You may wish to take action in the small claims court if your tenants have rent arrears or have caused damage in the property. The maximum claim that can be awarded in this court is £3000, if your claim is greater than this you will have to file a civil bill and instruct a solicitor.
If you are taking possession action against your tenants, you may not have to file a separate action through the small claims court. You can usually include a damages claim in the civil bill to regain possession of the property.
Filling in the claim form
You need to complete a claim form to begin the process. These claims are available from most courts and can be downloaded from the Court Service's website.
You must include the following information on the form:
- your name and postal address,
- the name and address of the person against whom you are making the claim,
- the amount you are claiming,
- the particulars of the case.
You must have an address for your tenants to take action against them. If you don't have details for the tenants you can take action against any guarantor which they provided.
You may have to attach additional documentation to the form, such as receipts which prove that you have had to have repair work carried out or have purchased replacements for items damaged by the tenants. You should also include a copy of the tenancy agreement if it is relevant to your case.
Processing the claim
Send three copies of the form and the court fee to the court where you intend to take action. Remember to keep a copy for your own records. The fee depends on the value of the claim and an up to date list of fees is available on the Court Service's website.
The Court will post the claim form to the tenant and will send you a notice that this has been done along with a case number for your records.
Defending a claim
It may be the case that your tenants have decided to take small claims action against you. They may feel that you have unfairly charged them or unreasonably retained their deposit.
When you receive the claim form from the courts you can either accept that the money is owed or choose to defend the claim. If you accept that the money is owed you should send this to the tenants immediately and inform the court, enclosing proof of payment. If you want to contest the claim, you will have to issue a counter claim or a notice of dispute. There should be paperwork enclosed with the tenants' claim form allowing you to do this.
On receiving your response, the court will schedule your case and inform you of the hearing date.
If you do not respond by a certain date, the tenants can ask the court to make a decision without hearing your side of the story.
Preparing for court
It is essential that you are properly prepared for court. You do not need a solicitor at Small Claims Court and if you do choose to hire a solicitor you will probably have to pay for this yourself, even if your case is successful. Remember the following points:
- prepare in advance and write out your notes clearly, adding events in the order they happened
- include any evidence that supports your claim, such as letters or emails from the tenants and receipts
- take copies of the inventory and photographs supplied at the beginning of the tenancy to prove your case to the court
- the court will want to see that you are a professional landlord who knows your legal obligations and has complied with these.
The hearing will usually be held in public and will be quite informal. The judge will consider the evidence and ask any questions which s/he believes are important.
At the end of the hearing the judge will deliver the judgements and give the reasons for this judgement. If you have won you will normally be awarded the court fees. You will not be awarded any costs for hiring a solicitor or other legal counsel.
There is a limited right of appeal for small claims. You must be able to show that the court has made a mistake interpreting the law or that there was a serious irregularity in the proceedings. If this is the case, you must file a notice of appeal within 21 days. Seek legal advice if you are considering appealing a small claims decision.
Enforcing the judgement
Once an order has been made in your favour, the tenant is expected to make payment. However, if this does not happen you may need to go to another court to have the judgement enforced. If this happens you should seek legal advice or contact the Courts Service for information.
Any deposit paid on or after 1 April 2013 must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme run by one of the 4 approved scheme administrators who have been appointed by the Department for Communities.
Where there is a dispute over a deposit which has been protected you will have to use the scheme administrators dispute resolution mechanism to resolve the issue. However, your tenant will still be entitled to make a claim through Small Claims Court if he or she does not agree with the adjudicator's decision or does not wish to use the scheme administrator's dispute resolution service.