When doing it by the book pays off for a landlord

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LIKE many other people who have been relocated to another part of the country by their employers, Paul Gilpin decided in February that he would try to cover his costs by renting out his house.

Eight months later he is in the midst of protracted litigation after his Victorian cottage was turned into a squat. Almost all his furniture has been stolen or wrecked by the squatters. He is unable to let out the property again because he does not have the money to replace the furniture.

The only thing he does have is the moral high ground, because he did everything by the book - from drawing up a proper rental agreement to taking out legal expenses cover. Although he also has a County Court judgment on his side, awarding him pounds 8,800, he may never be able to recover the money.

Mr Gilpin's troubles began at the start of the year when he and his girlfriend moved from the cottage they had bought together in Burwood Common, East Sussex, to Berkshire.

Under a rental agreement drawn up by their solicitors, they agreed to rent out the cottage in Burwood Common.

The tenant agreed to rent the three-bedroomed house for a year at pounds 475 a month. Under the terms of the agreement, he was not allowed to sublet. Mr Gilpin also took out a legal expenses policy - LETsure, designed to protect landlords - from the Legal Protection Group.

Within two months it was obvious that something was wrong. Not only was the rent coming in late, but other people apart from the tenant appeared to be living in the cottage. By the end of June the tenant had stopped making payments altogether and had moved out, leaving behind him a group of squatters. Neighbours estimate that at any one time there were 10 people living in the house.

Mr Gilpin now found himself penalised by the contract that had been drawn up to protect him. Because the rental agreement was for a year, he could end it only by legally repossessing the flat. Under the legal expenses policy ('the best pounds 75 we ever spent'), he began eviction proceedings against the squatters and repossession proceedings against the official tenant.

When the squatters moved out, they took with them all the furniture they could get through the doors. This included the dishwasher, the washing machine, the fridge, the freezer and many other items including the light fittings on the wall.

The squatters had been unable to drag the two matching sofas through the doors, but they took the sofa cushions.

The contents of the freezer had been thrown in the sink and on the kitchen floor. When the police came round to investigate they told Mr Gilpin to leave the evidence untouched - including the rapidly rotting meat from the freezer - so that a full examination could be made. This was done within two days, by which time the kitchen was crawling with cockroaches.

'You couldn't see the kitchen window for blue bottles,' Mr Gilpin said.

The police have not been able to identify the squatters who lived in the cottage and then stole its contents. But Mr Gilpin has been able to prove liability against the original tenant, who was finally tracked down by a private detective. A County Court judge eventually awarded damages of pounds 8,800 against the tenant: pounds 5,000 for the furniture and fittings, pounds 3,000 for rent and another pounds 800 for distress and loss of earnings when Mr Gilpin and his girlfriend took time off work to clean up the mess.

So far, however, Mr Gilpin has not received any of the damages to which he is entitled. The tenant has pleaded poverty. But the Legal Protection Group, which has incurred about pounds 2,000 of legal fees over the matter, is pursuing the debt.

Mr Gilpin and his girlfriend are feeling the pinch. 'We daren't let it again,' he said. But even if he has not had sight of the pounds 8,800, Mr Gilpin feels moral satisfaction at having a court judgment behind him. He said: 'At first we felt very disgruntled, very let down by the legal system. Now we're beginning to see some sort of result.'

(Photograph omitted)

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