You sometimes have two people’s names on the short-term lease or tenancy ownership of a property interest, sometimes even more.
They’re maybe married husbands and wives or partners living together and with a difficult situation from a relationship breakdown of splitting up with ex-partners and persons leaving.
Or possibly business colleagues with commercial property and dealing with different private or local authority council landlords. And sometimes they may even be a company rather than an individual name.
Whatever number and types of names you’re dealing with, there may be a request to have one of these removed, often when a lease is renewed or possibly even beforehand if there’s an urgent break-up and split to deal with.
Upon first impressions this might seem all okay, with them being good payers and possibly no actual changes even to the property's occupation; just a technicality of changing a name on the lease to a sole tenancy or ownership.
However, you need to tread carefully, as things are not always what they seem.
Even in straightforward cases where everyone agrees, legal loose-ends may need tying together to stop issues cropping up later.
The Different Joint Tenancy Scenarios
Before we get into some general tips on dealing with this removal of names on tenancies within the UK, it’s important to understand the different situations.
Each one is different of course, and you’ll need specific advice on the rights and legalities for your own circumstances. There’s a detailed post here online, and helpful YouTube videos here and here on the different ownership types.
In short – when looking whether you can and how to remove yourself from such tenancies, you’ll need to get things right legally.
If you’re looking at ownership of a property, maybe with married couples, then the alternative to ‘joint tenants’ is ‘tenants in common’.
On a joint basis, everything is shared and falls to the other if one leaves; whereas in common, you will have specific shares that can more easily be transferred to others.
If you’re looking at a shorter-term lease like a residential AST or a lease of a commercial property, then although things can easily change at the end of the lease, you basically need everyone’s agreement before then to amend or end the arrangement beforehand.
Turning to some general pointers on processing such name removal on tenancies no matter what situation you’re in, here are five top ones:
1. Joint Liabilities
First of all, remember the principle that all the tenants share liabilities based on being joint tenants.
As mentioned above, this relative share of ownership can be changed with different tenants in common situation for ownership, which won’t get ‘transferred’ over to another joint-person when another goes.
With joint tenants, they do. So, when both there, both are fully responsible. When one goes, the other becomes fully responsible.
If you have other names included, more people need to pay the rent and resolve issues.
Because there is a joint liability, one can act on behalf of the other, even if they don’t all know or agree. So, one can serve notice to terminate the lease at the end.
This also gets complicated with leases continuing after they expire, maybe through a statutory periodic AST lease for residential properties or through the holding-over under the Landlord & Tenant Act 1954 for commercial properties.
Such extension rights are with both tenants, therefore take care over who is controlling things.
In terms of practically on how to do the split within an agreement, you’ll basically need everyone’s agreement to do this, rather than force the issue. After all, this is a fixed contract between certain parties that can’t suddenly be changed because just one person wants to.
2. Remaining Responsibilities
Even where you remove a named party from the actual lease, remember that behind the scenes in the non-property world, there may still be rights between them that affect the property right.
So if they are a married couple or even partners with civil rights, then the other partner may need to permit things.
Therefore get this clarified, and if you’re changing names and renewing agreements on a new basis check that the named parties have separately clarified this with any other parties.
Also check other agreements and invoices both to do with the property or not and correctly with or without joint names, such as utility bills, council tax or business rates, and bank accounts.
3. New or Transferred Agreements
An easy way would be to look at a new agreement on a new-name basis and a fresh start rather than transfer an existing agreement. Either way, make sure the legal documentation is completed correctly.
Also, remember that leases do tend to provide rights for tenants to renew a lease term afterwards on a similar basis, so all existing tenants may want to insist upon this being the case if everyone does not unanimously agree with the change.
So, with a shorter-term AST lease, the landlord will need to agree to an early surrender and maybe a new lease going forward, as often there is no way to transfer the lease otherwise legally.
However, there may be a legal way to assign or underlet the existing lease with commercial leases as an alternative to an early surrender.
Also, remember that if one party needs to be removed but the landlord is concerned about them being off hook with liabilities, then they may be able to move to be a guarantor rather than joint-tenant on the lease.
Regarding actual documentation, then see if there is a standard letter template available to agree on principles, a Licence to Assign for a commercial property lease, or a formal Declaration of Trust through solicitors for ownership tenancies.
Such legal documents depending upon their nature and length may also need lodging with Land Registry afterwards.
4. Right to Rent
For residential short term lets, this Right to Rent is an obligation to have vetted adults officially residing at the property, including those not actually on the lease.
Ideally, you have this underway anyway irrespective of lease names, but watch out for older agreements that were not caught under these obligations suddenly falling within it for renewal under a technically different name. So a landlord now needs to complete these checks.
As a rough benchmark, adults who treat this as their home for over three months fall within this duty, so dig into whether any falling-away joint-tenant comes under this category (check out government guidance here).
5. Costs & Taxes Involved
As a final point, watch out for the fees and costs mounting up on something like this, and who covers.
So, make sure tenants have paid up rent and due monies like service charges. If not, then its the norm to insist they are therefore looking at things like removing joint tenants' names.
Letting and managing agents can suddenly demand extra costs if there is a pile of extra work to do, and even if a tenant needs to pay, make sure this is realistic and not a deal-stopper.
Agents do have to watch these levels of fees under the Tenant fees Act 2019 and not necessarily raise for usual requests - however, if you’re asking for something that other parties are not obliged to process then you still may need to pay a genuine administration cost that can mount up.
If it’s more a tenants in common situation, you’ll shape the share ownership based upon individual preferences and financial contributions.
Also, watch out for the taxman taking their share of things whether that’s a final capital gains tax liability, SDLT stamp duty, or even VAT on commercial and longer-interest residential properties.
This may then require a whole host of HMRC submission forms and notices to also issue through accountants.
Join up the Joint-Tenant Dots
When you have joint tenant names on a lease or ownership title, removing one of these is possible based on a reduced number of tenants now liable for things.
Of course, this depends on understanding the nature of this joint arrangement and what roles other parties play in this.
Even if you’re fine with this, go through these other above points to see what other issues you need to consider to prevent issues arising later on.
It’s going to be worth seeking advice, whether solicitors or surveyors you’re already involved with or landlord-help services. This is particularly important for any unique situations as the detail can cause you big headaches later on.
Once resolved though, things can be more plain sailing with hopefully everyone happy agreement.
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