Problem with tenant - legal advice needede re Notice to Quit

(71 Posts)
iago Thu 10-Jan-13 20:36:35

More of a WWYD but would appreciate some imput. Sorry, this will be long.
We have a 2 bed flat which we have let out to a young single mother (X) for over 3 years. Initially the rent was paid in full by Housing Benefit. A year ago, she got an evening job and Housing Benefit was reduced. X was thrilled to have a job and paid the rest of the rent into our account without fail until Oct. I sent her a text reminding her of her commitment, and eventually she sent a text apologising, explaining she had lost her job and was trying to sort things out. As we have never had any problems with her in the past, we decided not to hassle her. (Also past experience has shown us that HB's wheels run slowly!)
In November, however, no payment from her again and she did not reply to my texts - which were not hostile. Same again in December, so we sent a recorded delivery letter which was returned to us this week. Yesterday evening we went to the flat and there was no-one in.
Today we let ourselves into the flat and found a mountain of mail in the hall. The electricity was off - cut off? - and every room had been trashed: clothes, toys etc everywhere and doors off hinges. It was clear she had been co-habiting as there were men's clothes and a note from a spurned lover. We suspect that there was a third adult living there as the 3 rooms had been rearranged as 3 bedrooms.
We are changing the locks tomorrow as we don't know who has keys to the place - and we don't want any more damage done.
So WWYD? We have to get the place straight and clean, possibly redecorated, for a new tenant. As soon as the Council know X has gone, we will lose all the rent and will be liable for Council Tax. We can't serve her with a Notice to Quit as we don't know where she is. WweBU to pack up all the stuff strewn all over the place and take it to the tip so we can get the place cleaned -you cannot see the floors in the main rooms. Or would this be illegal? (Dumping the stuff that is, not cleaning up!) Has she forfeited her rights to the flat by her actions?
Does anyone have any experience in this area? I have to add that we are really upset over this as we were fond of X. She was so proud of the way she had turned her life around and now it seems as if she has messed up big time. I'm particularly sad about all the daughter's stuff we will have to throw away.
Thank you for reading.

holidaysarenice Fri 11-Jan-13 00:54:14

I had a tenant who flitted and claimed for another property, I raised it with hb and they paid for the extra two weeks until I got a tenant. I don't know how long they wud do it for but its a good idea to ring them.

holidaysarenice Fri 11-Jan-13 00:57:47

If the electric is cut off I wud say she has abandoned. I'm pretty sure if u ring the electric company they will no she has flitted. Ditto hb, ring and they will tell you if she informed them that she has moved out. Then its all yours.

Can you say that you knocked on the door, no reply and you heard running water in the flat?
And as you hadn't heard from your Tenant for X number of weeks, you were suspicious at the running water . And if there are people below the flat, you were concerned about the risk of water damage.
So you had to enter the flat to check (would that count as an emergency) ?

And surely by moving someone else in, has she broken the terms of her tenancy?

iago Fri 11-Jan-13 01:58:49

Well, I am not used to such traffic on my usual site, and thanks to all who replied. It's really tricky because we have been so hands off - ironic we have been advised that we could be harassing our tenant! - yet round in a flash when the oven/shower/washing machine broke - and now I feel awful because we weren't on the case in Oct/Nov when she failed to pay her share of the rent a few times. Have had a horrible night because OH has rejected every piece of advice here on grounds that yes, that is the law, but common sense would prevail even in a court of law and it wouldn't get that far anyway... Plus worrying about X. I feel drained.
When we 'took on' X, we were told that this was her last chance: she had to make it as she wouldn't be re-homed again by the local authority. We picked her and her little girl up from a refuge - not in her home city - with a few bin bags of belongings and worked with her, gradually less and less as her confidence grew.
She made the flat her own and was so proud of it and the way her life was going, especially when she got her job and was able to contribute to her rent. I think she was fine on her own, but must have got a bloke who moved in. Obviously we didn't know about him because it would have gone against her tenancy agreement and would have affected her HB. Then there seems to have been a parting of the ways.
Didn't really think she had been murdered in the flat - although a woman was in the flat above a few years back - but felt concerned in the same way as if it had been my son or daughter (in which case I would definitely have been trawling through their stuff.) Very, very uneasy, but nothing definite the Police would have been interested in.
What I have decided to do is: put another letter through her door advising we are carrying out a property inspection in 24 hours. Then we will change the locks - really cannot run the risk of an unknown person/persons having access - with a note on the door and having advised the neighbours - and a notice to quit letter on the mat. Will also talk to the Housing Dept.
Have gone through the terms of the tenancy agreement and two months' notice is fine. Should have done it in Nov, but we kept hoping that X or HB would be in contact.
So sad that X had 'made it' and now will be back to such an uncertain future - I doubt that the new bloke is a catch.
PS The reason we didn't talk to the neighbours was that we thought they might gossip and make X's life difficult.
Thanks for reading. This post has been catharctic for me. (Still awake and fretting at 2am)

OldLadyKnowsNothing Fri 11-Jan-13 02:07:19

Sorry you're feeling so bad, OP, and from my point of view you've been a lovely LL. Sorry again it's all gone to shit. sad

tinkletinklestar Fri 11-Jan-13 04:35:25

I would still be letting the police know she is missing before she comes up on the 6pm news and you've done nothing.

MrsHoarder Fri 11-Jan-13 05:34:28

Despite being very strongly for tenants' rights, I feel for you op. If you had been a cold hearted type you could have got the flat back by now (as the first missed payment was 12 Weeks ago.

Suggest you go to a lawyer in the morning and get some proper advice, the law may be generally reasonable, but sometimes it isn't. And get a notice up and carry your mobile 24/7 if you do change the lock.

janey68 Fri 11-Jan-13 07:06:01

You sound like an exemplary LL.
Interesting that a few posters have simply highlighted their own prejudice against LL by ranting emotionally about 'throwing people out of their homes'.

I do agree that you need to follow things by the book here- not changing locks etc. it must be very frustrating but it's in your interests in the long run.

However I agree with the poster who said this is tantamount to theft and vandalism. Where else could you effectively steal money from someone else and trash their property and get away with it?

flow4 Fri 11-Jan-13 07:24:17

I've just spotted that you picked your tenant up from a refuge when she began renting from you, iago - so she has certainly been in a past relationship with a dangerously abusive person. You say the flat has been violently trashed - doors off hinges is not just a mess - and you suspect this was by someone other than your tenant, because she has always kept it well. You say there was a note from a 'spurned lover'.

Please, please contact the police to report her missing. Tell them what you have told us. They will certainly be interested. It may be that she has fled to safety - I hope so. But there is a very real risk she and her little girl are in danger.

janey68 Fri 11-Jan-13 07:32:50

I think it would be wise to report this to the police now. Although the fact she has a young child in school presumably should have highlighted this earlier if she has been missing since October. Surely a school would act if a young child suddenly stopped attending without reason?

flow4 Fri 11-Jan-13 07:47:03

Yes, probably, though there are too many 'unknowns'... She may have stopped paying rent in Oct, but not left until more recently; she may have notified the school of a move; there may actually be a safeguarding investigation already in progress and they may be glad to hear from the landlord; the child may be still attending school, but living elsewhere with her mother and in contact with a dangerous man... The fact that the OP doesn't know what has happened, and yet knows the tenant has been in danger in the past, is exactly why the police must be informed.

iago, you said you thought of her like 'my son or daughter'... If your DD or DS simply disappeared off the face of the earth, you wouldn't hesitate to contact the police, would you? Please do it, just in case.

msrisotto Fri 11-Jan-13 07:58:40

Have you tried calling her? All this texting at this stage is a bit weird. If she won't pick up the phone and doesn't respond to your letters then she is uncontactable and you are in a stronger position. I don't think you illegally entered the property as you gave her notice via text?

iago Fri 11-Jan-13 07:59:39

Thank you for the last comments. I will talk to the Police and see what they say. I know what school the daughter started at but it was a long way from the flat and X was hoping to move her. The school would talk to the Police. I don't think she's been gone from the flat since October - but the police could work it out from the dates of the unopened post. I've hesitated involving the police because of our previous contact when they broke into her flat (the wrong address!) and bullied her.
I should add that we only live 5 minutes' away from the flat and she has a mobile number she can contact us on 24/7.

bamboobutton Fri 11-Jan-13 08:46:56

just want to point out that 24 hours notice does not equal permission to enter. you still need her permission to enter unless you have carried out all the legal stuff and have possession of the property. no response from her doesn't imply permission, if you change the locks you will still be carrying out an illegal eviction.

your dh is being a dick and his pigheaded behaviour will get you in trouble.

msrisotto Fri 11-Jan-13 09:01:38

Have you tried calling her?

It doesn't seem beyond the realms of possibility that her exP - from whom she was hiding in the first refuge has perhaps found her, manipulated her into letting him stay there, and then she has grabbed her daughter and fled to another refuge. Perhaps leaving her phone, paperwork and anything else behind?

I went to a refuge back in 2002 with my DS and the clothes on my back. Nothing else. (left everything, including the home I partly owned, behind)

Please contact the police today, as well as a solicitor.

OP, sounds like a nightmare, hope you get it sorted soon?? I take it you didnt use an agency??

This is the exact reason I do use an an agency and NEVER get to know my tenants, esp on friendly terms. I did this the very first tenant I ever had, and it ended badly. Get too familiar and you will no longer be an authoritive figure and they will just end up taking liberties.

Next time, unless you know the law really well, use a decent agency and it will save you a massive headache.

Good luck and hope you get it sorted.

Twattybollocks Fri 11-Jan-13 09:30:09

I feel for you op, and I feel for your tenant. Some thing is definately amiss.
I would call the police with your concerns, they can contact ss and women's refuge on your behalf to find out what is going on. Women's refuge will not be able to tell you whether she is with them I don't think, but may be able to disclose to the police. Given the note and the state of the flat there is every reason to suspect she has fled rather than just abandoned.
Regards the lock changing, seek legal advice, and issue the notices as outlined above. You can stop the eviction if it turns out that she hasn't abandoned and you still want her as a tenant.
I am a ll myself and thankfully have never been in this situation. I do respect my tenants rights to peaceful enjoyment of their home, but at the same time I can't afford to have serious damage to my property (whilst I accept that it is their home, it is still my property and should they decide to trash the place, the deposit really doesn't cover making it good)

queenofthepirates Fri 11-Jan-13 10:37:24

When this is all resolved (swiftly for you I hope), I'd chalk this down to a learning experience. Act quickly when rent is unpaid and don't enter the property unless invited! I'd definitely suggest reading up on the legal side of being a landlord for next time.

Hope the girl's alright. xx

I hope the tenant is ok (have you called the police yet?).

I don't think you sound awful - you did get it wrong by going in and certainly it would have been wrong to throw away her belongings, but you didn't know that. I do think you should have known, TBH - if you are a landlord it should be your responsibility to know what the law is.

But I do feel very bad for you as this must be horribly worrying, not knowing if she's ok and also wondering how the heck you're going to sort out the flat. I hope you do get it sorted out soon. I'm a tenant and I get furious about bad LL, but reading this thread it seems pretty clear to me your heart is in the right place.

JudgeJodie Fri 25-Jan-13 21:46:28

How are you getting on op? Any update?

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