Defending and counterclaiming for disrepair in rent arrears case
Our client lived in a 4-bedroom Housing Association flat with her 5 children. There was disrepair in the property. She got behind with her payments and rent arrears built up. Possession proceedings were issued against her.
On receiving the court claim our client contacted the Housing Association who told her there was no need to attend court. She did not seek any legal advice on this matter. The judge ordered possession suspended on condition that she continued to pay her rent and also money off the rent arrears at £10.29 per week.
Our client fell behind with her payments once more and the Housing Association demanded a lump sum payment. They said if it was not paid they would evict her.
Faced with being street homeless with 5 children and likely to be considered intentionally homeless by the council she finally sought legal advice from us. We advised her about her counterclaim for disrepair, granted legal aid, obtained a report and then applied to the court to file a defence to the possession claim and a counterclaim for disrepair.
Our client was anxious that by defending the claim she would offend her landlord. We reassure her that independent advice and action was always the best way forward.
We were able to persuade the Judge that as the client had been taking advice from her landlord and had not been to see an independent solicitor before the case that she should now be allowed to contest the possession order. The Judge agreed and we were given permission to file the papers.
The landlord realised that they would not now win the case and they agreed that the possession order should be dismissed, that they would not only clear all of her rent arrears but also pay her a lump sum in compensation as well as our legal costs.
Independent legal advice is essential for tenants facing court proceedings. The landlord is the last person they should be asking for advice. They are not going to advise about counter claims for disrepair or other defences. The landlord often wants their rent paid, the rent arrears reduced and a suspended possession order, as in this case. However, if a tenant breaches a suspended order by missing a payment, then they can very quickly end up being evicted. Advice should be sought early as the court will not always allow judgements to be challenged after they have been given. In this case there was sufficient evidence of undue influence on the tenant to allow her defence and counter claim to proceed.