- QUESTION: What are the functions of a Private Bailiff?
The Bailiffs Act specifically limits the functions of a Private Bailiff to two statutory activities and to which a person may have legal recourse:
- Landlords have the remedy of distress for rent in arrears under the Landlord and Tenant Ordinance. If hired, a Private Bailiff levies upon items found on the tenanted premises to recover the rent arrears and expenses of the levy and sale.
- If you are the seller of goods on hire purchase, you have the right to recover possession of the goods from the purchaser under the Hire Purchase Act.
The remedy to repossess exists even where the value of the Hire Purchase agreement exceeds $15,000.00 and more than 75 percent of the value has been paid. Private Bailiffs may be hired to repossess the item.
Hire Purchase Act and Landlord and Tenant Act
- QUESTION: I want to hire a Private Bailiff. What information should I provide him?
As an individual or business you should provide the Private Bailiff with information peculiar to your circumstances.
Hence if you are a landlord or agent of the landlord you should provide:
- the lease agreement,
- any notices given to the tenant/customer,
- any letters prepared by your Attorney-at-Law,
- Notice to Quit, if any, and
- evidence of rental receipts and rent being in arrears.
If you are a hire purchase business, you should provide the Bailiff with the following:
- evidence that you gave 21 days’ notice in accordance with Section 18 of the Hire Purchase Act,
- evidence of hire purchase installment and installments in arrear,
- the hire purchase agreement, which provides details of the item(s) and the customer, and
- any communications relating to the arrear on the customer's hire purchase account.
In both instances, this information will guide the bailiff in determining whether he can lawfully act on your behalf. It is recommended that before hiring a bailiff, that you check the listing provided by the Registrar, Supreme Court to determine whether the licence is valid and that he is not operating with a suspended or revoked licence.
- QUESTION: How do I verify if someone is indeed a licensed bailiff?
A private bailiff must present to you, a licence issued by the Registrar of the Supreme Court. It should bear his/her picture, name, licence number, date of issue, date of expiry and the seal of the Supreme Court. You can confirm this information by examining the official list of Private Bailiffs published in the Gazette twice every year. The present list is found here. You may also visit the office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court to view the Register of Private Bailiffs.
- QUESTION: What is a Private Bailiff required to do?
Being guided by the law, Private Bailiffs are expected to do certain things including:
- Exemplify high standards of integrity and exercise reasonableness, honesty, objectivity and diligence in the performance of their duty,
- Refrain from engaging in any activity which may cause conflict with their trade or prejudice their ability to carry out their duties,
- Identify themselves as a Private Bailiff by producing a valid licence, bearing a picture identification, name, signature and licence number upon entering the premises,
- Commencing any action at your premises between the hours of 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM. The action may be continued after 6:00 PM once started before that time,
- Request the presence of the police where they have been subjected to or reasonably suspects there would be a breach of the peace at your premises.
- QUESTION: What is a Private Bailiff not legally permitted to do?
Currently, the law limits a Private Bailiff from doing certain things, including:
- Engaging in the business of debt collection or being an employee of a debt collection agency,
- Using an expired, revoked or suspended Private Bailiff Licence,
- Forcing entry unto your premises by breaking an outer entry,
- Charging more than 25% of the amount that is owed and due,
- Selling the goods by means other than by public auction further to the Auctioneers Act, unless otherwise provided for by law and order of the Court.
- QUESTION: Is anyone allowed to work or assist a Private Bailiff?
Currently, the Bailiffs Act does not regulate the team of workers who assist Private Bailiffs during Bailiff actions at job sites. The law does not require them to be registered, licenced or even undergo specific training as Private Bailiffs do. Since these workers are part of a Private Bailiff's team, he should identify and indicate their role to those affected by the Bailiff action. Private Bailiffs may be indirectly legally liable for their worker's wrongful activities. Nevertheless, these workers are subject to the laws of Trinidad and Tobago and must conduct themselves accordingly.
- QUESTION: What should you do when you are approached by a Private Bailiff?
- Listen carefully to the Private Bailiff to learn of the reason for his visit. If needed, seek clarification and he should provide the necessary information/documentation including the authorisation to be on the premises and the Bailiff Visit Form and explain what he is going to do. Note, the law requires that you sign the Bailiff Visit Form,
- Upon entry, the Private Bailiff should identify himself by presenting his valid licence to you. You may look at the licence to verify this but you cannot remove the licence from his person.
- You should expect the Bailiff to identify and explain the role of his workers.
- Observe keenly, all actions and communications of the Bailiff and his workers.
- Do not obstruct the Private Bailiff from performing his function. He is there to exercise a legal right on behalf of another person.
- Do not assault, threaten, direct violence or obscene language towards to him or his workers. Similarly, the Bailiff cannot exact that behaviour towards you.
- Do not remove and hide goods from the premises. If you do, the Private Bailiff is legally authorized to find those goods and continue the necessary legal action against you.
Note, you do have legal remedies against the Private Bailiff in respect of Bailiff actions that were not conducted in accordance with the law. Please seek an Attorney at Law for independent legal advice, if needed. Also see question 8, below.
- QUESTION: What is the complaint procedure?
If you are dissatisfied about your interaction with a Private Bailiff, then you should seek independent advice from an Attorney-at-Law about your access to legal redress, if any. A complaint against any Private Bailiff relates to that person’s conduct of a Bailiff action performed for you or against you.
Depending on the advice and your experience with the Private Bailiff, you or your Attorney may file a complaint further to section 12 of the Bailiffs Act. Using the prescribed form (Fourth Schedule, Bailiffs Act; see page 20 at the link), your complaint should be made to the Judge of the Petty Civil Court for the district in which the basis of the complaint is alleged to have taken place.
That Judge is responsible for investigating the complaint and forwarding the results of his investigation to the Registrar, Supreme Court who will then determine whether the bailiff’s licence should be suspended or revoked.
- QUESTION: Can Police Officers assist Private Bailiffs?
Yes but with clear limitations. The law permits police officers to provide assistance to prevent the breach of the peace at the job site where the Private Bailiff is expected to conduct a Bailiff action or is the course of doing so. This form of assistance involves the use of law enforcement towards persons who direct or attempt to direct any form of violent, abusive or threatening behavior to other persons. These persons includes the Bailiff, persons who are the subject of the Bailiff action, and bystanders.
Police officers cannot assist Private Bailiffs in the activities associated with a distress for rent or repossession of hire purchase goods. Such activities include directing or controlling the seizure of goods, physically seizing goods, storing goods or uploading goods unto vehicles. The police officer cannot interfere with the Bailiffs conduct of a lawful distress or hire purchase repossession as these are existing legal rights of the Bailiff’s client that are being exercised.
- QUESTION: Can a Private Bailiff act as an Agent?
Actually, a Private Bailiff is an agent but for the particular purposes set out in the Bailiffs Act. That said, though a person may licenced as a Private Bailiff, he may engage in other business activities except where the law expressly disallows him from doing so. In such cases, he is not acting as a Private Bailiff. However, if that person engages in other business as an Agent for another person or business, he cannot lawfully rely upon or claim the special legal protection and privileges granted to Private Bailiffs nor use his Bailiff licence in doing the job.