We’ve seen and heard it all before, a beautiful property trashed by an unscrupulous tenant who then vanishes or denies any wrongdoing. It’s perhaps less common to hear this kind of behaviour coming from someone in the public eye. Nevertheless, a particularly shocking story hit the tabloid headlines over Christmas concerning former N-Dubz star, Dappy (real name Costadino Contostavlos).
The rapper had been renting a £1.7 million Grade II listed property in Hertfordshire with his partner and three children. However, after the tenancy ended and he vacated the property, the landlord claimed the family had left the property in such a state that it was “unfit for humans” with an estimated £70,000 worth of damage.
Dappy denied the accusations insisting the damage was done after he left. He said “I’m disgusted and would like to make it clear when we left that house all rubbish was bagged up. I categorically didn’t destroy or smash up the house.”
What can we learn from this?
This situation and level of damage is very rare, and of course, we don’t know the full details behind the incident. However, it certainly throws up a number of questions and lessons for other landlords who might find themselves in a similar situation.
Firstly, we don’t know if the property was looked after by a managing agent, or whether the landlord self-managed the property. Either way, what steps were taken before, during and after the tenancy to safeguard the property? For example, was a full inventory, along with photos to prove the condition of the property and its contents, carried out at the start of the tenancy? What about regular property inspections? How much deposit was taken?
Assuming a deposit was taken and protected with one of the government approved schemes, the landlord could either wait for an adjudication or if he/she needs to re-let the property asap, go straight to court to make a claim. Waiting for an adjudication can take between 2.5 and 3 months because adjudicators have to review all evidence regarding the damage in order to reach a decision.
However, the average deposit is approximately £1,200, or six week’s rent. So, in a situation with extensive damage such as this, where the deposit will not cover the damage, a landlord then has three options: –
- Put it down to experience – If there is no evidence (such as photos) to prove the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy, a landlord may be forced to put it down to experience, repair the damage and move on. However, with extensive damage, as in the Dappy case, not many landlords would be able to swallow such costs and would need to recoup some of the money.
- Claim off landlord insurance – Landlords who have comprehensive landlord insurance may well be covered under malicious damage (Total Landlord Insurance covers up to £25,000 for malicious damage). If not, then the next step is legal action.
- Take legal action against the tenants for compensation.
What does a landlord need to do to take legal action against a tenant?
- – Have up to date referencing as this may determine where the tenant is working and what assets he/she does or does not have
- – Before issuing proceedings, a tenant must be served a 7-day letter before action which lists down and quantifies the damage done and the money spent to repair it. It is advised to hand deliver this to the tenants forwarding address where possible.
- – If the tenant does not reply, the landlord has to look at issuing debt recovery proceedings. This should be done through a solicitor to ensure it is carried out correctly.
If a landlord is unable to get a forwarding address, we advise waiting 3-6 months after they have vacated the property and then enlist the help of a tracing agent or private investigator. The cost of this can be added to the claim.
Tenants will have a certain amount of time to file a defence at court if they disagree. Alternatively, they may not respond in which case the landlord would obtain a judgement by default.
Once a landlord has obtained a judgement, the next step is to find out about the tenant’s financial situation which will help determine the best avenue to recover the debt. This may involve using a bailiff to seize high-value goods such as cars, an attachment of earnings against wages, obtaining a 3rd party order (taking money directly from the tenant’s bank account) or possibly the most severe form of debt recovery – bankruptcy.
Click here to download our free, expert guide and top tips in how you can make a claim against the deposit.