Here is a question to the blog clinic from Jonni who is a landlord
I have a situation with a past tenant who left the property owing me 3 months rent. I have no present address for them.
I have contacted their place of study who have said they will pass on any letters I send to them, however they have no way of confirming thereafter whether the letters have been accepted by the tenant. I know I have 6 years in which to legally bring this case to court however I’d like to obviously have this resolved asap.
My question is whether I have any legal holding through this method of communication. I’ll be able to check that the recorded delivery has been signed and accepted but no confirmation about the tenant receiving it.
It is notoriously difficult to recover unpaid rent from tenants who have vacated without paying.
One of the problems, which is the issue covered by your question, is that notice of proceedings needs to be served on them and you cannot do this if you do not have their address. However, this is a solution to this.
Service by alternative service
If you do not have their address, but you know of a way that they can be contacted via someone else, then you can make an application for what used to be called ‘substituted service’ but which is now called ‘alternative service’.
You need to apply to the court using form N244 setting out your reasons and you must also provide evidence to show that service at this address or by this method will result in the proceedings coming to the attention of the defendant.
A letter from their place of study, confirming that they will pass any letters on to them should suffice.
Other examples of situations where the court will normally agree to this is service on the defendant via their employer or a relative who they are known to be in touch with (such as their parents).
That sounds easy but there are various things you need to take into account:
- Cost – even if you act in person (which is not really recommended) then there is a court fee for making the application which at the time of writing is £255. So it is an expensive exercise.
- Value for money – you also need to consider whether this is worth doing. People who leave rented property owing large sums of money with no forwarding address are generally the type of people who never pay even if someone gets a County Court Judgement (CCJ) against them. Frequently they will already have a string of CCJs following them around.
A shocking fact is that probably about 30% of all CCJs go unpaid. The proceedings for enforcing them are long winded, exceedingly slow and expensive and frankly are not fit for purpose.
You, therefore, need to think very carefully before spending money on court proceedings against such a tenant. It may be more cost effective (albeit annoying) to write the whole thing down to experience and move on.
This is why it is so important to be careful in your choice of tenant in the first place so this sort of thing won’t happen.
You can find out more about bringing claims against defaulting tenants in my blog post here.