What happens at Court Possession Hearings?
If the tenant fails to move out within the notice period, the landlord can ask the court for a hearing, known as a possession hearing.
The procedure for a possession hearing
After the landlord applies to the county court, the tenant is sent court papers stating the date and location of the hearing. It is recommended that both parties take independent legal advice so they can ensure their case is made to clear to the court. You can use the yellow form to the right for that.
Where does the possession hearing take place and who attends it?
The landlord and the tenant must arrive at the court on time. If either party is late the court can go ahead and make a decision without hearing their evidence. A possession hearing is a civil matter, which usually takes place in a ‘chamber’ at the court. It is literally a small room with the judge behind a desk sitting and both parties sit in front of him/her.
Can the tenant defend themselves at the hearing?
Yes! When a party represents themselves they are known by the court as a 'litigant in person'.
A judge hears the case with both the landlord and tenant getting a chance to speak and ask questions of each other, (this is known as cross-examination). The landlord normally goes first to explain why they are seeking possession of the property. The judge may then ask the landlord a bit more about the case. The tenant is then given a chance to ask questions of their landlord to show the court where the are points of factual disagreement. Next, the tenant is given a chance to defend themselves and state why they should not be evicted.
Possible orders the court can make
The judge makes a decision at the hearing and there are several possible outcomes:
A suspended possession order
If the judge makes a suspended possession order, it means the tenant can remain in the rented house provided that they pay the rent on time and abide by any conditions or rules made by the court. However, the landlord has the right to evict their tenant if they do not pay the rent or any required bills. Some might even call this a 'slap on the wrist'.
Dismiss the case
The judge may rule that the landlord’s claim for possession is not valid, and allow the tenant(s) to stay in the rented property. This might happen if the landlord fails to produce enough evidence in favour of their claim or if the tenant proves that there are no legitimate reasons for evicting them. A common reason to dismiss the claim is that the Landlord failed to serve the legal notices correctly, (i.e a technicality). Landlords get upset at this but please remember the landlord is seeking a court order that the tenant be made homeless!
Adjourn the case
The judge may adjourn the hearing if it is a particularly complicated case and requires further consideration or evidence.
An outright possession order
When the judge makes an outright possession order, the tenant has to leave their landlord’s property within the date set by the court. The tenants are usually given 2 or 4 weeks to move out (up to 42 days in exceptional cases), after which period the landlord can get a ‘warrant for possession’ to force the tenant out.
A money order
A money order requires the tenants to pay a certain amount to the landlord within a certain period. If they do not pay the landlord can enforce the judgment including taking money from the tenant’s bank account, or their wages (attachment to earnings) or sending bailiffs to forcefully take away their belongings. All of these are based on the tenant/debtors ability to pay.
A possession order with money judgement
A possession order with money judgement refers to any of the above possession orders made with a money order. When a possession order is made with a money judgement, the tenant owes an amount to the landlord, which usually includes the rent arrears as well as the landlord’s legal costs and court fees.
The money judgement does not apply in cases where the tenant has already paid the rent arrears and any other amount set by the court.