Tenant Abandoned the house, flat what can I do?
When a tenant abandons your house or flat, for that matter, any residential property, it is a dilemma for any landlord.
What period of time do you wait until you can assume the tenant is not coming back. What is period of time do I have to wait until I can get rid of the ex-tenants belongings.
If you change the locks, the tenant could come back and claim unlawful eviction. Worse, they could claim they had the equivalent to the crown jewels in the rental property, and now they have disappeared.
Damages for unlawfully evicting tenants plus legal fees can run into several thousands of pounds. One of the main reasons for tenants claiming illegal eviction is due to landlords getting it wrong assuming the tenant has vacated. Illegal eviction is a criminal offence.
Most tenants who do a disappearing act on you is due to rent arrears, this is one of the reasons why they won’t respond to any communication. They think you are chasing them for the unpaid rent arrears.
Tenants vacating a rented property without giving the landlord notice is much more of a problem in HMO properties. HMO tenants don’t have any furniture, generally, all HMO’s are let fully furnished. Some tenants can walk away with just one suit and disappear.
If an HMO tenant has vacated without giving notice and cleared all their belongings and as is frequently the case told another tenant they are leaving. This scenario is much easier to manage.
It becomes tricky when you have let the whole house out. The tenant has disappeared but the property still has not all but some of the tenant’s items.
The safest way is to follow the court process of obtaining possession through the county court process. Due to COVID-19, as we all know, the court system is clogged up, and the whole eviction process can take up to a year.
The cost of the legal eviction process and potential loss of rental income of a year’s rent; It is crucial to explore the options and the risks. That is exactly what we are going to do in this blog.
Abandoned property – Can Landlord Enter the Premises
Dealing with a tenant who abandons your property is not straightforward. An abandoned tenancy occurs when a tenant leaves a property before the end of a tenancy without notifying the landlord.
The term “abandonment” has a more expansive legal meaning: the voluntary surrender of a legal right. In the case of a tenancy, the tenant would be abandoning their legal right to possession of the rented property.
Most tenancies will stipulate that a tenant must notify the landlord if they are away for more than two weeks.
This may be a requirement for insurance purposes. Some insurance policy may not cover vacant properties.
However, this breach of tenancy is of less importance legally. Meaning you cannot use this reason as a platform to evict a tenant or use it as a defence.
The primary concern for the landlord should be the regulations to protect tenants from unfair eviction (the Protection from Eviction Act 1977).
In some instances, the tenant may have reasonable cause to be away for an extended time. These reasons may be like they are abroad caring for a sick relative, extended holiday, in a hospital, or they are in prison. None of these circumstances means that they are not the tenant, even if they have not paid the rent.
It is fully accepted the tenant in most circumstances should have contacted the landlord. In certain situation, even that might not have been possible.
However, if the tenant has disappeared in most cases, they are doubtful to reappear. In such scenarios, providing you have exhausted all efforts to (1) contact the tenant:
(2) Investigate if the tenant has abandoned the property:
a) contact the council tax office if you are liable for the council tax. You will only become liable if the tenant has informed the council, they have vacated the let property
b) Next of kin
c) next-door neighbours
d) social media
g) Local pub
You must stay with the legal bounds of GDPR while conducting your enquiries.
Tenant abandonment – What’s the law for landlords
This depends on the circumstances of the particular situation. Landlords need to be very careful before concluding the tenant has abandoned the let property.
By way of example, if the rental property was let by the owner unfurnished and you discover the property is still fully furnished. Furnished and contains the tenant’s property, then one needs to tread with caution.
What if the tenant is in prison, hospital or a similar situation but not abandoned the house you have let?
If in doubt, no landlord should hesitate to follow the eviction procedure in the county court. That is to serve a notice under section 8. Issue a claim through the county court and obtain a possession order. Then instruct a bailiff so that lawful possession can be conveyed to you.
Tenant abandonment does not mean the end of a tenancy
No! not necessarily; you cannot conclude the tenant has not paid the rent or not been seen, and you cannot contact the tenant, so they must have abandoned the property.
However, on the other hand, the circumstances are such all you hear and see are circumstances that any reasonable person would conclude the tenant has abandoned the rental property. This would be an implied surrender of the tenancy.
One may conclude the tenant has abandoned the property if the landlord discovers:
- All the tenant’s furniture and belonging are gone, and the flat or house is empty
- The neighbour saw and heard the tenant saying they are moving.
- The tenant has informed the council tax office they have moved
- The children are no longer going to the local school
- The employer has said the tenant is no longer working for them
- Friends and family of the tenant have said the tenants have moved.
- Social media seems to suggest the tenant have moved house.
- The tenant has redirected the mail.
Even if the above all apply, if the tenant has not given you the keys back to the property or given written notice, they vacate, then one needs to be cautious.
Evicting an absent tenant
This is done by serving a section 8 notice. Grounds could be rent arrears, damage to the property or clauses in the tenancy where the tenant has left the property empty more than the agreed period.
After the expiry of the section 8 notice, you would need to issue a possession claim through the county court. Upon obtaining a possession order, you will need to instruct a bailiff.
Once the bailiff conveys vacant possession to you, you have lawful possession of the house, flat, or landlord you are obtaining possession of.
What to do if a Tenant Skips Rent
When a tenant skips, rent is not a sign a tenant may have abandoned the let dwelling. After you have tried to speak to the tenant and send emails and texts, you should then serve a section 8 notice for rent arrears grounds if everything else fails.
Surrender of a tenancy
This applies to England and Wales only.
Surrender occurs when both the landlord and tenant, by consent, agree to bring the tenancy to an end. After the surrender has taken place. Then thereafter all obligations and rights under a tenancy also come to an end.
There are two types of tenancy surrender legally known as – express and implied surrender.
Express surrender is when you use a written agreement (or declaration) to surrender the tenancy agreement. Express surrender is usually made by written deed.
Since mutual consent is required, both the landlord and tenant will have to sign the agreement, and both signatures must be witnessed. Once the agreement has been signed, both parties will be released from any future obligations to each other.
Note that the written agreement must clarify that it is a deed and set out that the tenancy will come to an end with immediate effect.
Suppose the tenant does not give up possession of the property to the landlord, despite surrendering the tenancy. In that case, the landlord can still recover possession of the property through a court order.
A surrender will operate as a matter of circumstance where it is implied from the parties’ conduct. For example, where the parties enter a new tenancy on different terms to the existing tenancy, the current tenancy is considered surrendered.
The basis of an implied surrender is the consensual giving up possession of the premises to the landlord by the tenant. The landlord must accept the surrender when they accept the keys from the tenant to the subject property.
The landlord’s belief that the tenant has surrendered the property must be genuine. Example: evidence that the tenants have removed all signs of them living there, including furniture and belongings.
Unless the proof of surrender by the tenant is apparent, the landlord runs the risk of unlawfully evicting the tenant.
What is a Notice of Abandonment?
The primary reason for serving the Notice of Abandonment is to notify the tenant that you have observed that the tenant is not at the residence for a certain period and has not informed you about it either.
The notice notifies the tenant that you would consider the property ‘abandoned’, i.e., left by the tenant before the tenant agreement ends. Therefore, you would be entitled to replace the tenant if the tenant does not turn up soon.
A Notice of Abandonment makes grounds for evicting the tenant. Still, it can’t be used until and unless the tenant is not on the property and has left without informing you.
Campaigners call for the government to act on increasing numbers of long-term empty homes across the country as part of Empty Homes Week.
The charity Action on Empty Homes has raised awareness about the waste of unused UK properties. The campaign and hope to pressure MPs to work with local government to tackle the problem.
The charity believes that thousands of properties that are empty could be used to house the vulnerable and the homeless.
More than 120 local authorities are taking part and hope to receive more powers from the central Government to house people who need help. But it is not simple, and there are many things to consider. Here is what you need to know.
According to the most recent Government figures released in November 2020, 268,385 homes in England had been empty for at least six months. These are what Action on Empty Homes refers to as “long term” empty properties.
These figures represented a 19 per cent increase in abandoned properties, with an added 42,600 added since 2019.
While the rise could be down to Covid-19 lockdowns, the number has increased four years in a row.
Abandoning a tenancy
The Impact of Abandoned Buildings – Abandoned buildings affect communities and commerce.
Abandoned Property Definition – Abandoned property is an asset that has been turned over to the state after several years of inactivity.
How do I find the absent owner of a property?
Action on Empty Homes cannot aid individuals, or property developers find the owners of individual empty properties. But we can access expert advice for you, and there are several ways in which the owner may be located; these are listed here:
How to report abandoned property?
You should contact the local council and report it to them. If the property is causing you a problem, then you can search for the property owner.
The property owner address may well be another address, or a company may own the property. If owned by the company, you can contact them.
Even where a private individual owns a property, the land register records may have an alternative address than the subject property.
You can seek free legal advice from Landlord Advice UK.
Date; 6th of August 2021
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