Dear Barry

I’m a private landlord in South Belfast with a tenant in a one-bed flat whose tenancy agreement is up for renewal at the end of the month. The tenant is a woman in her early twenties with a small child and she is in receipt of housing benefit. She is pregnant and has told me she now needs a two-bed property for her growing family; she therefore does not wish to renew the tenancy for the flat. I have a small portfolio of properties, but unfortunately none of my other two-beds were suitable for her needs. I have a new tenant lined up to move in to the one-bed flat. at the beginning of next month. The last thing I want to do is make a young mother homeless. What do you advise to make sure I’ve done all I can to help ensure my current tenant finds somewhere to live, and also to prevent this situation impacting my new tenant? Jim, Belfast
Ask Barry Image

Barry answers:

Firstly, congratulations on finding a new tenant so quickly - no landlord wants a ‘void’ in their property (ie a property lying empty and costing rather than earning money), so that’s something I always focus on when a tenancy is coming to an end. At least that is one potential problem you’ve ticked off the list!

However, I can understand your concerns, and you certainly don’t want to find yourself dealing with a tenant who won’t move out and a tenant who can’t move in! We avoid this scenario by preparing ‘renewal letters’ during fixed contracts. This offers the tenant ‘first refusal’ on extending their current contract. If they don’t wish to, they’re given notice for viewings so they’re aware the property’s on the market. We follow up weekly, to make sure we have happy outgoing tenants and happy new tenants - and a house that’s ready for them.

I always recommend forging a good working relationship with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive if you have a tenant in receipt of housing benefit. I have established some strong contacts within the Belfast office of the Executive, and good communication with housing officers can really help if there are issues at any stage of a tenancy.

Contact the local housing office to speak to someone who looks after your area and discuss the situation. That way you have a professional opinion also – better to get as much information and tackle the issue now before problems arise.

Let them know her tenancy ends soon, that you have offered alternative accommodation, none were suitable and there is a possibility the individual will be homeless at the end of the month. Providing copies of any relevant documents or written communication at this stage is helpful.

Signpost the tenant to other landlords and lettings agencies in the area. We like to have a good working relationship with other local agents, and work closely with quite a few.

If the outgoing tenant ignores you, at least you know you’ve gone the extra mile to avoid a family becoming homeless. Great communication with the tenant will usually avoid that, but in a situation like this you do need to tread carefully.

My next action would be to write to the tenant to confirm that she has been offered alternative properties that she hasn’t found suitable, and provide her with her notice to quit.

This is simply written notice that they need to vacate the property, and tells them exactly when they must leave. Your tenant needs to move out at the end of the month, and it is your duty to make this crystal clear to avoid confusion.

Perhaps offer to nip round for a coffee and a chat to see what you can do – I believe the human touch is so important and it can really help at times like this.

Sometimes the housing office will contact you at this stage to inform you there is nowhere for the tenant to move to. The only further option open to you would be to explore any viable options for temporary accommodation. You haven’t detailed the reasons she rejected your other two-bed properties – but perhaps she would be willing to sign a very short-term lease on one until she finds somewhere more suitable?

If you’ve voids at any of your two-beds, this would be a win-win. On occasion, we’ve negotiated similar arrangements – always with agreement from the landlord in question, of course. You may even find she changes her mind about your property after living there for a few weeks, who knows?

Keep a close eye on the situation and maintain good communication with everyone involved. If this develops into a difficult tenancy, remember a management agent can step in at any stage and take over on your behalf until the end of the tenancy.