 in unpaid rent, but because the legislation says that Rent Repayment Orders are intended to penalise landlords for failing to license property and a few other crimes.
The Landmark Justice for Landlords Decision
Commenting on the judgement, Des Taylor explained, “This judgement has given us two fantastic decisions with which to fight malicious and speculative no-win/no-fee Rent Repayment Order claims.
1) A majority of ‘money grabbing’ claims are brought by tenants in arrears. We now know that with a correctly structures defence we can get the arrears taken off the claim. In many cases this makes the case no-chance-of-fee for the ambulance-chasing solicitors.
2) We also have the highest ever ‘discount’ applied because of the tenant being ‘rogue’.
It has to be recorded that the Landlord was, of course, guilty of the crime of not having a licence or the tenant would not have been able to instigate the RRO claim.
Her ignorance of the requirement to licence was, of course, no defence, though through the approach Taylor took in defending her enabled the Judge to agree that this was due to inexperience, was not deliberate and that, responsibly, she had immediately applied for a licence upon realising she needed to have one. Instead of the over £7,000 RRO claim, her punishment, which we agree more fairly fits the crime, is just £849.18, in other words, our defence assisted her to get the fine reduced by 88%.
We now move forward to assist the landlord to successfully evict the tenant and recover the £16,000 arrears.
Decent Landlords: 1 Rogue Tenants: Nil
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