Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

by Readers Question

9:55 AM, 3rd July 2019
About 8 months ago

Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

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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

Mike T

12:32 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Oh what a sad state of affairs. I feel really sorry for you Joyce and somewhat for your tenant. It seems that she is not getting the help - real practical help - that she should get. I think that most of various suggestions of the way forward will have given you a good idea of what to do. Also, at this point one has to wonder where the hell are the charitable organisations ? Shelter ??? etc etc..... ? The local councils will always pass the buck. Good luck for the future.

Patricia R

16:43 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert Mellors at 02/07/2019 - 12:00
Robert is correct. My council rehoused my tenant who became very disabled into a bungalow that they reserve for the disabled and elderly.

colette

19:33 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 02/07/2019 - 19:11
you referred in your first post to having a deputy. A financial deputy is appointed by the court of protection to manage the affairs of someone who is deemed to lack capacity in this area (usually via a medical) under the mental capacity act 2005. Most of these orders relate to people with dementia, followed by mental health issues (which bi polar is) and learning difficulties. The other deputy order is a deputy for health and welfare decisions where the person is unable to make the decision for themselves and they usually fall into the same bracket as above, ie if somone had dementia or a learning difficulty etc. If you google Office of the Public guardian it explains in more detail

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

20:55 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Monty Bodkin at 02/07/2019 - 20:00
I do not take higher risk tenants but I do reduce rents. Not only do I not take higher risk tenants but I am extremely selective on the tenants I do take. In order to be selective, I need to get a very large response. In order to get this very large response I pitch my rents at least 10% below the other asking rents. So, when a crème de la crème tenant is taken on by me, he/she is already on a rent heavily discounted to market rent.

In early 2008 I took on a tenant at £475 pcm (already discounted to the prevailing market rent). With the financial crisis I reduced her rent in three stages to £433 pcm. She is still on that rent (current market rent in this part of London ca £650 pcm) as it has been my practice not to increase rents.

However, because of rogue government regulations and rogue licensing conditions imposed by councils I am stopping all renting and exiting the market altogether as a landlord. Karen Buck MP has coined the term “Revenge Evictions”. I am calling mine the “Karen Buck Evictions”. Tenants who for many years had highly affordable rents in London (an unheard of and highly prized commodity) are now having to find accommodation at full market rents. Incidentally, when I mentioned to the Council that I was doing a public service by providing accommodation in London at such discounted affordable rents, I was told by the inspecting officer that she wasn’t interested in the rents I was asking, only in meeting the Council’s jackass “Licensing Conditions”! When I said this to my tenants, they couldn’t believe what they heard. They were far more interested in the rents they were paying and couldn’t give a toss about the Council’s “Conditions”.

It begs the question, whose interests do the laws, the government and the councils serve? Certainly not the tenants’.

Something is might rotten in the State of Denmark.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

21:06 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Mike T at 04/07/2019 - 12:32
Excellent comment. Why isn't "Shelter" providing shelter? After all, that's what their name says they do!

Monty Bodkin

21:28 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Frederick Morrow-Ahmed at 04/07/2019 - 20:55
In order to get this very large response I pitch my rents at least 10% below the other asking rents. So, when a crème de la crème tenant is taken on by me, he/she is already on a rent heavily discounted to market rent.
In early 2008 I took on a tenant at £475 pcm (already discounted to the prevailing market rent). With the financial crisis I reduced her rent in three stages to £433 pcm. She is still on that rent (current market rent in this part of London ca £650 pcm) as it has been my practice not to increase rents.
However, because of rogue government regulations and rogue licensing conditions imposed by councils I am stopping all renting and exiting the market altogether as a landlord.

So in retrospect, do you think subsidising your tenants rent was a good business plan?

Chris Daniel

21:40 PM, 4th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Frederick Morrow-Ahmed at 04/07/2019 - 20:55
Fred, I love your term, " Karen Buck Evictions " ;-)))

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

17:52 PM, 5th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Monty Bodkin at 04/07/2019 - 21:28
Monty, it was not done purely for altruistic reasons but for sound business ones. It enabled me to get on with other things in my life. Tenants knew they were on to a very good thing, stayed put and were highly cooperative. I got a quiet life. The business model of low rents and low turnover versus one of high rents and high turnover (plus high aggro) usually favours the former when looked at over a longer timeframe.

But this was all done under the framework of Section 21 and no rent controls. I would not do this without the benefit of these two.

I have learnt from Property118 that landlords work in many different market sectors and my hats off and gross admiration for those taking on benefit tenants and tenants whom fate has dealt an unfortunate hand, such as the author of this thread. They have the strength and courage I do not possess.

I personally have had enough and am exiting the market. I have been a London landlord since 1976 (abroad for the first ten of those years) and can say that the amount of sheer bureaucracy that is being dumped on us makes anyone planning to stay on a glutton for punishment.

Fuming Landlord

21:20 PM, 5th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Frederick Morrow-Ahmed at 05/07/2019 - 17:52
Fred I am so full of admiration for you! There is no way that even Shelter could call you serving Section 21s on these poor tenants “revenge evictions” as you aren’t repossessing your properties to punish them for anything they have done, its purely for reasons which have nothing to do with your tenants at all. “Revenge evictions” refer to these bad landlords who serve a Section 21 on their tenants in direct response to complaints about disrepair for example which the bad landlord does not wish to pay to fix. You have fantastic relationships with your tenants and they have had no cause to complain to you because they have been paying crazily low rents!!

Fuming Landlord

21:53 PM, 5th July 2019
About 8 months ago

Regarding my own matter I have decided just to take my tenant to court. I cannot believe her nerve. She has been emailing me telling me she has a counterclaim against me under the Equality Act and that I owe her for all of the benefit income which she has lost since 28 days after she was hospitalised in July last year. Her argument is that she didn’t think the front door to the property was safe and she advised the letting agent of this but he told her that it was fine and refused to do anything. The locked door was then kicked in weeks later and she was assaulted, threatened and robbed and she states that it was the fear of that which drove her to her breakdown and to attempt suicide and to near-death. As a result the services did not want to send her back there as she was so traumatised even though the letting agent then fitted bolts onto the back of the door. It was too little too late. The hospital kept her till November by which point she had virtually no money and she had paid me in full up till September. After that she was in arrears as her housing benefit only covered two thirds of the rent and that’s all I was receiving.

They sent her home in November but within a day and a half she had attempted suicide again. She says she was not only physically stuck in the flat as it’s unsuitable for her but she was absolutely terrified that the people who had kicked in the door or someone else would come back and there would be a repeat despite the bolts now on the back of the door. She nearly died both times she says but the second time was extremely close. So the hospital decided she could never return to the flat as it wasn’t safe for her to do so and that she shouldn’t return to the area either to get away from the trauma.

Her options for housing were very limited. She wanted to rent privately elsewhere but the letting agent refused to provide any type of reference to help her get rehoused and out of hospital and the property so the hospital had no option but to keep her in and so she continued to lose £235 a week in income and to run up approximately £230 per month in rent arrears. She first asked the letting agent for help in November and has repeatedly asked since January. Am I responsible for what the letting agent did/didn’t do/allegedly did/didn’t do? Really? I have told her that it is affecting my family as I can’t afford the mortgage. But this isn’t actually true I am a large portfolio landlord and this property isn’t even mortgaged as I own it. The tenant says she knows I am lying about it affecting my family as I can’t afford the mortgage because the letting agent told her she would never meet me or have dealings with me due to me being a “rich large portfolio landlord”. She says her solicitor can find out the truth of this. Can her solicitor get a complete list of all of my properties? Will this count against me? I just need any help anybody can give me in defending this. I need the most robust defence possible against this money-grabbing leech. I need her out and I need my rent arrears in full. Thank you to all who have been advising me already.

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