Awkward tenant situation. Advice please

Hi everyone. I’ve been a landlord for many years without any issues, but I’m currently in a slightly unusual situation and would welcome some advice. Sorry in advance for the slightly long message.

New tenants (a couple on a joint contract) moved into my property very recently. Both have good jobs and seem very nice and polite. I was happy to take them on as tenants.

One off the tenants has just contacted me to let me know they have a serious medical condition and will require brain surgery in a few weeks time. I was very sympathetic as we discussed this. Hopefully they’ll be ok.

However, at the very end of the discussion, the tenant threw in the news that they were also breaking up with their partner (the other joint tenant). It’s a bit odd because they only moved in one month ago. The tenant explained that the plan was for their partner to leave, and for their foreign ‘student’ friend to move in! The friend is studying for a degree, and I’m told also has a part time job. I’ve since contacted the partner/joint tenant who has confirmed the break up.

Obviously the situation is complex, as I’m dealing with news of a serious medical situation and a break up, all at once. My way of dealing with this is to just focus on the break up situation, and thinking about how to deal with one person moving out at the start of a tenancy.

I don’t feel comfortable about letting to a student. Our property has never been a student house, and in normal circumstances I would always decline student applications. I have lots of interest in the property, and often get multiple offers from professional people.

As a temporary solution I was considering allowing the remaining tenant to allow her friend to live at the property as a permitted occupier only. If so, the friend would be the responsibility of the current tenants, rather than an actual listed tenant, and I would accept no rent from the friend. If I did this the tenancy agreement could remain the same, with the current joint tenants listed on it. ie. Still liable for rent and care of the property.

I should point out the the remaining tenant and ‘friend’ think they can manage the rent together.

The break clause is in about 5 months time, so I was going to suggest to the existing tenants that this arrangement (with the friend living at the flat) ran until I could give notice to end the tenancy.

Does this sound like a fair solution? Is there anything I need to think about before suggesting this to the tenants. Thanks in advance.

I am sorry to be cynical but have you evidence to support this?
Was this a ruse to change tenants so quickly?

Switch off your emotions and treat this as a business proposal. Take the diagnosis out of the equation.
Would you allow it if there was not mention of the diagnosis?
I would ask for written evidence. Having this kind of pathology is no joke. How is it going to impact their life? How are they going to pay for the rent?

Do the tenants have a guarantor as a fall back?
If you are willing to accommodate one leaving I would treat this as a new tenancy and reassess the situation again. Reference check both parties and ask for a medical letter confirming diagnosis. The student may be a high risk tenancy. If you don’t want to take on the risk do not take on the risk and let the tenant know.
Is the student a mature student, not just new home leaver? Mature students tend to be better behaved but in experience they have also been problematic ( professional tenants)
Students do normally have a loan and they can provide evidence to support this and if delayed they can provide evidence to support this. They also pay termly in line with their loans.

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As A-A said, the student tenant might be a risk.

But equally, a person possibly out of a job due to serious surgery might not be a person you want to be the tenant.

I would enquire about the medical condition, make sure that the person can pay rent and possibly require a quarantor for both if you are to release the healthy tenant.

A bit cynical but you can see the problems ahead if she undergoes surgery, doesn’t have enough money to pay rent etc. Are you going to evict her onto the street possibly?

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I’m afraid I agree with A_A. I suspect this may always have been their plan. To get the ill one settled in and then ask to change the tenancy. However, the advice would be the same whether it was planned or not. Do nothing. I would decline to change anything. One moving out doesn’t change their liability for the rent. They are still a tenant and you can sue them both for any arrears. If they want to change that then they both have to surrender with your permission. In a joint tenancy, the two people are indivisible and you can’t end the tenancy for only one of them. It’s also not in your interest to grant a new tenancy to someone who may lose their income for a period.

If the one who remains wants to move a friend in to help with the rent then thats their arrangement. I would give verbal permission for that assuming both tenants consent. You would only accept rent from the tenant, not their student lodger.

It’s not just the rent they have to manage, it’s the bills and Council Tax, (from which the student is exempt, so the tenant may have to pay that in full).

I would make them aware of all this and make clear that you need the new contact details for the one who is leaving.

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Hi. Thank you all very much for your comments and advice.

If I’m honest, I do feel a bit cynical about the situation. It seems very odd that they’ve only just moved in, seemed excited about the flat, but are now splitting up. I hate to not trust people but agree this might have always been the plan.

I currently have no evidence about the illness. Is this something I should ask for? I feel uncomfortable asking for this.

If I put the medical condition to one side, under normal circumstances I would not allow another person to move in like this, especially a student.

One other option is I suggest the tenancy comes to an end early. Maybe in October or November. This would allow time for medical treatment to go ahead (I’m told surgery is due fairly shortly) and time for the tenants to sort out new accommodation. Obviously this option would require the tenants agreement, and they may say no to this. If they say no, I’ll just have to suggest keeping the tenancy as it is until the break clause.

By the way, there is no guarantor in place. Both tenants have good jobs, especially the tenant who wants to stay. Even if I started again, with a new tenancy agreement, I don’t believe I could get a guarantor as both tenants are from abroad.

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I’ve also joined NRLA today so I can get further advice.

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Def don’t ask for evidence of their medical condition. It wouldn’t be covered by your GDPR policy and privacy notice as its a special category of data. Apart from that, you have no right or need to know it. You just need the rent paid and the property looked after.

I would just explain to them that I didn’t want to change anything formally at the moment, so whilst I understand the desire for one to move out, he remains a tenant.

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Moving house does test a relationship, but to break up with you partner when you’ve just moved into a new pad together and they’ve just been told they require brain surgery - wow!

I hate to distrust people, but I trust very few. I had a situation last year where I was told of a persons cancer diagnosis to buy favour. A few months on and guess what - no cancer.

I’m sorry I can’t offer any advice, although there appears to have been some very sound advice offered already by both A_A and Per. I shall continue to watch this topic with interest and I wish you luck in finding a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

Finally (assuming I’m too cynical for my own good) I hope your tenant’s surgery is successful for them.

I understand what David122 said about data protection.

There’s a big variation in the types of brain surgery, from a pituitary tumour which can be removed endoscopically through the nose (although does still require a recovery period) to full blown aggressive brain cancer requiring a stay in ICU afterwards. (A relative of mine has just undergone this and actually recovered very well from the surgery itself, but then had to endure radiotherapy and now chemotherapy for a few more months).

If the surgery is booked it would appear a diagnosis has already been made so I would guess you are entitled to ask how long they are likely to be out of action for and how they intend to support themselves afterwards.

A lot of very cynical takes in this thread, which I totally understand.
Having said that, let me play devil’s advocate: the other way to look at this is that they’ve been upfront & open with you, which if you’re looking for a long term relationship with the tenant is only a good thing. You’ll also need to be careful you’re not denying the tenant who’s having the surgery just due to their short term disability. Supporting them through this hopefully short term situation will most certainly end up with a very grateful tenant that will also be understanding if you can’t react immediately to something immediately in future due to unforeseen circumstances of your own.

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I agree that the landlord should not approach this cynically and should be supportive, taking things at face value. However, as I said, the surgery is not really the issue and the advice would be the same with or without it, namely that its better to decline to change the tenancy at this point and to keep both tenants in case, even with the best will, things go wrong.

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If the Brain surgery is correct and they have now declared it to you, requesting a doctors letter confirming this is no different than the verbal notice. If that’s your preferred route to request confirmation? They may fall back on they are splitting up!

The issue of Brain surgery is normally a long term issue, emergency surgery may be required but if scheduled why wasn’t the possibility and impact on rentals declared up front, prior signing the AST.

If you think the remaining tenant can afford the tenancy why are they saying another friend could live there and contribute to the rent. It may be they have not fully disclosed their circumstances which would have affected your initial decision to rent to them? You now have a different choice.

If you decide to leave the other tenant in or feel non disclosure was deliberate, do another AST, tighten the terms, get a guarantor, protect yourself.

Your decisions now are all about risk, the comments above are not negative just business experience from many accumulated years of hands on cases and advice.

“why wasn’t the possibility and impact on rentals declared up front, prior signing the AST”

You can’t require people to declare disabilities, and you can’t treat people who may need hospital treatment for long or short term differently. The fact that many landlords do is probably why they didn’t declare it upfront. If you’re doing this, then you’re probably in breach of the equalities act as disability is a protected characteristic. Indeed, I know some landlords here are still living in Victorian times, and would like to bring back workhouses, but discrimination on grounds of disability has been illegal since the 1995 disability discrimination act.

Let’s be clear - Having an op is not a disability. If a disability occurs as a result of the op then it is a disability.

Having a Brain surgery can be a low major op to full open surgery as a previous post stated. It was not clearly stated which applied. What was declared was that they are having brain surgery in the future, 1 month post the move in date. They would have been awaiting this date for sometime under current wait times. If it had been an emergency they would not have to wait weeks.

What was not declared was a pending circumstance that may affect their ability to fund the rent. This is the clear point undisclosed and it all comes down to the questions asked in the pre AST qualification by the Agent, Openrent or landlord interview, whether via questionnaire, phone , video or f2f.

A simple question that requests ’ are there any pending or future circumstances that may affect your ability to fund the rent’ is both fair, reasonable and contradicts no legislative act.

Declared verbal information, either pre or post occupation, which is followed up, is not discriminatory.

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The suspicion about the whole scenario is they allege a diagnosis of cancer and the ‘partner’ breaks up.
Most people, when confronted with the diagnosis of cancer of their partner, don’t pack up and leave; they support the person through the problem.
The oncology waiting list is an arm long at the moment as a result of the pandemic.
This looks like a calculated scenario and as such you need to ensure your interest is not affected. You have no obligation to change the contract to suit the situation.

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over the last 20 years i can remember two couples who broke up within 2 months of living together, Boy and girl living apart may get on great . Living together is a different un rosy situation

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An operation can absolutely be a disability if there’s a long term effect, such as a long recovery period (quite likely after major surgery). If there’s no long term effect, then there’s nothing that would need to be declared to the landlord anyway as the tenant won’t be expecting any loss of income from it.

Not to mention that health data (and sex-life, for that matter, so the relationship break-up also falls under this) is special category data under GDPR, it’s not best practice to process special category data for lettings & usually requires explicit consent from the tenant if you’re going to record it.

https://ico.org.uk/for-organisations/guide-to-data-protection/guide-to-the-general-data-protection-regulation-gdpr/lawful-basis-for-processing/special-category-data/#scd3

In short, stay as far away from recording the health data of tenants as possible - it’s a pain to deal with & very easy to fall foul of the law.

As far as the surgery is concerned if they are continuing being paid and not self employed it hopefully will not present any problems.

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That’s what I said but your info adds more data to the consideration. It certainly does not add information to “I’m having brain surgery”, it could be to add some brain power! Flippant I know but we are talking about whether the stressed landlord is being flipped and options!

Hi Rent Now Landlord
Having read your query and many of the responses I thought I would add another perspective. I have been a Landlord for about 20 years and have come across a bait and switch con which I thought might be worth mentioning. It is where a “more eligible person” takes a tenancy and then subs in someone else who would be unable to get the tenancy directly, then gets that person added to lease and moves out themselves leaving the tenancy in the hands of the other party. I have had this tried this on me a couple of times but fortunately I found out before any paperwork was signed. I take on board that this tenant may be genuinely ill and have no wish to offend if this is genuinely the case however I have learnt to be pragmatic and it may be a scenario worth considering particularly in terms of the way in which the illness and the breakup have happened so quickly and your point of " at very end of the discussion, the tenant threw in the news".

I think you would be wise to leave it in the name of current tenant and ensure they know that it remains their financial responsibility although the “student” if they really are a student could be a permitted tenant with no right of tenure… Therefore you would not end up with just the “student” who really cannot afford the propertywiht right of tenure on the AST and the possibility of a legal battle to get them out. In one of the cases I experienced that “student” was an illegal immigrant with a child who the applicant claimed was his girlfriend - a story that he threw in after I offered him the tenancy but before papers were signed. Dripfeeding a story and change of story is always a red flag to me). It would remain the responsibility of the tenant on the current AST to ensure the rent is paid even if the “student” contributes and should the current tenant decide to leave both parties would have to go which would protect your position.

Regards

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I agree with the others, better don’t change the tenancy agreement. The two original tenants are jointly and severally liable to pay the rent (I assume, but depends on your tenancy agreement). You can allow the student as a lodger, but it will still be the original tenants who have to pay the rent, including the one who moved out. How these three people split the rent will be up to them. If they are all honest, this should be good enough for them.

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