24th June 2017
Each week, we answer a reader’s rental property question, from first-time landlords to experienced owners. Agony Agent, is here to help!
Q: I think my tenant has done a runner, what should I do?
A: When times get hard, the instances of tenants leaving without notice before a tenancy comes to an end, increase. “Doing a runner” indicates a legal term known as abandonment of a tenancy.
Often you will not know the property is vacant until rent payments stop, and if no regular checks are carried out on the property, several weeks can go by before you know this has happened. Your insurance policies usually request you to inform the insurers if a property is vacant for more than 2 – 3 weeks, so insurance cover could be compromised when the property is abandoned.
When tenants leave like this they often leave possessions behind, even pets in some cases! They may post the keys in the letter box, take the keys with them or even give them to someone else. When tenants’ possessions are left behind, you owe a legal duty of care to the tenant to protect them. This is the case even though the tenant may be in rent arrears and has damaged your property. But what is more of a pain for the landlord is that if the tenants have left possessions this shows that the tenants may come back at some point, which means the landlord must take extra care not to breach the Protection from Eviction Act:
“It‘s a criminal offence to unlawfully deprive a residential tenant of his or her occupation of the premises, or attempt to do so.”
Basically, a landlord cannot stop a tenant from using or living at the property without first obtaining a surrender of the tenancy or gaining consent from the courts via a Possession Order.
Landlords should keep a watch on their properties for signs of abandonment: unopened mail piling up behind the door, bins not emptied, drawn curtains, empty parking spaces etc. Better still, it’s a good idea to develop a close relationship with neighbours to report problems like this.
What if you strongly suspect abandonment?
The first thing you should do is speak to the neighbours; once you are sure the tenant has left, you should cautiously enter the premises with spare keys. Have a witness with you, for example an agent, and be prepared to find the premises occupied. If that is the case you would need to make your excuses and leave fairly quickly – tenants should understand if you state your concern for their safety.
However, if the place has been abandoned, cleared out or with some of the larger items left behind; letters behind the door and gone off food in the fridge are all signs you were right. At this stage, if you are sure the property has been abandoned, you may want to secure the property by changing the locks. You should take photographs of the state of the property and take all the meter readings. Better still you may want to ask your inventory clerk to do a full check-out inventory as independent evidence and a careful note should be made of the tenant’s possessions.
You should then go ahead and affix an Abandonment Notice to the door of the property, and also serve at the property a 14 day Housing Act 1988 Section 8 Notice citing the relevant grounds for seeking possession.
This process will take time and unfortunately can be very tricky as there are further details and important points that need to be addressed in order to take over the possession of the property. If you find yourself in this situation then please contact the office for our assistance.