Dealing With Tenant Abandonment
If you are a landlord, the idea of a tenant doing a hop-skip in the middle of the night is an absolute nightmare scenario to consider. If you’re not careful regarding the legalities of such actions, as a landlord you can often end up out of pocket. For most landlords, this won’t happen during their career. But if you’re about to list a property via an online property agent or letting agency, it’s important that you’re up to date on what you can do if this happens. And critically how to resolve the situation so you’re not grossly out of pocket.
Why Does Tenant Abandonment Happen?
That tenants are behind on their rent is the most common cause of tenant abandonment. If they’re being pressured and behind, sometimes they can and do vanish. The other reason is that they may have found a job or other arrangements elsewhere. Most of the time, tenants will notify you of this, but some may not, simply cancelling their direct debit and doing a runner.
How Does This Cause You Problems?
The biggest issue you’ll face as a landlord in this instance is that you must make absolutely certain that the tenant has vacated the property. But you can’t simply regain possession of it, as tenants do still have legal rights and you simply can’t enter and then change the locks without adhering to a stringent legal process.
Your Legal Standing Regarding an Abandoned Property:
First you need to confirm it is abandoned. Ideally, you will contact the tenant in writing to have them confirm this. Many will be unresponsive – especially if they are in arrears. The main problem is that if the tenant hasn’t surrendered the property or if you haven’t taken repossession, they still have the legal right to return for the period stated in the tenancy, leaving you at risk of an illegal eviction if you bust in and change the locks. If you manage to get in touch with the tenant, ask them to return the keys.
You also must not enter the property without permission – even if you strongly suspect it’s been abandoned. You can however, do so if you think it’s been left unsafe, with gas appliances left on for example. If you do manage to enter, do it with an independent witness and if the locks are changed, notify the tenant in writing where they can pick up the new keys.
You’re also obliged to store the tenants belongings, so don’t go off on one and throw everything away. Take photos of everything you move to log their condition.
Repossessing a Property:
2016’s Housing and Planning Act equipped landlords with new rights regarding abandonment. If rent is unpaid you can take back possession via court order. A warning notice must first be served, notifying tenants that the backlog must be paid within 8 weeks. Serve a second notice if there is no response, and then five days before the end of the eight week period, serve them a final notice. If at any point the tenant pays the rent, the process automatically stops.
If you’re not sure that the property has been abandoned, serve them a Section 21 notice to protect yourself and bring the process to an end. If it happens towards the end of a contract, then at least you won’t have been left in the lurch and suffered financially somewhere in the middle. If the tenants still have unpaid rent, it can be taken out of their protected deposit, provided you can prove your case.
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