A. It is an awkward and unfortunate set of circumstances but one that is quite common. The legal standpoint all depends on whether the couple signed the ‘assured shorthold tenancy’ (AST) agreement together or whether one moved in with the other after the tenancy agreement had been signed.
For a couple who signed the agreement together, they are equally responsible for the legal terms of the tenancy and for the rent monies. Neither party has greater right to stay than the other so they need to reach an agreement with each other about how to proceed with the tenancy. They are ‘jointly and severally’ liable so as a landlord, you can claim the entire rent from either party. This isn’t necessarily the best course of action however. If they have been good tenants then showing compassion and working with them to reach agreement will be appreciated. It might save you the effort of finding new tenants in the long run as it is likely that one tenant will want to stay on in the property and will continue to cover the rent. In this case it is advisable to amend the tenancy agreement to only carry the name of the tenant who wishes to stay. If things don’t go well further down the line, then they could claim joint responsibility for the agreement and rent from their ex-partner and you could be left trying to claim owed rent from someone who moved out months ago.
If they both choose to end the tenancy early (depending on the tenancy type) then you could use the deposit money to cover your loss of income until you have secured new tenants. Either way, their change in circumstance shouldn’t leave you out of pocket.
For a couple where only one party signed the agreement (for example their boyfriend or girlfriend moved in with them later) then they are solely responsible for the terms of the tenancy and for the rent. They have the right to stay in the property and ask the other party to move out, however they must still continue to cover the rent. If they choose to move out and perhaps the ex-partner would like to stay then you will have to draw up a new tenancy agreement and ask the new tenant to sign it to ensure your legal rights are intact. You would also need to have something in writing from the existing tenant who is moving out that they are happy to hand the tenancy on to the ex-partner. Either way, it means there is no void period on the property, however you will have the inconvenience of creating a new tenancy agreement and signed. A word of caution however, it is advisable to carry out the same thorough tenant referencing and background checks on the ‘new’ tenant as you would do normally. Just because they have already been living in the property for a period of time, it isn’t a sufficient measure of what their behaviour might be like once their ex-partner leaves. It is vital to get a true picture of the tenant’s conduct whilst renting in order to avoid problems further down the line. We take this issue very seriously, in order to protect our client’s property and investment and avoid the expensive problem of having nightmare tenants in your property.
Finally, in the unlikely event that the couple originally signed separate tenancy agreements then things are a little more complicated. They are responsible only for the portion of rent specified in their agreement so if one chooses to leave then you will have to find another tenant to move into the property with the existing tenant to get the full rent due. If they originally signed separate agreements though, it won’t come as a surprise that they are expected to have an additional tenant to fulfil the rent.
We can advise further from a lettings point of view, and have an extensive vetting procedure as a standard part of our service, to help put your mind at ease. If you would like to discuss this or any other aspect of our letting or property management service then don’t hesitate to get in touch with the team via our contact us page.
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