Happy New Year to you all. Hope you had a blast!
Before I dive into the purpose of this blog post, please allow me to digress on a grand scale (perhaps the grandest to date)… because right now I need to vent…
I’m currently on a flight home from Bucharest where I was fortunate enough to see through the New Year. Amazing city, I had a very cool time. The journey home, however, has a lot to be desired. The journey home is always a dreaded affair, but this one is particularly brutal. I’m on one of those budget airlines where everything is limited, particularly the allocated space and general level of comfort. The only feature (I say “feature” reluctantly) they seem to be generous with is air. Literally, they’re NEVER shy with blasting chilling air through the nipple-shaped air-conditioning vents. I am f’ing F-R-E-E-Z-I-N-G right now.
I generally have a high threshold for enduring piss-poor situations, but I’m spectacularly struggling. Besides from the completely unnecessary sub-zero climate, I’m currently sandwiched between two rather ‘burly’, or perhaps ‘rotund’ is the better word, individuals that have thighs bigger than my entire waist, which are spilling over into my designated seating area and making a shambles of my entitled personal space. Bizarrely, they seem totally oblivious and comfortable with the situation, which I say, while looking through the corner of my eyes in envy, admiring them in a very relaxed and unconscious state. Assholes.
They say obesity has become a major epidemic across Europe, so perhaps my current situation isn’t that unusual anymore, hence the total disregard. I have no qualms with people failing to conform with society’s expectations of the ‘ideal’ physique, that is, until it spills onto my lap and compromises my blood circulation and general well-being. I am displeased to say the least.
I’ve literally lost 2-4 inches of MY space from both sides as they’re both appear to be physically unable to sit with their legs closed without chaffing and/or causing themselves serious discomfort. That’s a lot of precious real estate I’m being robbed of considering the already limited confinement. Evidently, they couldn’t give a flying fuck about my discomfort and my compressed corpse. I know I’m not exaggerating either, because during the final safety checks before takeoff, a flight attendant caught a glimpse of my predicament and gave me a look of hopeless sympathy. She knew I was in an unfortunate position, but didn’t look at me for too long because she knew there was nothing she could do to help on this fully booked flight.
If you imagine, my legs are wedged together (compromising the comfort of my most prized assets), and my elbows are glued to my hips, and the only parts of my body I can freely move without impacting my neighbours’ blubber are my hands and my head, which I can freely rotate and swivel. To make matters horrendously worse, I can feel the body heat elevating off the flesh of the chap sitting to the right of me. It’s pretty mortifying, and I’m amazed I haven’t projectile vomited all over his stupid, restful face. I honestly don’t know if he’s overheating due to a pre-flight wank or if that’s a permanent feature of being burly. The good news is his hygiene levels seem to be in order, so I’m not picking up any unsavoury odours. However, the fact I can feel his sweltering body heat is revolting enough.
2 hours left of this godforsaken flight; time could not fly fast enough right now.
What does all this have to do with my life as a landlord and my tenants? Nothing at all, but I wanted to set the overall dull tone for the new year by highlighting my current grotesque situation. Fortunately, I’m not one of those people that expect big changes or random sprouts of good fortune just because the calendar rolled over to a new year, so I’m not going to allow this moment to hinder my already regular expectations for the coming year.
As you can rightly presume from the title of this post, the new year isn’t going so well for my tenants’ either. It’s definitely not a competition, but I’m probably still the biggest victim of bad fortune here: 20 year marriage going down the shitter Vs being squashed alive and suffocating on someone else’s body fumes. Not to mention, the massively reduced stability of my tenants’ status that I, as the landlord, now have to be concerned with.
Surely I win (if it was a competition).
So, last week I was driving home from… somewhere (don’t remember where)… when I unexpectedly received a phone call from my tenant, let’s call him Eddie. Eddie and his wife, let’s go with Dorothy, have been my tenants for a mere 7 weeks. I really like them; they’re kind, respectful and particularly well-mannered. However, despite their good nature, I was still nervous when I saw an incoming call from Eddie, because 92 times out of 100 tenants only break radio silence to report bullshit maintenance issues which they can resolve themselves, as opposed to inconveniencing the shit out of me. The remainder of the calls are typically split between genuine and legitimate reasons for contacting me and miscellaneous garbage that make me want to contemplate suicide.
Based on experience, I was anticipating to hear a plumbing related drama because it’s that time of the year when the pipes are being pushed harder than usual, so they generally just pack up and die, which of course, allows scrupulous plumbers a fabulous reason to jack up their prices. I was scared. But of course, you all already know what the phone call was about. It certainly wasn’t regarding a lousy repair. The following is the crux of what Eddie told me on the phone:
I’ve got something to tell you, but I don’t want you to be alarmed.
A week after we moved into your property, Dorothy and I decided to separate and get a divorce. She’s done some things that I can’t forgive and I’ve unfortunately had to move out. It’s been a really difficult period in my life as you can imagine; we have been together for 20 years.
The situation is that I’ve moved out, but she’s going to remain in the property and continue to honour the contract. I’m going to continue paying her rent for the next 2 years. That’s what we have agreed to.
You’ve been more than fair and nice to us, so I just wanted to make you aware of the situation, and that you don’t need to worry about the rent. Dorothy doesn’t know I’m making this phone call.
If there’s any problems, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
The conversation lasted about 20 minutes. I didn’t bother reciting my responses because they stray from the relevant facts, but just imagine thoughtful, empowering, liberating and motivational words of wisdom, which gave him the strength to continue and appreciate life. There was something very Martin Luther King’ish about my flow. He didn’t say it, but I’m sure my tender words of comfort was just what he needed at the time. I believe that’s the real reason he called, and not just to inform me of the devastating news that could potentially cause havoc on my life. His too, I guess.
Obviously that was the last thing I expected to hear, especially so close to Christmas. They genuinely seemed happy. Granted, I’m basing that on 4 measly encounters and a few formal phone conversations. What the hell do I know about what goes on behind closed doors? They could be rubbing their gums and nipples with cocaine every night for all I know.
Eddie didn’t tell me exactly what happened, but I read in-between the lines and I felt like he was strongly trying to tell me that Dorothy did the dirty on him. My natural masculine instinct forced me to momentarily block out Eddie’s wallowing voice and take on board that there’s now a single, relatively attractive, vulnerable and bonafide hussy staying in my property, who may eventually require me to pop over in my tight overalls to tighten a few loose screws. That could be awkward, because after all, I am only male.
Incidentally, while I was taking the viewing with the couple, I did ‘respectfully’ think to myself “Yeah, not bad for an older woman” She’s definitely got the right tools in the locker to unravel into a desirable piece of meat that wouldn’t be short of an offer or two, even from the local Vicar. Of course, this is just speculation, and perhaps a sordid fantasy of mine; she may not have cheated at all. I’m digressing like crazy, again.
Anyways, it’s a bit of an odd situation, and one I’ve never been in before. It’s especially awkward since they have been separated for 6+ weeks and Dorothy (the remaining occupant) hasn’t mentioned anything to me, even though we have recently partaken in friendly exchanges regarding the arrangement of a gas safety check. She seemed happy as Larry, which in hindsight makes perfect sense- she really has mastered the art of deceit. But again, I speculate.
So am I meant to act dumb and just assume I’m none the wiser? Probably. It’s a domestic issue and it’s none of my business, so it seems like the best play.
Where does the divorce leave me (the real victim in all this)?
Well, firstly, I’m just grateful I have decent tenants and that the rent is being paid (I genuinely believe it will continue to be paid). I really don’t have any reason to rock the boat, unless Dorothy’s new-found vulnerable condition encourages her to act crazy and put herself on a plate for me when I next pop over. Then I will have no choice but to rock the boat, right? Time is definitely due for me to tick, “seduce a tenant” off my bucket-list. But for now, nothing has to change, I just continue to monitor the rent payments.
It’s a joint tenancy, both their names are on the tenancy agreement contract, so they’re still both legally responsible and bound by the terms in the contract, including the rent. That obviously gives added security, although pretty pointless if there’s only one breadwinner. In this case, they both happen to be employed.
Essentially, the situation for me, as the landlord, wouldn’t be much different from two platonic friends falling out, and then deciding to go their separate ways. The general gist is that there’s been a feud among tenants and living arrangements have changed. I really don’t have any specific experience or intricate legal knowledge regarding tenants getting divorced, there might be legal entitlements and technicalities for the separated couple (i.e. who is entitled to remain in the property), but I believe it’s standard protocol for the landlord. However, I imagine, in many cases, it can get very messy, and become a legal minefield.
While mulling the situation over, here are a few points (mostly generic good practices) I considered, which of course, may or may not be of any help at all to you…
- Communication: I appreciate that burying one’s head in the sand or in a pair of gigantic silicone inflated tits (whichever is accessible at the time) is the easiest and most convenient method of dealing with most problematic/difficult situations. But in reality, avoiding the realities of life is often the root of unnecessary complications and further problems.
Whether you’re a tenant or landlord, it’s always best to be open about any directly related problems (no matter how big or small it may be), because it makes a lot easier to prepare and deal with situations. I genuinely believe that the majority of problems in life escalate out of control due to lack of communication.
In my specific case I chose not to further interfere with the situation because it’s a very personal and domesticated issue. I know what I need to know. But generally speaking, communication is key to resolving disputes, but due diligence is required at times.
- Business Vs Personal matters: I just briefly touched on this point, but I think it’s worthy of it’s own bullet point. It’s important for landlords to remain professional when tenants are having their own personal in-house dilemmas. Don’t get involved, just focus on the business aspects. You don’t want to be caught in a cross-fire, even if your intentions are honourable. Moreover, it’s always in your best interest to remain neutral, don’t take sides (even if there is an occupant involved which you wouldn’t mind screwing around with).
- Don’t panic: don’t make any rash decisions. I could have easily contemplated ending the tenancy, but it didn’t make any sense to do that. I knew my property was being taken care of and the rent was being paid, and more importantly, despite my tenants’ personal dispute, I trust them both to be decent tenants.
My point is, there’s no point worrying or panicking until there’s reason to, but that’s not to say you should’t make extra provisions to protect yourself from any potential risks due to the new circumstances. Find out all the facts and then act rationally.
- Inspection: often during domestic related incidents there is, very sadly, violence involved. I know if my hypothetical wife cheated on me I would be enticed to throw a couple of plasma TV’s and clenched fists across the room. On that note, if you’ve been notified of any reasons to be concerned about the safety of your property, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to arrange a property inspection to ensure everything is in order.
A couple of weeks ago I actually entered the property (with permission) to allow the gas man to enter the property, which allowed me to inspect the property. This was before I knew about the ongoing drama, but the property genuinely looked amazing, so I know it’s being taken good care of.
- Surrendering the tenancy: legally, tenants are obligated to remain your tenants and liable for the full rent up until the end-date specified in the tenancy agreement. Unless of course, the tenancy is legally terminated. However, in most cases I don’t recognise any reason to force tenants to honour the agreement, particularly in the situation where the tenants are separated. So if the tenants want to end the tenancy early, I would oblige, and allow them to surrender the tenancy. In my case, the last thing I want to do is entrap two volatile individuals together.
If you’re not convinced, and you’re adamant on flexing your authority by enforcing your tenants to honour the agreement, I would recommend you read my blog post on tenants wanting to leave early.
- Renewing Vs Terminating tenancy: when the boat is rocked you’ll naturally consider the future of your tenants. Is it in your best interest to terminate the tenancy or allow it to continue? Think about it carefully.
I’m going to allow the tenancy to continue for now, because they haven’t given me any reason to worry. I’m not even going to renew/update the tenancy so Dorothy becomes the sole occupant when the end date approaches. Instead, I’m going to allow the tenancy to become periodic so it remains a joint tenancy, that way both tenants remain liable. On that principle, I’d advise all landlords to be cautious before renewing tenancies with a sole occupant.
However, if in your case you feel completely uncomfortable with the situation for whatever reason (e.g. domestic violence has occurred), it might be worth terminating the tenancy as soon as possible.
- Change in tenant’s status: most landlords will class a couple/family as “one tenant”, as opposed to two friends living together, which usually get classed as individual tenants (albeit, they may still have a joint tenancy). So now Eddie and Dorothy have separated (probably not “legally” at this point though), they effectively seem like individual tenant’s. If they legally get separated/divorced, the remaining occupant (Dorothy) maybe entitled to housing benefits due to the loss of income, which may make her a DSS tenant. If that happens, it may or may not cause additional concerns and problems for myself, only time will tell. However, I believe it will be down to the discretion of the local council to determine her legibility. Some councils will only entitle Dorothy to claim if she is a sole tenant, which will mean renewing the tenancy agreement (which is a common request from separated tenants so they can qualify for benefits).
Either way, it’s important to note that when a couple become separate entities, their “tenant status” as individuals may change as their financial circumstances change. Definitely something to think about.
- Joint tenancies: I always favour joint-tenancies when applicable, particularly in the case of a couple that are both employed. This means that liability for the rent will be split, making it more likely for the rent to be paid.
Ultimately, this means if worse comes to worse and the tenants fall into arrears because there’s an internal dispute about who’s going to pay for the rent and/or remain in the property, it will be a hell of a lot easier to recoup the money if the case ends up in court.
If the tenancy isn’t joint, in terms of landlord law, the person’s name on the tenancy agreement contract is responsible to pay the landlord. However, this is where the issue may creep into the realms of “family law”, as they may need to make financial arrangements regarding splitting assets and settlements. From what I’m led to believe from copious amounts of daytime TV (how reliable of a source that information is, I’ll leave that for you to decide), the men usually get royally screwed over. But of course, that’s not our concern as landlords- our prime target is the responsible tenant in this case.
- Expect the unexpected: never in a million years would I have guessed that my tenant was contacting me to divulge the demise of his marriage. While divorces are incredibly common these days (kind of like obesity), it was still a reminder that shit happens. Granted, the shit is usually in the form of rent arrears, but it doesn’t do anyone any harm to expect the unexpected.
Whether you specifically need legal advice on the matter at hand or on another landlord/tenant related issue, I would recommend contacting your local Citizens Advice or Shelter. You could also try leaving a comment below, there’s often some useful responses :)
Has anyone else been in this situation? If so, what happened? Can anyone offer further advise/experience?
Finally, my flight is almost over and I feel grateful to be alive (not that my life was in danger, but I guess traumatic moments make us all feel nostalgic and appreciative). I hope everyone else managed to start their new year on a more positive note. If not, feel free to vent. I invite you into the circle of trust.