Dealing with tenants change in circumstances


While the dream for many couples is a Valentine’s Day filled with love, laughter and armfuls of red roses, for some, the reality is that this ‘significant’ day simply puts too much pressure on their relationship. Perhaps one person is expecting a special gift that never appears or, worse, a proposal that never comes.

Although getting involved in your tenants relationship isn’t probably something you’d thought you had to do, it’s sadly something that’s like to happen at some point if you are letting for the long term and from a business perspective, you need to make sure you don’t suffer financially as a result.

Here are the three key checks to make on your property/portfolio so you survive a break up.

Who signed the tenancy agreement?

It’s advisable to have every person living in the property sign the tenancy agreement to confirm they are happy to be jointly and severally liable for the rent. As such, each tenant should be credit-checked and referenced to demonstrate that they can afford the rental payment individually. Then, if one leaves as a result of a break up and disappears without you being able to trace them, you are still legally able to pursue the remaining tenant for the full rent.

What if only one partner signed the agreement and they want to leave?

If the partner who signed the agreement decides to leave and the other partner wants to stay, you then have to decide what you want to do, especially if they are keen to stay.

The departing tenant will have to give you the required notice and is still liable for the rent for that period, and the partner who is not named on the agreement does not have any legal rights to stay in the property. However, that doesn’t mean they will automatically leave.

If they’ve been good tenants, ideally have a conversation with them and find out what is likely to be the best solution for you both.

You can then either transfer the existing tenancy agreement into the remaining partner’s name or ask them to begin a new tenancy. Given that it is likely to be an emotional time for both tenants, you should be considerate but, at the same time, make sure you don’t put yourself at risk of being out of pocket.

You should be aware that the remaining partner can apply to a court for an ‘occupation order’, which sets out who has the right to stay, return or be excluded from a family home. These orders normally last for a specified period of time, usually six months, although they are not routinely issued by courts, so your tenant may not be successful. In addition, the cost of obtaining this occupation order can run to several thousand pounds, so it’s not something you’re likely to come across a tenant pursuing.

What if the split occurs within the initial fixed term of the rental agreement?

Regardless of what has occurred between them, if either or both of the tenants have signed a tenancy agreement for a fixed term (generally this will be the first six months of an AST), they are liable for the rent for the whole period. Nevertheless, it is advisable to try to come to a compromise and the best approach – assuming neither wants to stay in the property – is generally to advertise for a new tenant right away and agree that as soon as one can be found, you will release them from their agreement.

If the split involves any kind of abusive or aggressive behaviour between the tenants, you can give them notice to leave by issuing a Section 8 Notice (likely to be on grounds 12 and 14 (schedule 2 of the Housing Act 1988, as amended). While you might have sympathy if one partner is being targeted by another, antisocial behaviour is unacceptable, and it is in your best interests as a private landlord to simply get these tenants out.

Communication is key in any of these circumstances, which is why you – or your managing agent – should always maintain a good relationship with your tenants and carry out periodical inspections to check not only the condition of the property but also assess how the tenants are living in it.

For example, Valentine’s day may result in the opposite happening, you believed there was only one tenant but find evidence of another person living there. In this case, contact the tenant right away – it may be that they moved their partner in and didn’t realise they were supposed to inform you. In that case, it’s highly advisable to reference and put the partner on the tenancy agreement, to ensure you are legally able to pursue them for rent if they separate and the current tenant leaves.

 For advice on buy-to-let mortgages, please feel free to get in touch with the team at Mortgage Advice Bureau. 

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