INTERVIEW: The group helping hundreds of tenants pursue rent repayment orders

Tenants are more likely to take their landlord to tribunal if they feel mistreated or their legal counsel is ill-informed or aggressive, according to Justice For Tenants, one of the main not-for-profit organisations helping tenants tackle bad landlords.

Once a landlord has been banged to rights by the council for an offence such as failing to do repairs or not having an HMO licence, tenants don’t necessarily want to haul them before a court, the non-profit’s local housing authority training and outreach lead, Al Mcclenahan (pictured), tells LandlordZONE.

“Tenants don’t usually want to bring a rent repayment order case unless they’ve been mistreated,” he says.

“Reasonable landlords will want to settle really quickly – they’ll make an offer, and we tell tenants what they could be awarded if it went to a tribunal, but the tenants will usually take the landlord’s offer because they’ve been treated reasonably.”

In 80–85% of cases, landlords will try and settle when Justice For Tenants is involved, and about 50% end up settling.

The outcome can also depend on how aggressive the landlord’s representative is, explains Mcclenahan, who adds that some haven’t even done a bar course and can exploit these landlords.

“If they make all sorts of claims about the tenant, a tenant will feel they’ve been treated unfairly and will want a hearing.”

Sometimes landlords won’t settle because they think the tenants are paying Justice For Tenants an hourly rate, so they’ll try and keep engaging to ‘spend them out’ (however, the group gets a flat fee of 30% of the award) or they don’t realise the case creates a public record, he says.

Enforcement toolkit

Justice For Tenants has recently created a tribunal enforcement toolkit for local councils which it will use to deliver training to 50 authorities.

Where councils haven’t taken any enforcement action for many years, rogue landlords know there’s little chance of them getting a penalty – but this initiative could result in a doubling in national enforcement actions over the next few years, predicts Mcclenahan.

“Our training is about making sure councils’ procedure is that a housing debt not paid will result in a charge against a landlord’s property which would ultimately mean the council could sell the property from underneath them if that debt reaches £20,000.”

Read more about rent repayment orders.

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