Court Hearings in Landlord and Tenant Cases
Landlord and tenant hearings are usually held in a judge’s private room: the hearing will be relatively informal and only the parties or their legal representatives will be present. However, some courts hold these hearings in “open court”: the judge and the lawyers may be wearing formal robes and members of the public, or parties from other cases, can be present when the case is heard.
There may be free legal advice at court and an adviser may be available to represent the tenant during the hearing. Otherwise it is very unusual for tenants to have legal representation unless they are receiving help from a local advice centre.
The Landlord’s EvidenceThe landlord will usually be represented by a lawyer who will explain the landlord’s entitlement to a possession order. The landlord, or their agent, should be at court to give oral evidence.
The landlord or their agent will take a sworn oath before giving their evidence. Then either the landlord’s legal representative or the judge will ask them questions about the tenancy and the current rent arrears on the property. They should have the original tenancy agreement with them to show the judge. The tenant may be given the opportunity to cross examine the landlord on any points with which they disagree. However, if there is no real dispute about the facts and figures, this rarely happens.
A witness statement may have been provided on behalf of the landlord and sometimes this will be the only evidence presented to the court. If the tenant disputes anything in the witness statement the case may have to be adjourned so that the landlord can address what the tenant has said.
The Tenant’s Chance to RespondIf the judge is satisfied that the landlord’s case has been proved, the tenant will be given the opportunity to explain their side of the case. Sometimes the tenant will be asked to take a sworn oath before speaking.
If the judge has the power to make a suspended possession order, this will be the tenant’s chance to make proposals for the clearance of any rent arrears.
DefencesOne of the most common defences raised is that, due to a defect in the property, the tenant has withheld the rent. Whether or not this constitutes a defence may depend on the landlord’s reason for asking for possession and the wording of the tenancy agreement. Generally a tenant is not entitled to withhold rent. However, this argument may still lead a judge to adjourn the case so that both sides can provide more evidence.
The Judge’s DecisionIf the judge is happy with the landlord’s case and decides that there is no defence, it is likely that he will make a possession order. The landlord will probably also be asking for some or all of the following:
- Money judgment for outstanding rent arrears;
- A daily charge to be paid by the tenant for as long as they stay in the property;
- Interest on the rent arrears;
If the judge is not happy with the landlord’s case, or if he thinks there may be a valid defence, he is likely to adjourn the case for a further hearing.
If the judge thinks that the landlord’s case is fatally flawed he may strike out the claim – meaning that the landlord will have to start from scratch if he still wants a possession order.
If any rent arrears have been cleared before the hearing, the landlord will probably ask the judge to adjourn the case indefinitely. It can be revived at a future date if the tenant falls back into arrears.