Your tenants parting ways isn’t just a potentially stressful and emotional moment for your tenants themselves – it could also present a fair few headaches for you as a landlord.
There is a wide range of scenarios that can apply, and therefore a wide range of solutions that you could turn to in the event of a tenant breakup. The best course of action for you is likely to be influenced by factors ranging from the amicability of the breakup and the amount of time left on the lease, to the ability of any remaining tenant to afford the lease on their own.
So, let’s cycle through some of the obvious questions you might ask yourself, the answers to which will help you to take the steps that best serve the needs of both you and your tenants.
Are they joint tenants?
A ‘joint tenancy’ is one where both tenants signed the tenancy agreement when they moved in. If this is the case for the agreement you have with the separating tenants, they will have the same rights and responsibilities, but will each be jointly and individually responsible for rent payments.
This means that in the event of one of your tenants moving out of the rental property without giving notice or continuing to pay their fair share of the rent, you will be able to claim the outstanding rent from the other joint tenant. It also means that if the joint tenants withhold rent, you will be entitled to take court action against them.
If, however, each tenant signed a separate tenancy agreement and they split up, there will be separate tenancy agreements for you to deal with.
Or did only one person sign the tenancy agreement?
If only one person’s signature is on the tenancy agreement and the other person in the property wishes to stay, you have a number of options before you.
It should be noted, though, that the departing tenant will still need to give you the required notice, and will remain liable for the rent for that period. Also, the partner whose name isn’t on the tenancy agreement will have no legal rights to stay in the property. You would therefore be entitled to ask the remaining occupant of the property to leave. However, it might be a better move for everyone concerned to reference the person who wishes to stay and accept them as a tenant – at least as long as they’ve been good tenants.
If you are taking the latter route, though, we would certainly urge you to carry out the referencing as soon as possible for your own peace of mind. Provided that the reference comes back satisfactory, you can then either transfer the existing tenancy agreement into the remaining partner’s name, or arrange a new tenancy for them.
If you wish the remaining partner to leave, you should be aware that it’s possible for them to apply to a court for an ‘occupation order’ giving them the right to stay in the property. However, it isn’t very common for courts to issue such orders, and the cost of obtaining one can run into several thousand pounds, so it’s unlikely that the remaining occupant of the property would pursue this route.
What if the couple separate within the initial fixed term?
Whatever the status of their relationship, if the tenants signed a tenancy agreement for a fixed term – generally the first six months of an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) – they are liable for the whole period’s rent.
Again, though, in a situation like a breakup, a pragmatic compromise may be the best route forward for everyone. So if, for example, neither partner wishes to remain in the property, you could agree to immediately advertise for a new tenant, on the understanding that as soon as you find one, the existing tenants will be released from their agreement.
Alternatively, perhaps joint tenants wish to end a periodic tenancy?
A periodic tenancy is one that rolls from one month or week to the next with no set end date, or that perhaps did have an end date that was not renewed. This type of tenancy gives one or any other joint tenant the option to end the tenancy by giving you, the landlord, a valid written ‘notice to quit’. This can be done without the other joint tenant’s agreement. While the amount of notice that must be given might be outlined in the tenancy agreement, if this is not the case, you must be given at least one month’s notice for a monthly tenancy, and four weeks’ notice for a weekly tenancy.
If a joint tenant does wish to end a tenancy and notice to quit has already been provided, you might be asked by the remaining tenant to grant them a new tenancy in their sole name. Alternatively, the remaining tenant may seek your approval if someone else is willing to take the departing tenant’s place. Whether or not you agree to a new tenancy with the person who wishes to stay is up to you as a landlord.