Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

by Readers Question

9:55 AM, 3rd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

Make Text Bigger
Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

My letting agent took on a lady in May last year who I knew was vulnerable. She was on the higher rate of both care and mobility Disability Living Allowance so her total income was £470 per week including her housing benefit.

Her rent was £850 per month which was at the higher end of the market rents for the area so I would not need to increase it for a good couple of years. The property is in a small town and my only other applications were from working tenants who could barely afford the rent. This tenant came highly recommended. Despite suffering a severe physical disability which left her confined to bed much of the time and mental health problems (bipolar 1 disorder for which she takes a lot of medication), she is a Catholic and regularly attended the local convent church for services when she was physically able. The Mother Superior of the convent was/is a good friend of hers and accompanied the tenant to the viewing. The letting agent also met her Deputy and some of the other Sisters when she was moving in. I have never had any doubt that she is a good person.

However on 15th July last year the Mother Superior telephoned the letting agent to tell him that my tenant had attempted suicide in my property and was in intensive care. She wasn’t expected to survive. Of course I felt terrible when I heard. Fortunately the tenant did pull through, but she was taken to a mental hospital out of area.

After 28 days of being in hospital her benefits were severely cut by the DWP. She lost all of her disability living allowance and her severe disability premium. This was a financial loss to her of over £200 per week!

My tenant was mentally ill in hospital, trying to recover and now couldn’t afford to pay all of her bills and her rent shortfall! I had the full rent at the end of August and after that she paid me all of her housing benefit and the remains of her saving account. She was unable to pay me any of the shortfall as her bills and direct debits left her with just £17 to live on per week and she needed that for her basic expenses. When she had to go to the emergency dentist for example she had to pay for the taxi herself-£9.70 each way as the hospital don’t provide transport and they don’t provide toiletries except for the first night. My tenant’s situation was further complicated by the fact that a week before she tried to take her life someone broke into the property in the middle of the day whilst she was asleep, assaulted her, threatened her and stole money and personal possessions from her. Being resuscitated in hospital caused an injury which has put her in a wheelchair so she has been confined to the ward and cannot climb the three flights of stairs to the property. The hospital kept promising my tenant physiotherapy as well as mental health treatment with the aim being for an eventual return home. It was understood by all parties that the wheelchair was not permanent.

It is now a year on and my tenant is still in hospital. The arrears are now in excess of £2500. The physiotherapy achieved little. The tenant is unable to climb stairs or walk more than a couple of metres. The hospital have changed their mind several times about where she would best be living. The tenant kept the letting agent fully updated as to her progress. But he got fed up with her and she says he threatened her and was very hostile towards her. He refused to provide her with a reference, speak to the hospital at all or to confirm in writing that my tenant had rent arrears and how much she owed. The Sisters at the Convent have confirmed this with the hospital.

Allegedly the letting agent actually told my tenant that if the hospital called him he would immediately evict her. But this situation just could not continue, so I served a Section 21 notice on her in May. It expires on 22nd. The problem is my tenant has no landlord reference and no guarantor. Her mother is lending her money for a new tenancy. The hospital are going to the huge expense of hiring a private ambulance crew to carry her up and down the stairs to oversee the packing of her belongings and the cleaning of the property when she does have somewhere else to go to, but I am worried as to how long this will take. The tenant does want to leave hospital and hospital do want her out so they are making every effort to house her, but she can’t be housed by any council as b&bs, hostels etc can’t cater for her needs. Two different councils confirmed that to be the case, she has to go down the private renting route and have care at home which has already been approved.

I have had enough now. I intend to take my tenant to court on 23rd if she hasn’t left.

  • Am I being too harsh?
  • Who will pay my court fees?
  • My tenant is very anxious to put things right-to pay off her arrears as quickly as she can. Is it fair of me to expect her to pay my court fees as well?
  • Will the court automatically grant possession?

The gas safety inspection was due last March. I didn’t want to bother my tenant at the time. I wrote to her last week asking for access to carry it out and she has contacted me insisting I leave it till she has vacated as she is unable to be present and the Sisters at the convent refuse to attend as they also say I am being unreasonable.

The boiler was apparently switched off at the main switch last Summer and there are no other gas appliances in the property. Do I have the right to send my engineer inside? Does my tenant have rights under the Equality Act?

What about her furniture and belongings if I do get possession? According to the letting agent she has a lot of heavy furniture and a lot of possessions up there-far more than most people and there are trip hazards all over the property due to furniture in the hallways etc. I have nowhere to store it and I don’t want to touch it either.

What do you think I should do?

All advice and feedback gratefully received with much thanks.

Joyce

Editors Note

Dear Joyce, I have asked Paul Shamplina and his team at Landlord Action to assist with your question and have received their response below:

Hi Joyce,

I am sorry to hear about the difficult situation you are experiencing. The position the tenant finds herself in does naturally lead one to feel extremely upset and sorry for her.

Am I being too harsh?

The tenant comes across as a nice and pleasant individual who is trying her utmost best to resolve the situation. Contrast that to cases where some tenants wilfully refuse to pay rent in the hope that a landlord serves a section 21 notice in order for the Local Authority to provide them with social housing. Due to the unfortunate events and circumstances, it is clear that the property is not suitable for her needs and she is simply unable to pay or reduce all of the rent arrears.  I am sure that she will understand your decision to evict her.  The issues with the tenant have been ongoing for a long period of time and I therefore am of the view that you have been reasonable to the tenant throughout this difficult period.  Please also remember that it is not your fault that the tenant cannot afford to pay the arrears.  You should not take the burden on your shoulders.

Will the Court automatically grant possession?

If a deposit was payable by the tenant, you will need to ensure you have complied with the deposit regulations on time. You will also need to ensure you have served the tenant with the prescribed documents (gas safety certificate, EPC and how to rent guide (if applicable)). Failure to adhere to both of these requirements could result in your claim being dismissed.

If the section 21 notice was served correctly and the claim form is completed to reflect all of the above, the court should automatically grant possession.  The section 21 notice is also known as the “no fault” notice so the Court will need to grant a possession order regardless of the tenant’s situation.  By going down the section 21 route, you will not be awarded a judgement for the arrears owed to you.  You simply require the tenant to vacate so that you can have your property back.

Equality Act 2010

Another important consideration for you is the Equality Act 2010. The tenant may claim disability discrimination under this act on the basis that you are discriminating against her because of her disability and the eviction is not a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Discrimination can be direct (e.g. treating a tenant less favourably simply because they are disabled), indirect (e.g. you would decide to evict any tenant, but a disabled tenant is put at a greater disadvantage) or simply treating someone less favourably because of something they have or have not done as a result of their disability. In this scenario, the tenant may seek to rely on discrimination arising from her disability. She may argue that whilst you have not (in)directly discriminated against her, the rent arrears are linked to her disability and your decision to evict is based on this.

Discrimination arising from her disability can be justified if it can be shown that your decision to evict her is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. There is a four-stage test to consider here:

  1. Is your objective sufficiently important to justify limiting a fundamental right?
  2. Is there a rational connection between your objective(s) and the tenant’s eviction?
  3. Is the eviction no more than is necessary to accomplish your objective(s)?
  4. Are the disadvantages that will flow disproportionate to the aims pursued?

If the tenant raises discrimination as a defence, the onus will be on you to satisfy the above test.

Who will pay my court fees?

You will have to pay a Court fee of £355.00 in the first instance which the Court will order your tenant to pay you back.  If you have a Solicitor representing you, the Court will award you fixed costs only of £69.50 to be paid by the tenant.  The tenant can apply to pay in instalments but this will be very difficult as the tenant clearly does not have the wherewithal to pay your costs.  You are entitled to your costs but you can also chose not to claim them.

Tenant’s belonging still at the Property?

After the tenant has vacated or has been evicted, you should afford her a reasonable period of time to collect her belongings. What is a reasonable period of time depends on what items are left in the property and of course her disability. If there are bulky items, you may have to afford her longer to collect her belongings. I would suggest that, if the tenant fails to collect her belongings within a reasonable period of time, you should place the items in a storage facility as that will be cheaper for you than leaving the property sitting empty due to the items.  You should inform the tenant where her belongings are and provide her with a reasonable time frame to arrange to collect her belongings.

Hope the above helps your situations and I wish you all the best.

Contact Landlord Action

Specialists in tenant eviction and debt collection. Regulated by The Law Society.

 



Comments

AGC

10:33 AM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Recapping - The tenant is a vulnerable and severely disabled woman who has been the victim of a burglary and assault in your property which has led her to attempt suicide. She is currently in hospital, where she was further injured, being failed by the DWP, who have stripped her of her income, and being harassed by a letting agent that is acting on your behalf.

In your own words she is doing her best to navigate this awful situation and has paid you all her savings to the point she is living on £17 per week. She is eager to move out (and to repay you as soon as she has the means) and the only thing holding her back is the failings of the council in housing her.

As a landlord myself, I can understand the uncomfortable position of having a tenant owe you a considerable sum of money with no assured end date in sight. However, to sue a tenant in the situation you describe (and to add your court costs to her financial woes and potentially destroy her possessions) strikes me as simply inhumane.

The tenant sounds like she can be relied upon to vacate and repay you as soon as she is rehoused. Unless the £2.5k is risking your own insolvency I would strongly urge you to show her compassion and continue to work with her to resolve the situation.

Speak to your agents and explain that you expect them to manage you property and tenant with professionalism and courtesy. Speak to your tenant, ask her what help she needs to move out (assistance finding an affordable storage or removals company, for example). Speak to the council and vent your frustration there. Explain how unacceptable the current situation is. Demand to speak to high-level staff. Do anything you can to assist this woman to vacate quickly in a compassionate way.

Anthony Endsor

10:45 AM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Hi Joyce

I am very sorry to hear about this situation. It sounds as though your tenant has had a really hard time through no fault of her own, and now you're left with a rent arrears mess to clear through no fault of your own.
The first thing to remember as a landlord is your job is to house the tenant, meet your obligations to the house then ensure the rent is paid. Whatever happens with the hospital or the tenant's state of mind is out of your control so you shouldn't be dragged into that. Your letting agent would have realised this and he knows it's his job to ensure the rent is paid. In all situations there has to be a solution of some sort. If your tenant cannot afford to pay, the question has to be asked as to why, and who is then responsible. All the hospital could ever do would be to provide a report as to your tenant's health to the authorities solely for the purpose of assessing any claim for benefits.
I presume by all this you do not have Rent Guarantee Insurance if you're worried about the rent and court costs, as this would all be covered if you did.
Be it as it may, I would say no you are not being too harsh. You are owed a lot of money stretching back over a long period of time. It needs paying and it's your tenant's responsibility to ensure it is paid. I would say the fact she has got a number of friends in the Convent should mean someone is able to help.
Under NO circumstances does your tenant or anybody else have the right to block access for a Gas Safety Inspection. This is a legal requirement and you are putting yourself in danger of a huge fine by not doing this. It won't be your tenant who will get fined, it'll be you. Your letting agent should know that and is being very irresponsible in allowing this to continue. It is your tenant's friend who is being unreasonable in not allowing it, not you or the letting agent for asking, but it must get done. Your letting agent should have served a 24 hour notice for access which your tenant would be legally obliged to comply with. Failing this, you should be taking your tenant to court for breach of contract and failing to allow you to fulfill a legal obligation.
As for your tenant wanting to put things right, I would say it's too little too late.
Will the court automatically grant possession? I would say you need a good lawyer to help you as the simple answer is no. The courts are notorious for falling on the side of the vulnerable even if they are clearly in the wrong so you'll need to state a good case to get the property back.
If you get possession, it is the tenant's responsibility to clear the house of all furniture, so you shouldn't have to worry about that. If this fails to happen there are procedures you would then have to follow in terms of how long you would need to hold on to the furniture before you could dispose of it. You must make it clear to the tenant you intend to follow these.

Roy B

10:45 AM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

As per AGC's comments but I would sack the letting agent with no further ado. Were I in that situation I would personally write off the rent owed from the break in onwards - but I am in the situation where my employment pays me enough to live and the rent is not part of my essential income - You appear to have had a dream tenant who has been treated very shabbily by the council and your agent - and now you are compounding it. How about starting a fund me page for her - if you do put a link here and I WILL donate as long as you can tag me.

Roy B

10:53 AM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Roy B at 02/07/2019 - 10:45
And one of the reasons I will donate is compassion - as well as by doing this we show that there are some kind lanlords out there. You took a business decision regarding the tenant and through no fault of her own she has been burgled and driven to the edge yet she has done her very best to sort the situation out. As for the gas cert - go see the Sisters and tell themthat you have a legal obligation to do the gas safety inspection, and will do it but would they please attend so your tenant is more comfortable with it.

Chris Daniel

10:54 AM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

See a detailed article on dealing with Abandoned goods on
http://www.possessionfriend.uk/abandoned-goods/
( Arguably the most comprehensive and practical advice to be found )

Robert Mellors

12:00 PM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Hi Joyce

The issue here is that your tenant is homeless. IMO, regardless of her having a tenancy with you, she is statutorily homeless because she has no accommodation that it is reasonable for her to occupy. See my recent post on homelessness due to a property being unaffordable (complete with details of relevant case law). In addition to it being unreasonable to continue to occupy based on the rent being unaffordable (now her benefits have been cut), it is also unreasonable for her to continue to "occupy" a property she cannot access due to a disability. So even without you taking eviction proceedings, she is already "homeless" as she has no accommodation physically available to her, that it is reasonable for her to live in.

A properly argued homelessness application needs to be made to the local council's homelessness dept, and this will place a legal DUTY on them to provide her with suitable accommodation. They could discharge their duty by renting a property from the private sector, if they have no suitable housing stock of their own, BUT they cannot simply ignore their legal duty.

When they accept that the person is "homeless", then the Council will also have a legal duty to take care of the person's possessions, so they will HAVE to arrange removals and storage of her possessions until such time as they have rehoused her somewhere where the possessions can be unpacked (so not in any emergency accommodation placement).

As well as making a homelessness application, she should also be entitled to apply for a full community care assessment from the adult Social Services Dept, and (if done well) this will help to inform and support the homelessness application by specifying the type of housing required, as well as the package of care that needs to be provided.

If the Council fail in their legal duties, then she can make a formal complaint, and if not satisfied then she can make a complaint to the ombudsman. Alternatively she may be able to issue a judicial review against the council. However, professional legal advice from a specialist solicitor would probably be necessary to do this effectively.

Fuming Landlord

15:34 PM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Thank you very much for your replies. There is no way forward with the agent-he categorically refused to have anything further to do with my tenant and made all sorts of allegations about her hence the situation was forced into my hands and I served her with a Section 21 notice as I just need her to leave. I am concerned about the trip hazards in the property with furniture blocking the hallways etc and all the tenants possessions being unattended in regard to doing the gas safety inspection. It was due in March. My tenant can’t return to the same area for some reason-she has informed me the hospital have safeguarded her from returning there and no council has a duty to her as she has not lived anywhere for over five years. She has tried going through Housing Options and all they could offer her was a b&b or shared house placement but the hospital have written a medical report stating that she is unsuitable for any type of shared accommodation. However no council could offer her a private flat or house so she is restricted to the PRS. My tenant has had a Care Act assessment by social services-was given 14 hours of care a week for when she finds a private tenancy. They offered no help with housing. As far as I can tell the tenant is looking for private housing alone as her hospital treatment has finished. The reason the hospital won’t discharge her without suitable accommodation is the suicide risk. But I live 200 miles away, I work full time, I have lots of other things going on in my life and I am tired. I just want it all over with so new tenants can move in and enjoy the property.

Robert Mellors

15:54 PM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 02/07/2019 - 15:34
Hi Fuming Landlord/Joyce,
you've said that "no council has a duty to her as she has not lived anywhere for over five years", but this restriction is in relation to her joining a housing waiting list, it is not a restriction that can be imposed in relation to the Council's statutory duties under the homelessness legislation.

It sounds as though she is being "fobbed off" by the Council's housing options department, and that they have not in fact accepted a homelessness application from her. She needs to make a formal homelessness application, and get a s184 decision letter from the council, and if they fail to accept a duty to rehouse her then the letter will give her a proper Right of Appeal.

If she does not have a s184 decision letter (s184 Housing Act 1996, as amended), then the council has not dealt with it as a homelessness application, they have just given her general "housing advice" (otherwise known as being fobbed off).

Under the homelessness legislation the council would have to provide her with suitable accommodation, they cannot simply say "we only have B&Bs so we cannot offer her anything as these are not suitable", they would have to find something more suitable, e.g. disabled room at local Travelodge as emergency accommodation, followed by a ground floor flat or bungalow as the longer term option. If these are still not suitable, they can do disability adaptations, and if that is still not suitable then the next option may be her going into a residential care home (via Social Services, not the Housing Dept).

Fuming Landlord

17:07 PM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert Mellors at 02/07/2019 - 15:54Hello Robert. Thank you very much for that advice. I am so confused. Maybe you can help. My tenant spoke to the manager at Housing Options and everything was explained to her. They do not have the facilities to provide homeless people with flats or bungalows. A hotel room wouldn’t be suitable for her as there would be nowhere for all of her furniture and possessions and for her mobility scooter. They told her they are unable to help with storing possessions or removals. Also she has been awarded 2 hours of care 7 days a week but the assessment was very clear that residential care would be inappropriate. Time is ticking away and the hospital want her out and I want her out. But the hospital won’t liaise with me and it seems the hospital can’t assist my tenant any further other than to safeguard her against returning to the area where she was previously living and to stop her returning to my property to pack up until she has found a landlord who is willing to accept her with no reference or guarantor. I don’t even know if I really will get my owed rent or if my tenant won’t bother paying it after she vacates. I do not understand why the DWP strip patients of so much vital benefit income after just 28 days when they are in hospital ill through no fault of their own. The last thing they need is the worry of and reality of becoming homeless and/or in severe debt when they are trying to get better. There is no safety net for landlords either. She applied for DHP and was turned DOWN-told by the council at the time to MOVE OUT and “find the cheapest one bedroom flat in the area”, which was very practical when she couldn’t physically access the property to pack, was suicidally mentally ill and had no cash to fund a move either. Then of course there was the problem of no reference and no guarantor as she already had rent arrears!!!

Robert Mellors

17:41 PM, 2nd July 2019
About 3 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 02/07/2019 - 17:07
Hi Joyce

The Council are either lying or misleading her (or if giving the council the benefit of the doubt, your tenant is misunderstanding them).
If she makes a homelessness application, and they accept that she is:
1. Eligible (e.g. not subject to immigration control)
2. Homeless (has no accommodation available to her that it is reasonable for her to occupy)
3. In priority need (basically, is more vulnerable that a normal healthy person would be if they were homeless, such that her health or welfare would be harmed)
then the Council have a legal duty to provide her with emergency (interim) accommodation (s188 Housing Act 1996), AND put her possessions into safe storage (s211 Housing Act 1996).
The Council will then go on to consider:
4. whether the person is intentionally homeless (has done, or failed to do, something that has caused her own homelessness)
5. Whether she has a local connection (6 months out of the last 12 months, or 3 years out of the last 5 years)
If she meets all criteria, then the Council will have a legal duty to secure longer-term SUITABLE accommodation for her (s193 Housing Act 1996).

NOTE: Although I managed a team of homelessness officers in a local authority, the law is complex and subject to judicial interpretation (case law), so I advise seeking professional legal advice. I am not a solicitor.

If the furniture and most possessions were in storage, then the Council could obtain temporary ground floor accommodation for your tenant, where a mobility scooter could be accommodated. It is up to the Council to find somewhere suitable, so this could be a hotel/guest house, or a flat/bungalow (private, council, or housing association), serviced accommodation, or anywhere else suitable (as at this stage the furniture would be in storage elsewhere). Your tenant could remain in the temporary (interim) accommodation until such time as the Council accept the full rehousing duty and are able to offer more permanent accommodation.

This is what the Council will have to do anyway when you get the court order for eviction, but they SHOULD be doing it now as she is homeless now (unreasonable to occupy).

1 2 7

Leave Comments

Please Log-In OR Become a member to reply to comments or subscribe to new comment notifications.

Forgotten your password?

OR

BECOME A MEMBER

Professional landlords drive BTL lending

The Landlords Union

Become a Member, it's FREE

Our mission is to facilitate the sharing of best practice amongst UK landlords, tenants and letting agents

Learn More