What happens when your tenants split-up? What actions should a responsible landlord take in this situation?
Don’t get involved
Break-ups can be dramatic and I daresay the gossips amongst us (yes I have my hand up too!) would love to get involved in the nitty-gritty of the split. Don’t. It is not your place to do so.
Stay professional, even if there has been domestic violence. This may sound like cold-hearted advice, but you need to protect your business. You are not a charity, and should not be expected to pick up the pieces of your tenants lives. You let a property to responsible adults and have no responsibility beyond ensuring that said property is maintained and safe. You are not a social worker*. You are a landlord.
Find out what the tenants want to do.
Does one of them want to stay on? If so, are you sure they will be able to afford the rent, plus bills, plus living costs?
If they can, then, happy days! You can let them stay on, but you may want to update the tenancy agreement. If you do choose to reissue a tenancy agreement then you will have to refund any deposit taken and ask for a new deposit, which you’ll then have to re-protect. Please don’t miss out this step. It is very important to ensure any deposits taken from tenants’ are protected in one of the Government approved tenancy deposit schemes.
If you think the tenant who wants to stay can’t afford the rent on their own, and you have no legal right to chase the former tenant for rent, then you may be better off issuing a section 21.
If they both want to leave, then you can accept a notice to quit from them, and end the tenancy in the normal manner. If there is still a fixed term to wait out, then you may still have a legal right to the rent. You might want to negotiate with the tenants on this point though, because really your new focus now should be on getting new tenants in. Once you do this, you can’t accept rent from the initial tenants.
Take a look at the tenancy agreement
You should be looking to see who is actually named on the tenancy agreement and what their liability is. If both tenants are named on a ‘Joint and several liability’ basis then you have the legal right to chase them both for rent if necessary. If one of your tenants is a ‘named occupant’(or an ‘authorised occupier’) then the other tenant is responsible for all the rent. If it is the ‘named occupant’ who wants to stay in the property, then you must issue a new tenancy agreement (don’t forget to protect the deposit!)
Or, there might be two tenancy agreements. One for each party. If this is the case then you can accept a notice to quit from the tenant leaving, and reissue a tenancy agreement to the remaining tenant. Otherwise, you may be opening yourself up to only being entitled to half the rent!
Next establish how long is left on the tenancy agreement. Is it still in its fixed term? If it is then you may have a harder battle if you need to get the remaining tenant out of the property.
If there is a history of rent arrears or persistently late rent, then you may be able to use a section 8 to get them out. However, if you know the tenant can’t really afford to live in the property without a second income, but there have been no arrears in the past, you may have to sit it out until they either fall behind in rent sufficiently to allow you to issue a section 8 or their fixed term ends. If you can’t issue a section 8, then issue a section 21 as soon as you can, and as soon as you believe there may be a problem. Whatever you do, always keep the lines of communication open between you and your tenants.
*Actually, you may be a social worker in your ‘day job’ – but we’re talking about your responsibilities as a landlord here.