Here’s a rundown of how you can sue your mean little bastard landlord (*ahem* from a decent landlord’s perspective)…
Most ‘Tenant Vs Landlord’ issues are resolved out of court, and if that’s possible to achieve, then that’s definitely the way forward. No one wants to go to court.
However, the reality is, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and in those cases, most landlords or tenants will go through the small claims court process as long as the claim is less than £10,000. Claimants (tenants) most commonly use the procedure to:
- Recover refunds or any over payments;
- Landlords failure to meet health & safety requirements;
Recover unfair deposit deductions.
Going to court over deposit disputes has become incredibly common (rightly or wrongly so). If that’s why you’re here, I recommend reading my guide on Tenancy Deposit Disputes for Tenants – it covers information on whether you have a valid claim, and compensation methods for specifically deposit disputes (including “No Win No Fee” Deposit Recovery services).
Other reasons for seeking compensation against your landlord may include:
- If violence was used to secure entry to the property
- If unlawful eviction or harassment took place
- If there was failure to comply with enforcement action e.g. improvement notice
- If there was failure to license a property (if it requires a license)
If you’re in England and you believe your landlord breached any of those five specific offences, you might be better off applying for a Rent Repayment Order, which is a lot easier and quicker than going through a small claims process, and allows tenants to claim up to 12 months worth of rent. More details available in my Rent Repayment Orders (RRO) blog post.
What the court expects before making a claim
The court expects the parties to have explored all other avenues of settlement, as per the Citizen’s Advice guidelines on the matter:
You should always see if you can settle a dispute with a trader out of court, before you make a claim. There are qualified people who can look at your problem to try and help you and the trader sort it out without going to court. This is also known as alternative dispute resolution (ADR).
As a claimant, you must be able to prove that court action was taken as a last resort and that you’ve given the defendant every opportunity to resolve the dispute. Make sure you document all your contact with the Landlord.
Using the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
One of the options you can take before going to court is to ask an independent body to look at your consumer problem in order to try and find a solution. This is known as an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). It’s worth noting that not all ADR schemes are the same! For more information, go to this guide on the Citizen’s Advice website.
Having failed the rational route, you do the following…
Locating your nearest Small Claims Court
Locate your nearest small claims court and get a claims form. You can download it from the HM Courts website. You can also make a claim online, which is actually cheaper than the fee for sending a paper claim form.
Court Fees (how much does it cost to sue your landlord?)
Fees are reasonable, but vary depending on the amount you are claiming. Costs usually vary between £25 – £455. You can claim the fees back from the defendant if you win your case. However, if you lose, you may have additional expenses to pay to the defendant, to cover his or her costs.
Go to the GOV UK website for a breakdown of the latest court fees.
Preparing the Case
It is important to prepare the case carefully- you need to convince the court you are in the right- the best way to do that is by making your case as strong as possible. Ensure you research how to prepare for it and all documents, evidence and witnesses required are available. Ensure that the defendant has been sent copies of all the evidence, which you want to use in your claim. If you fail to do so, you may be stopped from using this evidence in the hearing.
- notes about the case should be set out in date order. It is very useful to note down what your case is, for example, the points to make, the documents which are relevant, and what they prove. A list of all documents, and other evidence is useful to make sure nothing is forgotten
- evidence of expenses should be prepared and any receipts you may need to support your case
- all letters (and any other relevant documents including photographs) about the case should be ready for the hearing
- in most cases the claimant and the defendant may be the only witnesses. If the court has agreed that other witnesses can attend, they must attend. If a witness has difficulty getting time off work, it may be helpful to serve a witness summons. The court can explain how to do this.
What happens if they lose but still won’t pay?
As the claimant, if you win the case and the defendant doesn’t pay, you will have to go back to the same court to apply for an order to get the money. This is called enforcing the judgment.
However, before enforcing a judgement you should request that the property is sold or goods seized from the Landlord’s home or business to pay you the money you are owed or instruct their employer to pay you from their salary.
If you need a judgement to be enforced you should consult an experienced adviser for example, at a Citizens Advice Bureau. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by email.
- You do not need a solicitor as it is set up on a simple basis for claimants to represent themselves.
- Judges are very patient, knowing that the parties are nervous and new to the process. A friend (lay person) can help you.
- If you feel the case is complicated, you should speak to your local Citizens advice bureau for advice.
- The judge makes an immediate decision and the parties can get a full and final result on the day of the hearing if it is not settled prior to court.
- If you win your case, the Judge will order the defendant to pay either immediately, by instalments or in full by a certain date.
- If you lose your case, the defendant may be able to claim limited expenses from you.
Have you had experience with taking a tenant or landlord to a small claims court? I’d love to hear your story. Thankfully I haven’t had to go down that route, but it could be only a matter of time…
It would be kind of ironic if one of my tenant’s came onto my site, took my advice and tried to sue me :)
Disclaimer: I'm just a landlord blogger; I'm 100% not qualified to give legal or financial advice. I'm a doofus. Any information I share is my unqualified opinion, and should never be construed as professional legal or financial advice. You should definitely get advice from a qualified professional for any legal or financial matters. For more information, please read my full disclaimer.