Evicting vulnerable tenant in hospital – Landlord Action response

by Readers Question

9:55 AM, 3rd July 2019
About 5 months 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

Seething Landlord

23:41 PM, 7th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 07/07/2019 - 17:39I look forward to the next thrilling installment of this amazing saga. You couldn't make it up!

Robert Mellors

0:34 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

It does seem to me that perhaps the landlord could have made the door to the property more secure before she let it, BUT the tenant could also have taken appropriate steps to secure her door if she had wanted more security (or could have asked the landlord to provide better locks etc) but she did not do this (or ask for it to be done).

While the burglars do appear to have gained entry with relative ease, to a large extent a burglar can gain entry to a property, if they are determined, even if a reinforced door with multi-point locking is used. I have had this happen so often that I now reinforce external doors, and the door-frames (both sides), with full length steel strips.

All the other issues, rent arrears, suicide attempt, benefits being stopped, hospitalisation, inability to find other accommodation, etc, etc, is not caused by the landlord. The landlord should not be responsible for the tenant's decisions, i.e. the tenant has chosen to stay away from the property (perhaps for a valid reason, but it is still her decision), the tenant has chosen to attempt suicide, the tenant has chosen to allow the rent arrears to continue accruing (she could have surrendered her tenancy, - see my earlier posts about her being statutorily homeless anyway), she could have had her Housing Benefit continued if she had expressed an intention to return.

While I do have a lot of sympathy for the tenant and her predicament, as I believe she has perhaps been badly advised, she has nevertheless made those decisions herself and is now suffering the consequences. There are still things she can do to help her situation, but IMO blaming the landlord for EVERYTHING is not going to resolve anything for her.

Fuming Landlord

6:44 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert Mellors at 08/07/2019 - 00:34
The tenant felt that the door was very unsafe and approached the letting agent about it before she even moved in. She offered to pay for an extra lock herself. But the letting agent said as there had never been a problem before that there was nothing to worry about and he told her NOT to fit another lock. Actually instructed her not to. I have had that conversation with the letting agent about this. Her case is that she attempted suicide because she was so traumatised by the visit from the women. The Mother Superior at the convent is very close to the tenant and actually told the letting agent that this incident had a devastating effect on the tenant and turned her into a nervous wreck as she no longer felt safe in the property and was so frightened. It caused the tenant’s mental breakdown and subsequent suicide attempt.
The tenant lost most of her income after 28 days in hospital hence the arrears. She no longer felt safe to return to the property either so the hospital decided she needed to find somewhere else but what landlord would want a tenant who:
- is on benefits.
- is not currently receiving their DLA and Severe Disability Premium so cannot prove that they are entitled to those benefits.
- Can’t even afford to pay all their current bills with the income which is left from their current benefits that are left
- Has no guarantor
- Probably now has adverse credit from getting behind with bills that they can’t afford to pay due to lost benefit income
- Has no landlord reference but a current tenancy where they owe over £2000 in rent arrears.

How could she surrender her tenancy when the property is full of her furniture and belongings and she is physically stuck in hospital due to her physical disability and can only get up the stairs if an ambulance crew bring her? (The Hospital are going to the expense of hiring a private ambulance crew to carry her up the three flights of stairs to the property and down again on the day they pack her stuff up and move her to her new property when they find her one). She has had no money to move and store her belongings either as if she had money she wouldn’t be in rent arrears. She isn’t in rent arrears through choice and she isn’t in hospital through choice. The Mother Superior of the convent visits her regularly and has made it clear to the letting agent that she isn’t happy there and isn’t even receiving any treatment. But she has no safe place to go as yet apparently.

Her housing benefit continues to cover over 2/3 of her rent.

Fuming Landlord

6:47 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 08/07/2019 - 06:44Separate question regarding the serving of a Section 21. Does the name of the tenant need to be their correct birth name? I have written the shortened version of the tenants name. Say if the tenant’s full name was Bethany and I wrote Beth. Does that mean I am going to have to start all over again??? I genuinely did not know that the tenant had a longer name as the letting agent gave me the shortened name. Then I looked at the tenancy agreement. Duh. This is why I need to start keeping a better eye on my own properties.

Fuming Landlord

7:03 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Robert Mellors at 08/07/2019 - 00:34
I have also learned that in December the tenant was so overwhelmed by debt that she decided she was leaving hospital and returning “home” to the property to pay it all off as she was feeling well again after a month in a different hospital and thought she would be ok. But the hospital’s reaction was to Section her under the Mental Health Act even though she was mentally stable because they strongly believed that her safety and welfare and possibly her life would be at risk if she was to return to the property. So she didn’t “choose to stay away from the property” if that was the case as I assume you can’t leave hospital if you are sectioned? She has got a case I can see but now it appears that I may have wrongly served the notice after all of this.

Robert Mellors

8:53 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 08/07/2019 - 06:44
Hi Fuming Landlord

I did not realise that she had actually brought the inadequate locks to the attention of the letting agent, and had been refused permission to add additional security (better lock, another lock, etc). The letting agent acts on YOUR behalf, so I believe you are liable to the tenant for the actions of the letting agent, though of course if they acted incompetently or against the terms of the letting agreement, you may be able to sue the agent. I presume you are no longer using the services of this letting agent at any of your properties?

As you (your agent) were made aware of the insecurity of the property prior to the incident, and you (the agent acting on your behalf) refused to improve the security or even allow the tenant to improve the security, then IMO you may be liable to some extent for the ease of entry by the burglars, but that still does not mean that you would be liable for all subsequent events that have lead to the current situation as they were not reasonably foreseeable.

Robert Mellors

8:58 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 08/07/2019 - 06:47
The name on the s21 Notice and s8 Notice, and on any court application, should be the same as it appears on the actual tenancy agreement.

If it was your agent who served the notices, then they should have known this and ensured that it was served correctly. If they failed to do this, then you may have a claim against the letting agent. If you prepared and served the notices yourself, then you only have yourself to blame if the case is thrown out and you have to start all over again.

Paul Maguire

9:13 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

This whole story does show how the letting agent's poor decision not to change the lock can snowball into a total disaster of a situation. It's like not installing fire safety measures because "there's never been a fire before". As you say Joyce, the tenant does seem to have a case against you, but the amount of liability will be decided by the magistrate. At least your serving an eviction notice will bring things to a head and although it'll probably cost you, at least the stress from the past year will be gone. If this is allowed to drag on longer, who knows how it would affect your own health.
I doubt I'll ever forget this real-life tragedy so please let us know the story's ending. It'll certainly make me think about future ramifications before I make a snap decision over a tenant's small request. The saddest part is that you both come across as good people swept away by a tsunami started and magnified by others. I hope it reaches a satisfactory conclusion for both of you and at least in your case it's only money.

Seething Landlord

9:56 AM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Fuming Landlord at 08/07/2019 - 06:44Are you receiving direct payment of housing benefit? If so, are you confident that it will not be subject to claw back?
Is the tenant likely to seek a rent repayment order?

CARIDON LANDLORD SOLUTIONS

17:54 PM, 8th July 2019
About 5 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Seething Landlord at 08/07/2019 - 09:56
Agreed, it may be worthwhile working with the tenant to see whether you can assist her in contacting Housing Benefit to see why her claim was ended as it may be a case of requesting a backdate for the missing period.

1 5 6 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

Landlords - no more excuses please

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