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About 3 weeks ago 46
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.
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.
Dear Joyce, I have asked Paul Shamplina and his team at Landlord Action to assist with your question and have received their response below:
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:
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.
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