Are your tenants a tragedy waiting to happen?
A friend of mine once told me about a case of domestic abuse that led to the death of one of his ex-neighbours. She was stabbed to death by her partner in Essex. It’s a tragic story and one that I won’t repeat in detail in this blog. It’s a story I was reminded of when I read a report from Greater Manchester Police, who predicted there would be 11,400 victims of domestic abuse in the region during the summer of 2018.
Manchester has a large tenant population, as does the rest of the UK. It is estimated that one in four women and one in six men across the UK will be the victim of domestic abuse during their lives. It stands to reason that many domestic abuse victims will live in rented accommodation. Perhaps in your property.
If you suspect that domestic abuse is taking place in a property that you own and let to tenants, what should you do about it? Could you stop a tragedy between partners occurring? Should you get involved?
The moral argument vs. the legal argument
You may have cause for concern about your tenants. On a visit to the property, you may have noticed that the woman has a black eye, which she blames on ‘walking into a door’. Perhaps the husband is quiet and subservient to his wife, and you’ve noticed one too many bandaged limbs ‘due to the work he does’. If you have suspicions that domestic violence is occurring, should you report it to the police?
The answer is not clear-cut. There is no legal obligation to report your fears, but my friend would certainly do so now. He would feel morally obliged to say something.
Can a tenant leave part way through a tenancy?
If a tenant wants to leave the property due to domestic abuse, you can accept the surrender of the tenancy. However, if the tenancy agreement is in joint names, you cannot force the other tenant to leave. Additionally, all tenants of the property will remain jointly and severally liable. You may have to chase the innocent party – the one who left – for some of or all the rent.
A better course of action in such a case may be to assign the leaving tenant’s interest to the tenant who remains. However, this requires the two parties to agree to this – agreement which may be difficult to obtain.
What if the abusive tenant won’t move?
If the abusive tenant has been asked to move out by their partner, but won’t do so, then the abused tenant could go to court to obtain an occupation order. This will exclude the abuser from the property. You may need to change locks once the abuser has left.
What help can you give to an abused tenant?
There are options available for you to help an abused tenant remain in your property. However, there are potential problems should you choose to do so.
One of the best options is to issue a new AST to the partner who is staying. For example, if the tenancy’s fixed term has expired, you may serve notice on both tenants, and, once vacant possession has been obtained, then offer the remaining tenant a new AST.
This could take time if the abuser refuses to leave. You may need to seek a possession order from the court. However, these may not be the least of your problems. Often, victims of domestic abuse accept their abuser back into their home. This could cause you issues down the line. My friend’s ex-neighbour had done exactly this.
Financial issues caused to landlords by domestic abuse tenants
Issues overpayment of rent naturally springs to mind when one partner departs as a tenant. But this is not the only problem you may have. You may need to decide how to treat the deposit.
If you have written a new AST as suggested above, you would need to return the deposit and take a new deposit. This is reasonably straightforward – and if there is a dispute about who posted the deposit, this argument is for the tenants to decide, not you.
More complex problems may arise should one partner leave and the tenancy remain in place. Both tenants would remain liable for the rent and any damage, and so you should retain the deposit. It is up to the tenants to decide what to do about their financial situation. Again, the best advice is to make the tenants aware of the law and set out their options.
Domestic abuse is rarely obvious. It is often hidden behind closed doors, and it takes many forms. Men are almost as often victims as women. As a buy-to-let landlord, you have no legal obligation to report suspicions of domestic abuse. But morally? This is a different question.
If you do suspect that one of your tenants is the victim of domestic abuse, but do not wish to call the police, you could raise your concerns directly and provide the contact details of victim support.
Domestic abuse is a difficult subject to tackle. Knowing what he knows now, my friend wouldn’t hesitate to tackle it head-on. What would you do, if you had suspicions about your tenants?
Live with passion,