Alice Cockerell thought she had found her ideal tenant. After posting an advertisement for her apartment in west London online, a man approached her with what appeared to be impeccable references, including one from a wealthy aristocrat.
When she met him in person, Alice was struck by what she perceived as his “great honesty.”
Little did the 35-year-old writer know that she had actually just given the keys to a tenant from hell who refused to pay a penny of rent beyond the first month, costing her £31,000 in lost income.
Loss of income: Alice Cockerell has been left with £31,000 out of pocket after a nightmare tenant refused to pay rent for over a year.
Some 456 days later, she barely managed to evict him, with the help of court-ordered bailiffs.
“It took six months of unpaid rent for the penny to drop,” says Alice. Hopefully I stopped checking my online banking every few hours, but he refused to leave my apartment. That was the worst moment.
Cases like Alice’s are repeated throughout the country.
Owner possession claims increased 160 percent between April and June 2022, compared to the same period last year.
Meanwhile, the number of actual liens granted rose 210 percent, from 1,582 to 4,900, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The sharp increase is due to evictions being banned between August 29, 2020 and May 31, 2021 to protect renters during the coronavirus pandemic.
But as a result, experts say the system is now on the verge of breaking down, as owners face massive backlogs and delays. They warn that the courts could soon be inundated with similar cases as the cost-of-living crisis pushes more renters behind.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics this week reveal that almost 39 per cent of tenants reported difficulty paying their rent.
How to dodge a tenant from hell
Tenant research is key and can save you from an unpleasant consequence later on.
- The most important check to be done before signing the contract is that the tenant or renter can legally rent their property. Keep records of the documents you have verified, such as copies of passports, visas, or confirmations of established status, as proof that you have done so.
- You are not legally required to do reference checks, but it is vital to make sure you are not putting your trust in the wrong tenant.
- A pre-screening phone call can help see if they’re a good fit, even if they smoke or have pets.
- Find out about your ability to pay rent. Ask for employment status and details about their income, which they can prove with pay stubs or bank statements.
- Ask for a professional reference for evidence of their work history. You can also request a credit check to see your debt payment history.
- Verify your standing with your current landlord by getting a reference from the leasing agent.
- For students or anyone who hasn’t rented before, be sure to ask for a surety who will agree to pay rent in case your tenant is unable to or damage occurs.
Paul Shamplina, founder of the advice service Landlord Action, says: ‘In 2023, we will see more foreclosure hearings than before the pandemic.
‘There will be tenants who fall behind on payments and homeowners who will struggle to pay their own mortgages. It’s going to be a very tough year.
It can be difficult for some tenants to sympathize. Rents are soaring well above the rate of inflation, with 45 per cent of private renters seeing theirs rise last year, says campaign body Generation Rent.
For years, the owners have been vilified. But Alice’s story serves as a stark warning of the pitfalls in the increasingly precarious buy-to-let sector.
It took six months between when you were granted an Order of Possession and when your tenant actually vacated the property. At that time, she did not receive a penny of rent.
This is consistent across the industry, with Ministry of Justice figures showing the average time it takes for an owner recovery claim to take is 23.4 weeks.
And several weeks later, Alice is still discovering the damage done to her beloved apartment.
Currently, when a landlord wants to evict a tenant, they have two options: a Section 8 notice or a Section 21 notice.
A Section 8, like the one Alice brought out, applies when someone is behind on rent, has damaged property, or has caused a nuisance to neighbors.
Meanwhile, a Section 21 eviction is a ‘no-fault’ process that allows the landlord to reclaim their property even if they don’t have a reason for the eviction.
But earlier this year, the government controversially agreed to scrap Section 21 evictions altogether. It means getting rid of a tenant will be harder than ever and could leave landlords broke when faced with pressures from their own cost of living.
Such evictions have been banned in Scotland since December 2017, although they remain a politically divisive issue north of the border. Fed up landlords often issue Section 21 notices to misbehaving tenants as they are a quicker route than Section 8, because they require less proof and the landlord accepts rent arrears as a loss.
The Government’s proposals run the risk of making it difficult to address antisocial behavior
Ben Beadle of the National Association of Home Owners says: ‘The Government’s proposals risk making it more difficult to tackle anti-social behaviour, and risk severely damaging the student housing market.
‘Along with this there is an urgent need to speed up judicial processes.
‘It takes around half a year between when a landlord asks to repossess a property and it actually happens.
“This is far too long when, during this time, a tenant might not pay rent or engage in antisocial behavior.”
Jasvinder Singh knows this pain very well. The 41-year-old was forced to watch in horror as his tenant destroyed his beloved three-bedroom flat in Ilford, East London, all while he fell more than £6,000 behind.
It took more than a year, and three sheriffs, to evict her. Although he requested a Section 8 notice, he eventually got her out of Section 21, since he was quicker.
Warning: Experts say the system is now at a breaking point as owners face major backlogs and delays
Jasvinder says: ‘It was a nightmare. It affected everything from my family to my lifestyle.
I had to pay my own mortgage. Last year was my 20th wedding anniversary. My wife and I were supposed to go on vacation, but we had to cancel that.’
The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the buy-to-let sector is being pushed to the breaking point. Soaring buy-to-let mortgage rates, now at their highest level since the 2008 financial crisis, and stricter lending criteria mean it’s harder than ever to make money on rental property.
This is particularly detrimental to homeowners, as many are primed for low-rate environments.
For example, low rates made it more sensible to invest in three properties with mortgages rather than one with cash.
But as homeowners come to refinance, many may find that they no longer meet their lenders’ stress tests, or are having a hard time finding a good deal.
Scared banks pulled out hundreds of deals in the wake of former Foreign Minister Kwasi Kwarteng’s disastrous mini-budget last month. Many have begun to return to the market cautiously, but at inflated rates.
Judicial fights: The number of embargoes granted between April and June 2022 increased 210% – from 1,582 to 4,900, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice
And lending criteria have tightened as banks prepare for future Bank of England base rate hikes. Earlier this month, The Mortgage Works began applying a minimum stress rate of 8.49 percent on all new buy-to-let applications, up from 5 percent previously.
Yesterday, the lender backed down and said it would offer a “customized approach” to stress rates.
At the same time, rents, which have been through the roof for much of the past year, are also starting to fall. The Hamptons research shows rental growth in England and Wales slowed to 6.9%, down from a record 11.5% in May.
Meanwhile, the median rent for a property in the Southeast fell 1.7 percent annually in September.
Owners are also at the mercy of an increasingly strict government bureaucracy. As of 2025, all newly rented properties must have an EPC energy efficiency rating of C or higher.
Existing leases will have until 2028 to comply. Owners whose properties do not meet this rating could be fined up to £30,000.
It’s no wonder, then, that they’re leaving the sector en masse. Chris Sykes, a Mortgage Broker at Private Finance, says: ‘This is a worrying time for many homeowners and yet another thing to endure. The buy-to-let market has changed very significantly in the last five years.’
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