Evicted

The day my client was evicted from her flat, she was recovering from emergency cancer surgery at her friend’s home.

And unlike the people in this photograph, she never saw her personal belongings again.

While I suspect my client’s property is on a landfill site somewhere, we still don’t know what happened to her things – like her clothes, her cutlery & crockery, her TV and her family photographs.

In the end, my client’s landlord and the estate agent both offered a sum of money in settlement, but only after my client filed a Small Claim at the Edmonton County Court – and a date for trial had been set.

Here’s what didn’t help

Legal aid. While legal aid is available for possession proceedings, once it is ascertained that the possession procedure has been followed, there is no legal aid available to recover damages for disposed of property.

Vague threats. My client’s friends went to the estate agents to find out what had happened to her property. The estate agent ignored them. When the friends said to the estate agent, “We’ll see you in court”, the estate agent laughed.

My client went to the Citizens Advice. They were nice to her and even wrote a good letter to the estate agent.

This too was ignored.

What works?

I looked to The Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1997. Once I ascertained that the landlord and the estate agent had failed to comply with that legislation, I got witness statements from everyone who could give relevant evidence.  I also warned my client that she must prepare herself for battle – as it was unlikely in this case that her opponents would have an epiphany and settle without a fight.

I wrote a letter before action, setting out my client’s case, chapter and verse, giving the landlord and the estate agent one last chance to give my client’s property back – or to make a settlement offer.

While many would have made a commercial decision to settle the matter at this stage, the landlord and estate agent chose not to.

My client made the decision to go to court.

But even service of court proceedings didn’t persuade the landlord and estate agent to make my client “go away” by offering a settlement, despite my client’s invitation. Instead, they hired their own lawyers.

What made them see the light?

I was eventually contacted by both the landlord’s and estate agent’s respective solicitors; they wanted to know if my client would be, “open to settlement”.

This approach just happened to coincide with the court writing to everybody, letting us know the date for the trial.

You will be happy to hear, dear reader, that my cancer-surviving, evicted by her landlord and her property removed while she was recovering from emergency surgery client, did accept a reasonable settlement. The estate agent and the landlord had their moment of clarity about a week before the trial and made my client an offer she couldn’t refuse.

The moral of this story?

Letters containing only a claim and a threat to go to court may not cut it.

People may call your bluff.

Front-load your case. We had the witness statements and the court documents and pleadings prepared prior to sending the letter before action. We just had that feeling it would come in handy on this occasion – and it did.

Get a realistic and objective view about how much your claim is worth – and consider the law of diminishing returns. Is the effort of pressing for more money cost-effective? Every case has its own tipping point.

Even if landlords think tenants have abandoned their personal property, it pays to follow the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act procedure.

Without access to justice, tenants’ rights, or indeed any of our rights, don’t mean much these days.