Landlords’ Hasty Use of Bailiffs & New Legislation

feb 27When you are struggling with HMRC debts and other creditor debts the last thing you want is trouble with the landlord. Unfortunately, I get an awful lot of complaints about the hasty use of bailiffs to seize assets when rent arrears accrue.

The key complaint is the seizing of potentially valuable assets for relatively small amounts of arrears and the two values are often completely disproportionate. Obviously, dealing with business debts is an area that we get involved in quite a lot and whilst some bailiffs act within the law and clearly know what they are doing, others are just dreadful bullies. I had one client’s wife call me very distressed as her director husband who was a builder was at work and she did not know who to call.

The bailiff was employed by a very well-known large company whose name began with “M” and who was one of the worst I have come across. I have come across a few in my time. The wife was terrified as he pushed his way past her, gaining entrance into the family home and was busy taking details of the kitchen content including her Grandmother’s crockery display.

I asked her to give the phone to the bailiff and I tried calmly to explain that the debt he was after was a limited company debt and not a personal debt and that he had no right to push past the lady in question. What made the matter more ridiculous was that the bailiff was acting for the company landlord and he was at the family home, not even the business address.

The bailiff was supposed to be seizing assets at the director’s office and yard, though how he mistook Granny’s crockery for a builder’s pick-up truck is beyond me. He was very aggressive, but what came across clearly is that he was ignorant of the law and he insisted he still had the right to take the personal possessions. He was new to the job and clearly poorly trained, yet he was allowed to bully people for money with menaces. The only way I could stop him was to threaten to call the police if he did not leave immediately and I told him I would be calling his manager to complain.

Thankfully and hopefully, these kinds of bailiff and landlord stories will become fewer as the new Taking Control of Goods Regulations 2013 comes into effect on April 6th 2014. We get numerous calls for help with bailiffs threatening, or simply seizing goods with often little reason to do so. In one recent case I had a director begging for help as the locks had been changed and all his stock valued at around £35,000 had simply been taken. He explained he was literally 6 days in arrears with his rent, but had never missed a payment in eight years.

The landlord’s agents were unrepentant and in the end the company had to close as his means for repaying the arrears had gone in an instant. There were legal battles in the following months, but his livelihood had gone. The premises were let out almost immediately for a higher rent. Apart from the hard pressed director, other clear victims in this instance were also the creditors of the limited company who did not receive a penny due to the hasty and aggressive actions carried out by the Landlord’s agents.

The new laws due to come in this year apply to commercial premises (not residential) and only apply to rent arrears (VAT and interest related too) and in excess of seven days. The worst bit of news for landlords is that they will have to provide seven days-notice if they intend to seize assets.

Be careful out there.

Written by: Mike Smith


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