Rules give more leverage to landlords: Mary Wilson looks at new, streamlined procedures for evicting tenants who refuse to budge after a short-term lease

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Landlords should find it easier to recover property at the end of a lease under streamlined rules introduced this week by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

The new Accelerated Possession Procedure, which will come into force on 1 November, is intended to provide a balance between giving landlords a quicker and cheaper method of obtaining possession, and still providing sufficient protection for tenants.

Since the Assured Shorthold Tenancy came into being in 1989, it was assumed by many landlords that once the tenancy came to an end and they wanted their tenants out it would be easy. In practice, although the law was behind them, it still took some time.

In one recent case, it took three months before solicitors could get a court hearing, although they were quick to obtain all the necessary documentation. They won an order for possession, but the tenant still did not budge. Then it took at least two months before bailiffs went in and changed the locks. And it was another week before the ex-tenant agreed to go in and remove all his belongings.

To a private landlord who needs regular rental income or needs to get back into his property, five months is a very long time to wait.

But now these new rules should mean that landlords will be able to get back possession without the need for a court hearing.

The housing minister, Sir George Young, said: 'The new procedures will reduce delays and costs for private landlords. I hope this will help revive investment in the private rented sector, as delays in reclaiming possession are sometimes quoted by potential landlords as a reason for not renting out properties'.

Robert Orr-Ewing, head of Knight Frank & Rutley's residential lettings, said: 'It is good news, the intention behind it is right. Where there is no defence it is silly to incur costs and waste time where you shouldn't have to. But it is a shame it doesn't apply to company lets or where the rent is over pounds 480 a week.'

Mr Orr-Ewing reckons the new rules will work in practice with judges probably seeing the papers within a couple of days. The only extra thing a landlord must do is swear an affidavit to support his claim. But there will still be a wait if bailiffs are needed, because for residential property court bailiffs have to be used, and they are snowed under. Even so, the process of regaining possession should take half the time it did.

Rosalind Florence, of Glentree Estates' lettings department, said: 'The new rules give landlords the confidence to enter the lettings market, knowing they will be able to get possession of their premises quickly, as long as they make sure all the notices and tenancy forms are completed correctly'.

And this is the crux of the matter. This Accelerated Possession Procedure, or 'fast track' as the agents call it, can only take place if all the notices have been served at the proper time and in the correct manner.

Shirley Dent, who handles lettings for KFR in Mayfair, said: 'You must serve and know that the tenant has read a notice under Section 20 of the Housing Act informing them that it is an assured shorthold tenancy before the commencement of the lease. This also informs them that they have the right to have their rent reassessed if they think it is too high.

'And when you serve notice for possession it must be done in enough time and with all the information and dates correctly stated.

'I know of one case where the judge wouldn't even listen to the case because the Section 20 notice had been served a week after the lease started.'

(Photograph omitted)

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