Q&A - How can we be liable for council tax on a property that we were not legally entitled to enter?

Q:    Two years ago, we evicted tenants whose twelve-month AST started in January, but who stopped paying rent 3 months later in April. On June 30th that year they verbally agreed to surrender the lease, pay the arrears, and vacate the property by July 31st. After that they ignored our calls and letters and would not open the door to us. A council officer advised us that without proof of them having vacated we could not legally enter the property.

It took three months to get a court hearing and an eviction order. The day in November when we got possession, we took a council officer along to verify they had gone and informed the council tax department we had repossessed. Extensive repairs were needed before we could re-let in December. Now we’ve received a council tax demand for July to December that year. The council say we are legally responsible for payment from the date of the surrender notice as they have proof that our tenants were living elsewhere (but won’t share details). Surely this cannot be right?

A:    You certainly had a raw deal with these tenants, but whilst it may seem unfair that you are expected to pay council tax for a property that legally you could not enter until the time you did, what the council tax officer says is in fact correct.

Council tax liability is determined by residency, and where there is no resident the owner is held liable. An ‘owner’ is either a tenant with at least 6 months’ leasehold interest known as material interest, or if no such material interest exists then the freeholder/owner becomes liable. This is still the case even if keys have not been returned, there is rental liability and there are still tenant belongings in the property. Further, the possession notice ended the 12 months fixed term, meaning the tenant no longer had six months fixed term material interest, so could not be held liable.

Article 22/02/21

This question has been answered by Rod Waters, a Senior Solicitor with GHP Legal.  

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