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Calls are being made for a special housing court or tribunal to be set up solely for legal disputes concerning property and housing.

The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) made the call in response to an investigation into procedures for dealing with disagreements between landlords and tenants. The Civil Justice Council’s Property Disputes Working Group is looking into the matter. The working group’s aim is to reduce the need for landlords, tenants and other parties involved in property disputes or law suits to attend more than one court or tribunal in order to settle a dispute.

ARLA responded to the working group by calling for landlords to have access to justice which is quick, efficient and cost-effective.

ARLA feels that a specialist housing court will make it far quicker to settle disputes, reduce costs and also mean more consistent settlements as the procedures are being dealt with by experts in the field.

The working party is looking at three options. The first is to continue with the existing system. A second option is to extend the power of judges in tribunals and country courts so that they can move between these roles when hearing cases. The third option is to set up a new court or tribunal specifically for housing and property matters.

ARLA also feels that there could be greater flexibility in the courts. For example, ARLA suggests that High Court Enforcement Officers could be authorised to enforce County Court Possession Orders without landlords having to make a further application to the court. As it stands at the moment, county court possession orders are enforced by its own bailiffs. The orders can only be enforced by HCEOs with the court’s permission.

At the moment landlords are trying to speed up possession proceedings by requesting the use of HCEOs, but the decision rests with county court judges as to whether this should be allowed. Sometimes it is not granted and ARLA believes that the decisions are not consistent throughout the country.

Any delays in dealing with applications or inconsistent rulings can cause hardship for landlords who may be losing rental income while the dispute is being dealt with by the courts. A quicker solution would mean the property can be put back on the rental market far sooner.

The working party also felt that disputes involving unlawful eviction, business tenancy renewals and claims for possession relating to mortgage or tenancy agreements should remain in the jurisdiction of the county court.

ARLA disagreed. It felt that these would be better dealt with by a new housing court and judges who have expertise in these matters.

It felt that a single housing court would be able to appoint judges with a reputation as experts in housing and property matters. This would mean that cases could be dealt with quickly, obviating the need to continually explain relevant case law or new legislation to the judges. This would also result in greater consistency in judgements across courts throughout the country. It should also reduce costs at the same time in providing a faster and more efficient system than at present.