USA Housing Law Very Different

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I find material for my items on housing law and the private rental sector from the most unusual places; inspiration is often provided by television programmes I see, and this week proved no exception.

‘Judge Judy’ is a real-life Judge in the USA, who tries cases on television – perhaps earning more by hearing cases on television than when trying cases away from media influences.  Whilst not a regular viewer, I happened to catch a case this week which showed me the differences there are in UK and US housing law.

The case was rent arrears, where nearly 3 months’ rent was owed. The landlord entered the property and removed the tenant’s goods, some of which were damaged. The evictee’s case was that she had been illegally evicted, that goods were damaged and that the landlord had not returned her deposit of $600.

Under English law, we would state that the full eviction process had not been enacted, that the landlord had no right of entry until the Court had ordered possession; that the tenant should have removed her own possessions, if not on the date of the legal eviction with a Bailiff in attendance, then by arrangement with the landlord, possibly with the Police in attendance, to remove at a later date. 

If at the date of eviction, there were still outstanding rent arrears, then the deposit would stand against them and, if the debt exceeded the deposit made, there would be no deposit to return. 

How does this housing law differ in the USA? Judging from the content of this television programme, quite considerably. 

Judge Judy is a strict judge, who expects certain standards in her court room. She can also be abrasive where she feels hard words are needed. Professional behaviour in England usually demands that the tenant, no matter how reprehensible, be treated with courtesy. Not for us the Judge who will say as Judge Judy did ‘you don’t pay the rent you go’ with a colourful epithet which indicated that if this was with a boot in the rear, that was acceptable.

She so obviously had no sympathy for the tenant, that she discounted the landlord’s entry as ‘illegal’, even though he made a case of believing she had abandoned which was not accepted – she had left a large number of shoes neatly arranged, whereas in the rest of the apartment, she was a ‘slob’ – the honourable lady’s opinion. 

She discounted the value of the items damaged, though one was an antique mirror which was a family heirloom. Foolishly, as she did have some goods of value, the tenant did not have any contents insurance. Foolish, but not unusual and where damage was caused, she should not have been expected to make an insurance claim and perhaps affect her future insurance prospects. 

The tenant’s claim was dismissed but – the landlord had to return her deposit. 

The tenant left the court with little satisfaction and undoubtedly smarting from the Judge’s comments; she had been left homeless and even the deposit return gave little compensation.

I know many landlords that will be horrified that this seemed acceptable in the USA, even if secretly they felt this would make it far more cost effective to let properties and then end tenancies. 

Don’t emulate what this landlord did. British housing law offers more protection to tenants and whilst I wish there was an easier way to end tenancies, risking a conviction for illegal eviction is not worth it. Even the tenant at fault can be left with a generous pay-out if it goes to Court and the Court finds in favour of the tenant.

Keep campaigning for an easier way to gain possession, but until that happens, stick to the housing law.

For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon

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