Something that causes some confusion amongst landlords and letting agents alike, is whether joint tenants can leave early, and whether this affects the tenant they’re sharing a property with.
To explain this, we’ll have to first delve into where tenants stand legally. Tenancies are split into common and joint, with joint tenancies typically being saved for couples. Under a joint tenancy, both tenants share the property as one, and hold the right to stay or move out as one. With common tenancies, it is mostly saved for flatmates, where each person is recognised as an individual with a 50/50 share of the property. This means, in a joint tenancy, if one tenant does something, both tenants did it. This can however cause some confusion.
An example of this in action was the 1991 court case ‘Hammersmith & Fulham LBC v Monk.’ In this case, two joint tenants who were in a relationship broke up, and one of the tenants had given the landlord a notice to end the tenancy. The issue, however, was that the other tenant had no idea that this had happened.
The tenant who served the notice to quit left the property, but the ex-partner wanted to stay. The landlord started the process to obtain a possession order due to the joint tenants serving a notice to quit and staying (even though this was one each). The court awarded this to the landlord, but this was appealed shortly after. After the appeal, the House of Lords upheld the decision, arguing that as joint tenants, the notice to quit was still valid, even with the breach of trust.
Lord Browne-Wilkinson, stated:
‘The fact that a trustee acts in breach of trust does not mean that he has no capacity to do the act he wrongly did. The breach of trust as between Mrs. Powell and Mr. Monk could not affect the lessors unless some case could be mounted that the lessors were parties to the breach.’
In conclusion, joint tenants are both responsible in equal parts, and must act as one. If there is a breach of trust, it is the responsibility of the tenants, and not the landlord.
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