Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

by Readers Question

9:55 AM, 3rd July 2019
About 7 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

Fuming Landlord

5:20 AM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Daniel at 07/07/2019 - 00:42
I did read her arguments about people not being forced to move out of London. She wasn’t meaning that everybody should have the right to live in London if they like it there. What she meant is that people should not be forced to move 50 miles from where they have lived all their lives if the loss of that family and friends network is going to ruin their lives and/or mean that they lose their existing employment. Imagine if you are a single mother who relies on your parents and friends for childcare, your landlord decides to sell your home so you lose the roof over your head but then you can’t find anywhere else because you only work part time so your income is low and you receive HB top up. You are forced to go through the humiliation of eviction in order to get council housing and then they tell you sorry we can’t house you here you need to go to a place 60 miles away and you need to go tonight! You can’t afford the travel costs to commute back to London for your job so you lose your employment plunging you into further poverty. You have to find new schools for your children. A new GP. You can’t get another job as you haven’t got your family and friends around you for childcare. You feel lonely and isolated.
Karen Buck is right. Genuine Londoners shouldn’t be forced to move away from the area where all their family and friends are. But London councils should not accept a duty to anyone else.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

14:46 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Paul Maguire at 06/07/2019 - 09:34
Wonderful Paul. The poor lady desperately needs help. One of the saddest cases I have heard of. As a landlord, I have forgiven tenants their rent in far less heart-wrenching cases than this.

Why aren;t 'Shelter', da Kouncil, Social Services, IDS (Ian Duncan Smith - the creator of UC) stepping up to the plate? Come on Polly Neate, do something with your, what is it, £67million annual 'charity' budget!

If ever there was a case for state assistance, this is it. But the state is busy looking after free loaders.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

14:55 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Daniel at 04/07/2019 - 21:40
Chris, the yanks have a wonderful saying:
IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT.
Mrs. Thatcher's HA 1988 set up a perfectly good system which was working well. There was no need to mess around with it.

Paul Maguire

15:08 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Frederick Morrow-Ahmed at 07/07/2019 - 14:46
Frederick. Freeloaders are easy to deal with as you just give them the money they want and ignore the fact that they're depleting your budget. Bi-polar means high maintenance and constant abuse in many cases. Some people get dealt a rubbish hand in life.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

15:28 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Paul Maguire at 07/07/2019 - 15:08
Paul, I totally agree with you. This lady has been dealt an awful hand in life by fate (I wonder what her family history is, parents?). I can't think of any other word than heart-wrenching.

This is where the state needs to drop everything else and come to her aid. This is the sort of thing that da Kouncil should be concerned with, rather than useless 'Licence Conditions'.

Frederick Morrow-Ahmed

15:36 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Daniel at 07/07/2019 - 00:42
Chris, I hadn't read this very exhaustive and informative comment of yours before replying. Very interesting and well done for getting involved.

I am ceasing any further comment because it is digressing from the subject matter, which is about this vulnerable tenant in hospital. I really hope this gets resolved with a satisfactory outcome for both parties.

Fuming Landlord

15:39 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Paul Maguire at 07/07/2019 - 00:23
Ok Paul. I will explain how it’s a disability discrimination/Equality Act issue.. Her rent arrears are directly due to her disability as she is in hospital because of her disability and due to being in hospital they cut her benefits. Her argument is that the kicking in of the door and the assault that followed are what drove her to try to commit suicide in the first place and as a direct result she ended up nearly dying and several days unconscious in intensive care. Then she agreed to willing go to a mental hospital they didn’t have to force her. Then her benefits were cut a month later in August. In November they tried discharging her but she felt so unsafe in the flat that it was all too much and within 36 hours she was nearly dead a second time. This time it took two ambulance crews plus an emergency paramedic to work on her and she was extremely lucky to live. So she stayed in the general hospital for a month on suicide watch after which they sectioned her to force her to go back to the mental hospital where it was decided she must never return to the property or to live in the same town. Obviously druggies and scum bags can kick doors in but the women behind this apparently were opportunists who were aware that a vulnerable adult lived there. She had been recruiting Carers to work for her directly on a Facebook and it seems one of the applicants started threatening her and told these three women who kicked the door in that they could easily do it. The letting agent did confirm that there was no identifiable damage to the door and the tenant has said that it flew open immediately with just one blow/kick. Hence the police wouldn’t do anything on the basis that she hadn’t made the property secure. She has been stuck in the hospital with nowhere else to go for a year now because she lost her benefit income (due to the incident a year ago and the resulting impact on her mental health) and cannot find a new place as she has no landlord reference due to the arrears and the arrears are due to her disability because they are due to her benefits being cut which is due to her being in hospital which is because of what happened in the property.

Fuming Landlord

15:55 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

The Sisters at the convent told me that she has no living family except an elderly mother who lives some distance away and is too ill herself to be of any help other than to lend her daughter a small amount of money for a deposit and months rent upfront to get a new place. She certainly couldn’t afford the rent arrears or to be a guarantor. The tenant keeps telling me she is viewing places and landlords are offering her places but nothing seems to come of any of them. I suspect she is lying to me in an attempt to put off being evicted for as long as possible but I may be wrong. Shelter haven’t an office in the area where the property is so I doubt they will be able to help her although she could always call their emergency line though what good would that do her?

Paul Maguire

16:51 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 07/07/2019 - 15:39
I'm so sorry Joyce. I hadn't realised that this has been going on for a whole year. Reread your original question and now noticed the "15th July last year". I was thinking it was just a couple of months.
I would suspect the other landlords of not wanting to be seen to discriminate rather than the tenant lying. I do now understand your liability worry from the front door but there seems to be plenty of other contributing individuals to the violent incident that should dilute the claim against you. Maybe the ex-carer had loosened the screws holding the latch or lock and was then able to tell her friends about how easy it would be to kick it in. Given the circle of friends she has it wouldn't surprise me.
I would however be surprised if Shelter were able to offer any meaningful help. The whole situation is obviously a nightmare for both you and the tenant.

Fuming Landlord

17:39 PM, 7th July 2019
About 6 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Paul Maguire at 07/07/2019 - 16:51
No the lock hadn’t been tampered with but it was just a simple lock and there was no latch or chain on it. If it had been loosened it would have fallen off and it was perfectly intact when the police arrived and examined the door. I forget what they call the locks-you have a Yale key, it’s near the top of the door and the lock goes across the other side. There is no intercom access on the outside of the building as the management company never fitted it for any of the 7 flats so the main door downstairs has to be left on the latch so that the postman and parcel couriers and everyone else can access the flats. The letting agent presumed the front door didn’t need to be secure as there has never been a break-in before. He did eventually fit bolts on the back of the door but that was long after the tenant was hospitalised. I had no idea that the property was so insecure. The tenant didn’t know for sure that they were connected to the woman she interviewed for the carers position who started threatening her when she decided not to employ her she only suspected it as how else would they have known it was so easy to break in and that she had money in the flat and was vulnerable!!! She has been unable to get a social worker to return her calls to social services citing her need for a Care Act assessment and help and support at home hence she was advertising on Facebook but struggling to find anyone with the suitable experience who could work the hours she needed. Her argument is that everyone has the right to feel safe inside their home and if the door had been properly secure anybody attempting to kick it in would have been unsuccessful so she wouldn’t have been attacked, threatened and robbed and she would have been able to dial 999 for immediate police assistance whilst the attempt to break in was in progress. She wouldn’t have had the breakdown so wouldn’t have tried to end her life and wouldn’t have had to go to hospital as she was mentally very stable at the time and would have continued to live in the property and pay her rent in full. She would have a quality of life as well that she has not had in hospital. She has lost £12k in benefits income in a year in hospital. Some of that is rent arrears and some is other bills she couldn’t pay.

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