One in four women, and one in six men, experience domestic abuse in their lives, with a new case reported to police every 30 seconds*. Police are already reporting increases over the football season, and research finds reported incidents of domestic abuse rise by up to 38% when England lose a World Cup game, and 26% if they win or draw**.
For many people in the UK, abuse is a daily struggle. And with an estimated 60% of all incidences of domestic violence occuring in the home, landlords are in a uniquely tricky position if they suspect abuse is occuring in one of their rental properties.
It can be hard to know your legal and moral obligations if you suspect one of your tenants is a victim of abuse, and whilst there are no cut and dry answers surrounding this difficult topic, we’ve answered a few frequently asked questions below.
If you suspect one of your tenants of domestic abuse, do you have a legal obligation as a landlord to report it to the police?
Legally it would be seen as a civil matter, and there is no perceived legal obligation as such. Morally of course, you may well want to report it depending on what you know about the situation. This is more of a judgement call on your part, though if you are unsure whether to contact the police, you can still signpost the victim to support services. NLA members can also contact our advice line if you would like to discuss your options.
In circumstances of suspected domestic abuse, can you break the terms of a tenancy agreement earlier than the break clause?
A tenant can surrender the tenancy at any point, which you as a landlord are free to accept if you choose. Legally, however, all jointly and severally liable tenants remain responsible for the rent until vacant possession of the property is obtained. This means that if either partner refuses to leave, all named tenants remain responsible for the rent.
What if one partner doesn’t want to leave?
As above, they have a tenancy agreement and if they are complying with its obligations during the fixed term there is little a landlord can do. Outside of the fixed term one tenant can serve a notice to quit on behalf of the whole household, but if the partner refused to leave they would both remain liable until vacant possession was granted.
In cases where all parties are in agreement, it may also be possible to assign the vacating partner’s interest in the tenancy to the remaining partner; this obviously requires a significant amount of cooperation.
In extreme cases a victim can apply to the courts for an occupation order, determining who can live in a property (i.e. exclude an abuser). This process involves applying to a magistrates or county court.
If one partner chooses to stay should I issue a new AST?
In most of these circumstances it is the best/cleanest option, but there are variables.
If the tenancy is outside of its fixed term the simplest solution can be for the landlord to serve notice on both tenants, only to later agree a new AST with the remaining tenant. However, if the abusive partner refuses to leave this could take some time and involve a possession order from the courts.
If one partner chooses to stay, how should I deal with the deposit?
This very much depends on the basis on which they are staying. If the previous tenancy is ended and a new one created, the original deposit must be returned (or not depending on any damages accrued) and a new deposit taken.
If one partner simply leaves, the tenancy and its related deposit continues. It is up to the tenants to decide amongst themselves what they do – but as long as the departing tenant remains part of the tenancy they are legally liable for any default.
If one partner chooses to stay but can’t afford the rent alone, what can I do?
A new joint tenant can be added using a deed of assignment – this does however require agreement from all parties.
If I suspect my tenant is a victim of domestic abuse, where can I signpost them for help?
If you suspect one of your tenants may be the victim of domestic abuse, you can signpost them to Victim Support for information, or to receive help from specialised support workers. Their contact details can be found here: https://www.victimsupport.org.uk/help-and-support/get-help. Local councils also have a duty to support those at risk in their homes due to domestic abuse, and can support victims to identify the best options for their circumstances.
Sources: *Refuge / **Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, Lancaster University