Probably the last thing any landlord wants to do is wade into a divorce dispute, but they should be prepared to get a little bit dirty as tenancy rights come into it. As a businessperson, you have to protect your investment, and most married couples will have signed a joint tenancy that stipulates certain obligations on their side and yours.
You have to be careful that you don't overstep your boundaries – legal or otherwise. A lawyer can help you determine your obligations and entitlements, but here are a few things you should bear in mind if joint tenants are getting divorced.
Both tenants are still legally obligated to pay the lease: If both spouses signed the original tenancy agreement, then both are liable to pay the rent, regardless of whether they are still living on the property.
This can be rectified by drawing up a new agreement, but be sure to seek legal advice before doing so, as you will only be making this agreement with one of the two spouses, and you'll want to protect yourself from any possible repercussions.
Both tenants are still legally entitled to remain in the apartment: Another complication arising from a joint tenancy is that you are still obliged to give both spouses access to the flat. Changing locks on the door or denying one of the tenants access in any other way would be a violation of the tenancy agreement.
If one of the tenants is willing to surrender their right to the tenancy, then it can be legally transferred to the remaining tenant. Otherwise, a court order is necessary for you to deny either tenant access. In this case, the tenant who issued the court order need only provide you with a copy of the document in order to free you from your obligations towards the other party.
On the other hand, tenants who feel they are being unjustly forced out of a property can apply for an Occupation Order, which may enable them to remain on the property even if their name was not on the original tenancy agreement. Be sure to bring these options to the attention of your tenants in the event of an impending divorce.
Who pays the rent?
Naturally, as a landlord, you'll be concerned about whether the remaining tenant has the means to pay the rent. When the tenancy agreement was signed, you would have evaluated the financial situation of the couple rather than each individual.
There are options available to tenants who find themselves in such a predicament. They can apply for housing benefit, which will provide a contribution to their rent; the extent of which depends on their income and circumstances. They can also approach a debt advice charity for assistance. As a landlord, the best way to protect your investment and remain sympathetic to your tenants’ plight at the same time is to bring such options to their attention.
The divorcees will be entitled to legal assistance and protection, but as a landlord you should be sure to consult your own lawyer as well. When it comes to legal rights and responsibilities, you should never wing it, always consult a solicitor or legal counselor and make sure you understand exactly what’s included in your tenancy agreement.