A recent question made me ponder about how landlords ask for advice, particularly as there are now various help-lines that can offer assistance to landlords who need it. Anybody asked for help wants to do their best to give a full and clear answer, but they are not the font of all knowledge, so need very clear details about the case in issue.
The case that prompted my thoughts was a landlord whose tenant had died before Christmas. The tenant was apparently £1,000 in rent arrears. When could he re-gain possession of the property? Sounds extremely straight-forward, but if it was that straight-forward, why was the advice needed? I could think of three circumstances where the landlord may have concerns about simply re-taking possession.
- That the tenant who died was part of a joint tenancy, the death of one tenant leaving the remaining tenant, quite legally, in possession. If this was the case, the tenancy would continue, though the landlord should take immediate steps to either arrange payment of the rent arrears or start eviction proceedings. Under a joint tenancy, both are jointly and severally liable so the landlord could hope to get some of the outstanding rent back, though the other tenant may be more likely to move out and leave the debt behind them.
- There was a partner, but he/she did not want to be part of the tenancy (often a signal that additional credit referencing is needed – would he/she have failed credit reference checks if a joint tenancy was applied for or offered?) they are therefore there under a license, that is, with the permission of the tenant and now, in the death of the tenant, by the landlord. Discuss in depth but sensitively with the one who remains. Do they intend to leave as soon as possible, or do they want to take over the tenancy? If so, don’t short-cut the referencing. Make sure they are the tenant for you, not because you feel sympathetic towards them. Do not under any circumstances accept any rent until you know a tenancy will be offered – to do so will establish a new tenancy and the full eviction procedure would have to be gone through to re-gain possession.
- There are children remaining in the property, one of whom is over 18 and old enough to hold a tenancy in their own name. If this is the case and they have an unblemished reputation, they may prove to be a good tenant; if there are other children, they could claim the housing element of universal credit to cover the accommodation for the children – as a single person, they would be restricted to single room rents if under 35 years of age. May be worth considering, though they could possibly receive priority for re-housing under the homeless legislation, if you don’t want to take the risk.
Sadly, neither 2 nor 3 will give the landlord any of the outstanding rent arrears as the circumstances are such that the debt was in the name of the dead party and there is no responsibility on the new tenants to take over the debt.
To get the best available service when asking for advice, look at the bigger picture. Consider the other factors that may have implications on the advice that will be given.
Less than full details may lead to wrong information being given and then the advice is worse than useless, it can be dangerous.
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon