Landlords – what if a tenant develops dementia?
Of all the things to worry about, a tenant’s health is probably not near the top of the list for most landlords – but perhaps it should be. What if a tenant develops dementia?
The challenges for landlords if a tenant develops dementia
A client recently came to see me scratching his head over what to do about one of his tenants who will not allow anyone into the property to carry out a gas safety check. It is, of course, the landlord’s legal responsibility to ensure that all the gas appliances in a rented property are tested annually.
The client explained that his tenant is elderly and lives alone. He’s always paid his rent on time and been pretty much a model tenant. But in the last couple of years the tenant’s behaviour has started to give cause for concern – upsetting neighbours in nearby properties, wandering the street in inappropriate clothing and now refusing to allow anyone into the property to check the gas appliances – all very out of character. The landlord asked what if his tenant is becoming ill and the tenant develops dementia or dies?
The answer might seem to be simple – the landlord could take a commercial view of the situation and try to remove the tenant. But is it really that simple and does it need to be that cold-hearted?
Anyone who has ever had to use possession proceedings against a tenant will know that it is rarely an easy process and in the case of a tenant who may have some form of mental health problem, the delays and difficulties could make it an extremely difficult task.
It will be relevant in any possession proceedings if the tenant is suffering from a health problem; especially if that affects their mental capacity and particularly if they are elderly or vulnerable. They could lack the capacity to understand letters or documents relating to their eviction and proceedings will be suspended until the Court of Protection appoints a Deputy to manage the tenant’s financial and property affairs.
Consider alternatives to possession proceedings
Landlords, it’s worth the time to look at alternative ways of dealing with the situation and in fact trying to help your tenant and in the process help yourself.
Action to take if a tenant develops dementia
As a first step, it’s worth finding out if any outside agencies are aware of the tenant.
Have Social Services or local charities had any recent involvement? Although they will not be able to disclose any information about the tenant various agencies such as local authority adult social care departments are usually willing to send out someone from their safeguarding team to try and assess the situation if there seem to be issues about the vulnerability of an elderly or infirm resident.
It’s also worth undertaking a search at the Office of the Public Guardian to see if an Enduring or Lasting Power of Attorney made by the tenant has been registered at any time. This would enable contact to be made with the attorney who might not live locally and could be unaware that problems are arising. In the case of a Lasting Power of Attorney the document can be registered before there is any suggestion of mental incapacity which can make it even more likely that the attorney might not be aware of the current situation.
If you’re using a letting agent enlist their help. If the tenant is refusing to allow safety checks to be carried out at the property ask the letting agent to invite the tenant to a meeting at the agent’s offices or even outside the property to try and talk to the tenant about allowing access.
Often a person with dementia will feel fearful of strangers calling at their home and of situations that are unfamiliar. If they are having memory difficulties they might simply forget the appointments. So, if the agent is willing to develop a rapport with the tenant they might be able to accompany the gas engineer on the inspection visit to reassure the tenant or ask a neighbour or friend to be present.
When dealing with vulnerable or infirm adults it is important to tread carefully and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect. There won’t always be easy solutions to such problems but if you have tenants who are retired or have long-term health issues it is worth considering talking to them about how their tenancy is going to be managed if they become too ill or frail to make decisions themselves. If handled carefully there is no reason why you shouldn’t ask if they have put in place a power of attorney or if they live alone, whether there is a relative or friend who could be nominated as a point of contact in the event of an emergency. It could save you a lot of trouble and expense in the long run.
What if the tenant dies?
It’s worth remembering that a tenancy does not automatically end if a tenant dies. It will become the responsibility of the personal representatives (executors) of the deceased tenant to continue paying the rent until they can surrender the tenancy.
It will also be the PRs responsibility to clear the property and make sure all utility bills are paid.
Landlords need to communicate with the PRs and make sure they do not try to ignore the tenancy whilst at the same time being sensitive to the fact that there are likely to be grieving relatives who need time to adjust to their loss.
Landlords should have plans in place to enable them to deal with issues if a tenant develops dementia or dies.
If you are letting a property to an older tenant consider giving us a call to talk through your risks and options.
Call us now on 0115 7722129.
Disclaimer: Remember to check the date of the article you are reading. The law may have changed since the article was written. The information in this article is for general interest and does not constitute legal advice.
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